First an update on two previous blogs:
I am pleased to report that the shooting of the 12 year old boy is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Israeli Army who have apologized for the incident. Various authorities that we have discussed the case with have stated that this is truly a very unique incident, totally unprovoked, early in the morning, very quiet, one bullet, one death. I am currently tracking down Doctors with Borders, who you can imagine are very busy in Gaza. A number of agencies are involved and we will be visiting the family again this coming week to provide an update and to check on them.
I am not pleased to report that the Israeli courts have ruled that because the ownership of the land by the current residents is 35 years old, the hill shown with the tent frames on the article about Um al Kher (Resolved), the ownership is not valid. Therefore possibly as early as this fall the neighboring Israeli Settlement of Karmel will be expanding the length of this hill side. This means that the grazing lands for the shepherds of Um al Kher not only will be significantly reduced but that access to a major portion of the grazing land will be all but eliminated.
Dual Vision perhaps best describes the surroundings as they came to me during three afternoons this past week of providing a protective presence to one shepherd in particular. I say one in particular because the village of Wadie T’ Hesh is in reality home to a small number of shepherds who mind their flocks generally in the same area simultaneously , but only occasionally within sight of each other. This protective presence is offered to discourage ongoing harassments and assaults by residents of the neighboring settlements and outposts.
As each afternoon unfolds Kamel, the shepherd we are assisting, appears on foot with his flock of approximately 100 sheep and goats, accompanied by his donkey and two dogs around the top of a hill to our west before descending into a valley generally in our direction. After some minutes they appear again, now with Kamel now astride the blanketed donkey. He steers the flock eastwardly to where they reach a plateau separated from settlement land by a road leading to the ever present Army Security Tower. For the next two or three hours the flock is moved around a wide plateau of dry barley, thistles and rocks. For the most part Kamel, who has now dismounted from the donkey, wanders on the perimeter of the flock frequently emitting various sounds and whistles that obviously mean something to the wandering flock but not to me. It is amazing how they respond, for without these sounds they no doubt be off and gone who knows where and who knows into what trouble.
In the ninety degree weather, which is actually quite pleasant due to a persistent breeze, it is quite easy to visualize the scene before us being much the same as it has been for centuries, certainly back to Biblical times. The constant sound of munching, burps and assorted sounds that you no doubt imagine coming from the flock and the occasional whistles and sounds from Kamel are the only sounds that can be heard. By the third afternoon of being with this flock they have become quite familiar with us and frequently wander over to inspect us. I would be remiss if I did not mention the apparent close relationship between the donkey and one of the dogs. When wandering without Kamel on his back, the donkey and dog are quite inseparable and quite apparently good friends
Standing in the ancient hills of Palestine viewing the scene as I have described would almost make you believe that you had gone back in time. More than a few things however can bring you back to the present time, not the least Kamel riding his donkey talking on his cell phone. Or perhaps it was the approximate twenty Israeli fighter jets preforming maneuvers directly overhead including practice dogfights complete with firing of tracer missiles. Looking over top of the flock of sheep in almost every direction one can see the settlements, the outposts and a major check point between Israel and Palestine. Traffic of all sorts can be seen but not heard on the many roadways that lead in multiple directions in the valleys and hills far away.
It is indeed a very strange mix of old and new. But in the warm heat of the afternoon it is the old, the serenity of the shepherd and his flock that wins out. Our afternoons were rewarded with no incidents that disturb the tranquility except for days end when we were invited to join a number of shepherds and their families on top a hill, drink tea and watch the sun go down. Pretty hard to take.