Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Stations of Shaadi
13 March, 2008
Written by Eileen

The South Hebron Hills are a place of great beauty. Gazelles roam the
hillsides, birds are abundant in the sky. When you look out over the
hills you can see ancient Palestinian villages where people are still
living a simple, subsistence lifestyle. They have flocks of sheep and
goats. They market lambs, and the women make delicious cheese and
butter. In springtime, the valleys are brilliant green with crops of
wheat and barley.

But this beauty is marked with pain. As you look out across the
horizon now, you also see the unmistakable mark of Israeli
settlements. They appear as modern suburban developments dropped down
on the hilltops in this rugged terrain. Settlement outposts extend the
reach of these settlements, and confiscate increasingly more
Palestinian land exclusively for Israeli use. Religiously zealous,
ideological and violent settlers threaten and attack anyone who dares
draw near. Palestinian shepherds here find they have less and less
land to graze their flocks, and must take grave risks when they do.

As we accompany these shepherds, they often speak of the stories this
landscape holds for them. They speak of the land they knew as
children; the places they used to roam; the valleys their fathers and
grandfathers used to graze the flocks. Recently, as we accompanied one
shepherd, Shaadi, he pointed out some of the landmarks in his memory
along the way.

From high on a hilltop, we can see the nearby settlement and outpost.
Although he does not mention it, we are looking across at a place
where his children have been repeatedly attacked while walking to
school. He continues to send his children to school, knowing that to
do so is defiance of the violence and threats to push him and his
family off of their land.

As we pause at the cistern to water the flocks, he recounts the time
when three masked settlers from the outpost attacked him and his young
son while they were watering the sheep. The settlers arrived in a
truck and began firing stones at them with a slingshot. They broke the
legs of two of his sheep. His nine year old son was also hit by the
rocks. Shaadi tried to comfort his son, who would not speak after the

When he called the Israeli police to report the attack, the police
refused to come to the village to take his report saying they were
afraid of the settlers, "We are only two police. We need a whole army
to go in there. The settlers will break our windows." Shaadi replied,
"If you are afraid of the settlers, how do you think I am?"

A short walk later, we pass by the place where three years ago a
settler from the illegal settlement outpost Havat Maon, stole fifteen
sheep from his flock. Despite filing a police report, including video
evidence of the entire incident and eyewitness testimony from an
international observer, no charges were filed against the settler.

As we approach his home, he talks about the forced removal of several
hundred people from this area. On April 7, 1998 over one hundred
families in the area, including Shaadi's, were served orders to
abandon their homes by April 12th. In a dark irony, the deadline
given was Easter Sunday. The families refused to leave. The military
confiscated their meager belongings, and offered to return them if
they agreed to leave. They refused.

Shaadi's home is a simple place, closely connected with the homes of
his extended family. But even home is a place of scarred memories.
Settlers have come and attacked his family. Shaadi shares the painful
memory of the time when armed settlers came to the village, and
started shooting. His mother was shot in the leg, and his brother was
also wounded. For him and his family, there is no safe place of refuge.

As is typical in the area, they once had a toilet out-building
adjacent to the house. In May of 2006, the Israeli Civil
Administration issued a demolition order for the toilet. A few days
later a bulldozer came and destroyed it. He has not been allowed to
rebuild it. It seems even the basic human dignity and privacy of a
toilet will be denied him.

Shepherds in this area continue to face violence and threats on a
daily basis. In January of this year, while Shaadi was out grazing his
flocks with a few other local shepherds, settlers came out from the
outpost and fired six shots at them. The flocks scattered, and the
shepherds fled. The Israeli police refused to respond, saying they
`had better things to do".

A few weeks ago, Shaadi was one of several shepherds that went to
graze their flocks in a valley called Mshaha, south of the illegal
settlement outpost, Havat Maon. They went together as an act of
resistance to threats and violence from the settlers. They went to
recover the use of their land, and find sustenance for their flocks.
On this day, Israeli soldiers arrived and demanded that the shepherds
leave. The shepherds responded that this was their land, and that they
wanted to appeal to the commander to decide the issue. Settlers from
the outpost also came and spoke with the soldiers. The soldiers ran
toward the flocks and kicked several sheep, trying to drive them away.
Many of these shepherds reported injuries to their sheep, including
broken teeth, and internal bleeding. Shaadi lost two lambs later that
week from injured ewes.

As we were finishing up this long walk, we paused along the way as a
young lamb was born. Shaadi tended gently and expertly to the newborn,
and invited us back to his house for a meal. We rejoiced in the new
birth, hopeful that this might be finally a sign of new life for him
and his family.

i:`Settlements' refers to Israeli only housing built within the
occupied Palestinian territories. Settlements are all illegal
according to international law. Settlement outposts are illegal under
international law, as well as under Israeli law.

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