Sunday, 19 February 2012
Postcard from Palestine 2
Hebden Bridge's Ron Taylor is a regular visitor to Palestine, part of an international movement of supporters.
Accompanying shepherds in Zanuta
Khirbet Zanuta lies in the south-west corner of the occupied West Bank, home to around 60 Palestinians. Some meagre crops - lentils mainly - grow here but the main source of income for the villagers is sheep and goat herding.
A week ago Israeli settlers from a nearby illegal settlement outpost, Mor Farm, stole one of the village herds as it grazed on land belonging to Zanuta. It was retrieved but the shepherds, expecting further trouble, have requested the presence of Ta'ayush today. Our job is to accompany them to deter further attacks.
The main Ta'ayush contingent is dropped at Umm-al-Khair where it will continue the rebuilding of a home demolished by the Israeli military (IDF) a few weeks ago. Five people (myself, my Irish friend - I shall refer to her as A - and three Jewish activists from Jerusalem) remain on the bus and head west to Zanuta.
(A and I are pleased; our bodies still ache from several days of planting olive trees, our hands tender from wielding pick axes and mattocks for hours on end - escorting shepherds must be easier, we think).
When we reach Zanuta four herds are waiting and we follow the shepherds down into a deep valley. The sky is a deep blue and spring is in the air. Flowers are everywhere and an eagle patrols the hillside ahead. A whiff of cheese floats up from the goats. One of the herds crosses a stream, milky with pollution from stone factories to the north, and we head steeply up again towards the settlement outpost.
Amiel, our leader and Ta'ayush organiser, looks a little worried. He confides that, on this side of the stream, we may be on land that has been "legally" handed over to the settlers. (The "law" here is really a thieves charter designed to enforce Israeli apartheid policies, to discriminate in favour of Jewish settlers and to drive Palestinians from their land. it makes use of Ottoman, Jordanian and British Mandate laws - whichever suits them - plus Israeli military law. The latter only applies to Palestinians:Israelis living illegally on occupied land are subject to Israeli civil law - clever,eh?) If the settlers see us here, he explains, the IDF will be called and we could all be arrested. The shepherds should really stay away from this area. The task today was designed to accompany the herds on the hills where the theft took place last Saturday, not here.
The shepherds though are delighted. "It is the first time we have grazed here for 15 years," one tells Amiel who looks relieved as the herd begins to move back towards the stream. A few minutes later we back at the stream's edge. (One thing I learned about sheep today is that they really don't like crossing streams. For the second time this flock must do so. Those animals at the front are forced by pressure from behind to leap across: those towards the back have room to scatter in all directions and the sheep dogs have a difficult time rounding them up again. After 15 minutes or so all, even the most reluctant ones, have been forced across).
Ahead is the steep climb back towards the main road and Zanuta. Halfway up we notice movement on the far hillside; a tractor contours slowly below the outpost. "Settlers ?, I ask. "Worse than settlers," Amiel translates."The driver is Palestinian. He is a collaborator. He will call the settlers and then they will call the soldiers. We know him." The driver it seems has done some sort of deal with the settlers allowing them use or ownership of the land.
As predicted a few minutes later we can see that several figures have emerged from the outpost and are looking in our direction. They are too far away to do anything but we now expect a visit from the IDF. Half an hour later we are nearing Zanuta A car approaches from behind. It slows down and the driver pokes a video camera in our faces. He is a settler and resents our presence.He drives on a little then parks at the roadside beyond the entrance to Zanuta.
Our task is almost over and the herds are nearly home. Our bus is there, too, waiting to pick us up. But now we notice the settler talking to soldiers in a jeep that has just arrived. Amiel senses trouble for Zanuta and says we should stay for a time. This means much needed cups of tea in the village. Suleiman, one of the shepherds, and his family oblige.
The IDF jeep leaves, only to be replaced minutes later by a police car. Soon afterwards the police heads up the bumpy track into Zanuta. The lone police officer talks to some of the villagers then heads towards us. Amiel urges calm and tells us not to worry. He recognises the policeman and says he is one of the most reasonable in the area. Nevertheless, A and I are worried.The officer demands our passports. Amiel reassures us. He is only going to check whether your visas are valid or not, he says. A few anxious minutes later are documents are returned and the policeman drives away. Our relief is profound, we drink more tea wishing it was beer or something stronger.
Amiel decides it is now time to leave. We wander towards the bus. The shepherds line up to shake our hands and say farewell. It is very touching. An hour later A and I are gulping down a necessary beer or two in Bethlehem. Another Saturday with Ta''ayush is over.
HebWeb Forum: Postcard from Palestine
Postcard from Palestine 1 (8 Feb 2012)
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