Sunday, October 21, 2007

Good Shepherds

You, God, are my Shepherd
I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass
You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
And you refresh my life.

Abu Basil walks slowly, constantly mumbling to himself and to his sheep. At 70, he is the oldest man living in at-Tuwani. Within his life time, he has seen the end the British mandate over Palestine, the beginnings of Jewish immigration to his homeland, the 1964 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the arrival Israeli settlers in the South Hebron Hills. Throughout all of these changes, the rhythms of Abu Basil’s life have remained steady. This morning I found him grazing his sheep in a valley near the Ma’on settlement. Like every morning when I accompany him in his fields, Abu Basil shook my hand and then motioned for me to sit down on a rock. For a while we talked - not much since Abu Basil’s Arabic is nearly incomprehensible to the best Arabic speakers on our team - about Ramadan and his baby goats. While we spoke, his month-old kids baaed and trotted over towards greener thistles on the opposite hillside. Abu Basil arose from his rock and walked over to them, shouting, waving his arms, and tossing rocks in their path. Eventually the goats followed his commands and left the ungrazed hillside for the all but barren valley. Abu Basil sat in silence while he waited for his herd to finish. Then, abruptly as always, Abu Basil dismissed me with a nod, indicating that he was heading home. I stood up and gathered my bag and camera, but then Abu Basil took my hand. “I can’t go to the hill,” he told me, “because of the Israelis.”

You are true to your name
And you lead me along the right paths.

I may walk through valleys as dark as death,

But I won’t be afraid.

You are with me,

And your shepherd’s rod

Makes me feel safe

The people of at-Tuwani village have been shepherds for generations. Raising sheep and goats provides meat for the family and wool and dairy products for sale in the nearby city of Yatta. But in the 1980s, extremist Israeli settlers moved onto land belonging residents of At-Tuwani and other neighboring Palestinian communities. Now shepherding is a tricky business. Because of settlement expansion and Israeli army restrictions, shepherds like Abu Basil cannot access enough land to graze their flocks. Settlers attack Palestinian shepherds in their fields. CPTers now accompany shepherds in these dangerous areas. Most mornings I pack up my video camera and cell phone and walk out to Khourba hill. I pick a comfortable rock to sit on and chat with shepherds, as old as 70 and as young as 14, who quietly herd their folks, occasionally looking over their shoulders at Havot Ma’on settlement. Knowing full well the dangers they face, these farmers calmly call to their sheep and goats and stand their ground.

You treat me to a feast,
While my enemies watch.

You honor me as your guest,

And you fill my cup Until it overflows

In the face of violence and injustice, the shepherds of at-Tuwani still find land sufficient for their flocks. The settlements may have electricity 24 hours day and water to spare, but at-Tuwani is rooted firmly to the land it has always known. As the villages of the South Hebron Hills organize themselves to nonviolently resist the expansion of Israeli settlements, slowly they are reclaiming more and more of their land. In 2004, when Christian Peacemaker Teams was invited to accompany shepherds in at-Tuwani, the valleys and hills to the south of Havot Ma’on settlement were inaccessible. Now, thanks to their courage and determination, shepherds are able to graze in more of their land than at any time since the arrival of Israeli settlers. The quiet persistence of these shepherds gives me the hope I need to continue working here in the South Hebron Hills. Come what may, I believe the people of at-Tuwani will still be here.

Your kindness and love
Will always be with me
Each day of my life,
And I will live forever
In your house, God.

Text: Psalm 23 from the Hebrew Scriptures

1 comment:

Kris Petersen said...


I discovered your wonderful blog on DesertPeace's blogroll... great content! You may be interested in my own site: - I am an American graduate student currently conducting research in the Gaza Strip. I have been posting excerpts from interviews and other material relevant to Gaza... Today, for example, I posted an interview with noted academic and journalist, Jennifer Loewenstein.

I will link to you - perhaps you can do the same if you like my site!

Keep up the good work!