Sunday, July 20, 2008

Watching Their Flocks By Night



On Friday, Marius (the other intern) and I headed for the Negev with some international and Israeli human rights activists. We were planning to deliver water to Tel Arad, an unrecognized village that is not receiving any water from the Israeli government. Our delivery was going to be mostly symbolic; in the current drought conditions, the few dozen litre bottles we were bringing would be no substitute for the water tanker they had been denied.

Marius and I never made it the Negev, though. Just after we crossed the Green Line into Israel our ride, Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, got a call about an emergency in the South Hebron Hills and we left to investigate.

We arrived at around 3 p.m and two of the men came up to talk to Arik. A handful of children stood by the sheep and goats in the harsh sun, staring at us and whispering to each other. The army arrived a few minutes after us, and we guarded Arik's car while all of them went off to see the site of the attack.

About an hour later Arik came back with the story. About 30 settlers had arrived in cars at 9:30 that morning and attacked the tent where Ahmed, the shepherd, stayed with his family next to caves for their flocks. The settlers took everything - their tent, food, clothes, dishes, blankets.

The soldiers and police were reluctant to take action. Ahmed had talked to a soldier on the road just after the attack. That soldier talked to the settlers and said they were from Kiryat Arba, a settlement bordering H2. The soldier said he would call in police, but none ever came. That afternoon, with Arik there to plead on Ahmed's behalf, the result was not much better. They listened to Ahmed's testimony but said that for lack of evidence there was little they could do. After all, they said, how could they know there had even been a tent there? There was no destruction left to photograph. Ahmed was told to bring proof that he owned the land to the police station on Sunday morning. No one was hurt, a soldier told me back at the car, so everything was now ok and we could go home.

But we didn't go home. The family - Ahmed, Nafiyya and their 16 children - had a place to stay in the nearby village of As-Samua', but they were not to be driven off their land. The parents and the younger children spent the night with the flocks as usual, and Marius, two ISM volunteers and I stayed with them in case of another attack. Arik had arranged for the Red Cross to bring a tent, which arrived just in time for us to put it up together before sundown. Along with the tent were blankets, three mattresses, food, dishes and toiletries. Still, Nafiyya told us as she pointed to her son's remaining T-shirt, they had lost many things that were not found in the four white boxes from the Red Cross.

This family's life is hard even without the regular harassment they endure from the settlers. The sheep and goats require constant attention. I sat up with Meryem, a 16-year-old daughter, until 2 a.m. while she watched the flock. She stays out there three nights a week, never sleeping very much, and also goes to school in As-Samua. After she graduates high school she hopes to study history at Hebron University.

We sat on stones, wrapped in Red Cross blankets, and looked out at the lights of Asah-El, the illegal settler outpost about a kilometre away. "Are you afraid of the settlers?" she asked me. I didn't know how to respond except to say, slowly in my broken Arabic, that if they came we would film them and maybe then they wouldn't want to cause trouble.

I asked Meryem if she had been there that morning when the settlers attacked. For a moment I tried to imagine that the settlers did not effect her, that this girl needed only the strength and resilience to sit up with her family's flock at night and go to school in the morning. But she had been there that morning, she told me, and when the settlers came she ran for her life. It's normal for a few settlers to come and harass the family, she said. They come during the day or the night, whenever they please. But she had never seen so many, and she thought at first they had come to kill her family.

Once again, I didn't know how to respond except to sigh and nod and keep sitting there looking out at Asah-El. The conversation switched back to lighter topics, like a wedding she had attended the day before, and I could pretend again that the challenges of her life did not include the overt and senseless hatred directed at her from the settlers. After a little while I went to sleep and was glad to wake up and find that morning had come without incident.

For Ahmed and Nafiyya's family, the past few days have made a hard life harder. But for now at least they are holding onto their land and their livelihood in an area where to do so is a powerful act of resistance.

1 comment:

Franklin Salamander said...

Hey Emily,

I think you're doing a really brave and decent thing being out there.

I try and work on Palestine as much as possible, and was wondering if you're publishing the material you're filming anywhere?

Keep up the great work