Double Vision

 

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. 

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 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 

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 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. 

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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.

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RESOLVE

Um al Kher, a community of 127 people (21) families located in the south eastern part of the Hebron Hills.  It is for the most part surrounded by Israeli settlements, the closest being Karmel directly across the fence from Um al Kher.  What passes for a road and in reality a rocky path between other rocks leads to the community from a modern paved road that has been constructed in support of the settlements and outposts.   The community itself is a collection of tent structures, animal shelters and assorted other shelters sitting on gravel and rock with various indigenous plants like cactus providing some necessary colour.  On our first visit we are very warmly and enthusiastically met by Eid Suleiman, a resident of Upper Um al Kher and a swarm of excited youngsters.

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EID SULEIMAN

We are escorted to the community centre, a tent with a smooth cement floor, a permanent metal piping for framing, sides and ends open offering a panoramic view of the surrounding area and a welcome breeze on this very hot afternoon.   While enjoying the customary hot tea we discuss the recent events and activities in the community.   The children come and go wanting their photographs taken and balloons that we offer to be inflated for them.  It is at this point we witness a small taste of the reality of what the residents endure day in and day out.  Screaming can be heard from across the fence separating the community centre in Karmel in apparent response to photographs being taken of the foliage (cactus) along the fence.  Almost immediately a fully armed Israeli soldier appears and commences to patrol a path along the fence on the Karmel side until after our departure later on in the afternoon.  Karmel is a modern settlement, legal in Israeli laws but declared totally illegal internationally.  It possess paved roads, street lights, lawns, gardens and numerous facilities.   Its residents receive approximately an allotment of 200 times per resident for water annually than do the residents of Um al Kher.   Um al Kher is often without water for up to 12 days at a time.

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YOUTH ENJOYING BALLOONS

A road leads along the fence along the community and separating the grazing areas for the sheep from Karmel.  This road, which is on property owned by the community is no longer allowed to be used to herd their sheep to the pastures.  Tent structures frames can be seen on the slope of the pasture which we are advised were erected by the settlers (residents of Karmel) in an initial attempt to lay claim to the pasture.  We are also shown the community bread oven (taboon oven) which is essential to every communities survival as a mainstay support to their dietary needs.  In the past the Karmel residents have attempt to destroy this oven as well as go through legal processes to have it demolished.  In the community itself, between upper and lower Um al Kher all but 2 structures including residents are under demolition orders and under immediate threat of demolition.  The settlers frequently harass and throw stones at the residents of Um a Kher.  They scare away the sheep and prevent the shepherds from accessing their grazing lands.  The Israeli army also plays their role in ongoing harassment of the residents of Um al Kher through a variety of methods not the least are frequent night raids and flying check points.  Having met the many of the residents of this delightful community I cannot for the life of me understand to what end or purpose these tactics of the Army employ serve other than pure harassment.

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TENT FRAMES

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SULEIMAN STANDING BESIDE TABOUN OVEN

One would think with a small glimpse into what the residents of this community endures  that they would be quite frustrated or bitter over their situation.  Of course they are not content and are using every means at their disposal to challenge all the obstacles put in their way.  They do however have a very positive outlook on life, enjoying their lives as best they can under the circumstances with a very strong resolve to endure on their own.   They choose to be great hosts to the many delegations that come their way and to present an amazingly charming outlook refusing in many cases outside help.  All they want is to be able to continue to live their simple lives as have their ancestors not only here where they live now but where they previously lived in the Negev Desert where they were moved from in 1948.

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BOY ON DONKEY

When Will This All End

Memorial

 

Returning from Jerusalem on the 12th of August our team’s first priority was to follow up on the fatal shooting by an Israeli soldier of a 12 year old boy Khalil Muhammad Ahmad al-Amiti in the front of his house in Fawwar Refugee Camp in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank on the 10th of this month.  We were told that although some other boys had been throwing rocks at the soldiers, this boy had just came to the front of his house to see what all the noise was about.   To our knowledge their has been no release of any information further to an investigation into this incident by the army.  To be clear our role is not necessarily to investigate, but to assist the family and community that we can.

Khoulod Al-Titi, our community contact  and local English teacher took us to her house in the refugee camp where she introduced us to her husband, also a teacher and youth club manager.  We sat with them and their seven children and like in almost every house have entered since arriving, we are served tea.   Our hosts are very upbeat and optimistic about the future while expressing frustration about not being able to return to their ancestor’s home.  Khoulod’s ancestors had been exiled from their homes and moved to Fawwar Refugee Camp in the “catastrophe” in 1949 by Israeli forces as had  several hundred Palestinians.  Despite the first United Nations Resolution in 1952 ordering Israel to allow refugees to return to their homes this has not happened.

Walking in the Refugee Camp

Walking in the Refugee Camp

On the way to meet with the family of the slain youth we walked by the memorial that has been created in memory of Amiti.  A small group of interested by-standers quickly joined us including a 19 year old youth in a wheel chair who claimed that he had been shot by an Israeli soldier 4 years previous.

We wound our way through the alleys of the refugee camp until we reached a section in the alley where chairs had been assembled.  Quickly we were joined by Amiti’s parents, uncle, brothers and sisters, grandfather as well as numerous other grief stricken friends and neighbors.  As the anger and frustration poured out from all sides it was evident that they were indeed suffering from this recent tragedy but also very tired of the circumstances that they have been forced to live in through no fault of their own for decades.   They clearly were looking for support, help and a way out of this situation that they and their children are forced to live in.

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Grandfather with Poster of Slain Youth

In the middle of their out pouring and answering the questions we had posed to them, people came from every direction placing in front of us tea and considerable fresh baking and sweets.  We made to feel very welcome in their community and their home.

 

We will be returning to visit with them before the end of the month, hopefully with some assistance to help them in some small way for the needless death of this boy.  What is needed however is for “Just Peace” – for an end to the occupation and end for hostilities by all parties involved.