International Solidarity Movement
27 February 2010
Last week, two small, rural outposts were awaiting two payloads from a 4×4 that was snaking its way along the winding, West Bank roads of the South Hebron hills. The first was the material to construct some alternative energy sources for these small communities, the second was an international presence that would aid them in the fight for their legitimacy.
In the hills around Susya, sheep- and goat-herders live in small, tented communities in the wadis of Israeli-controlled “Area C” in the West Bank. These communities are fighting for their existence against the Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing in the region, where strict controls limit the quality of life that is possible for these people.
Our first stop was to deliver the parts to construct both solar and wind-powered electricity sources to an isolated site where two families live in tents. The access to their dwelling was a painstakingly slow, bumpy drive up a rock-strewn dirt-track which lay off the side of a minor country road. In order to dissuade Palestinians to live in these areas, which are under the threat of increasing Israeli Settlement expansion, these families are limited in what they can construct and are not connected to the electricity grid nor a main water supply. Even the installation of these clean, alternative energy sources falls foul of the law, risking Israeli demolition orders. But a small group of activists on both sides of the Green Line are committed to providing a decent standard of living to these people.
Our next stop was to deliver ourselves to the small community of Khirbet Bir al ‘Idd, just north of the small village of Jinba, itself lying just several kilometres north of the proposed route for the West Bank Apartheid Barrier. Four months ago, on November 8th 2009, two families moved back to these hills to prevent the Israeli settlements from extending into their wadi. We were to spend the next few days living with Abu Tarek who lives here with his wife and youngest daughter, raising sheep.
Abu Tarek gave up his life in the nearby city of Yatta in order to protect the Palestinian land here, and in doing so, has drastically changed his lifestyle. The family is forbidden from erecting any permanent structures by the Israeli authorities, they have no mains electricity nor running water.
The land upon which he lives includes several caves, two of which are used to provide shelter for his flock of over sixty sheep. The walls within which the family live are built of local rocks, and stand less than five feet high; their roof is tarpaulin. Yet within these rustic limitations, the family has created a homely sanctity from the harsh meteorological and political conditions outside.
The reason for our presence was to both encourage the family in their activity, and support them when facing the constant struggle with the Israeli settlers and army. The day before our arrival, Abu Tarek had been threatened by an Israeli soldier, and a local settler tries to destroy the community’s livelihood by grazing his own flock on their agricultural land, thus destroying their crop.
Life here begins with the sun, rising to milk the sheep before breakfasting on the delicious bread, freshly baked in a taboon by Abu Tarek’s wife, served with the products of their farming here: warm milk and lebeneh. The lack of electricity means no refrigeration, and so transformation of the milk to a longer-lasting substance is a must.
Whilst out grazing the sheep, Abu Tarek’s concern of the situation here is clear. To avoid problems with the Israeli authorities, he must be careful to not let his sheep drift to the other side of the dirt-track that leads to an Israeli Settler’s farm. Rocks thrown here are to direct and contain the sheep, rather than a resistance of the IDF by the local Shebab.
This dirt-track segregates the hill-top that lies between the land that the Palestinians are authorised to use for grazing, and the land that they can use for cultivation. When pointing-out which parts of the valley he can “safely” use to graze, he neglects the greener, more fertile verdure, which he says have been taken by the Settlers. The Palestinians rarely get the rich-pickings of their own land.
Whilst Abu Tarek is watching over his flock on the rocky hills below the track, I hike further up this hill to ensure that the community’s wheat is not being destroyed by the Settler’s own flock. The panorama from the top of this hill provides a vivid portrayal of the encroachment of the surrounding Israeli settlements, a stark contrast to the restricted development that is afforded to the Palestinians.
The intimidation by the Israelis is ever-present. In one day, less than an hour apart, we were harassed first by an Israeli official, responsible for the management of this land, and then by Israeli soldiers. The official tried to claim that he had seen the Palestinians take their flock onto land that was reserved to the settlers, defining the track as the dividing line. (We had been present all morning and the flock had not crossed the track.)
Later, an army jeep approaches from the Settler’s farm and three young soldiers exit, rifles slung across their chests to confront Abu Tarek & Abu Nassir, the other patriarch of the community. They speak patronisingly to these two dignified men, telling them that they were but “children” here in this land, that this is Jewish land, and that they shouldn’t be grazing their sheep here at all. Their protests seem to fall on deaf ears, despite the earlier altercation with the land-management official. When I ask them to show me a map of the area, defining the division and allocation of the land, they claim not to have one, and promptly leave.
This racial division is also evident when the Palestinians try to address complaints to the police about Settler intrusions or attacks. As this is “Area C”, the police are Israeli. Abu Tarek tells us that when he has telephoned the police, upon hearing his Arabic accent when speaking Hebrew, the operator simply hung-up.
Despite the daily hardships that this family faces, life within their modest home is jovial, soulful and rich, and their welcome is incredibly warm and heart-felt. Whilst I would recommend any international to visit them and help defend their cause, I hope that they will soon no-longer need to welcome us as fighters against the Occupation, and simply as friends.