Four shepherds and a few small boys sit across from us in the tent ~ mats are laid out for our comfort. The customary tea with sugar and sage is served around in small glass cups. Through our interpreter, the men tell us about the challenges they face in their village of An Nizan ~ a small hamlet in Area C consisting of 4 families ~ about 30 people ~ who have lived on this land for generations. In 2011 the Israeli government delivered demolition orders on all structures. A year later the bulldozers arrived. The families have rebuilt their homes but only to receive new demolition orders. The case is now in the courts.
Life is both simple and dire for this community. There is no running water, no electricity, and no health service. Children use donkeys to travel to school. The shepherds have tried to renovate some destroyed cisterns, but there has been no rain and the price of water is extremely high. Fields close to the hamlet are planted with barley for the sheep as the shepherds are afraid to take them very far afield to graze. Settlers from the nearby outpost are very aggressive and regularly harass and threaten the shepherds. We listen attentively. But what can we do?
We offer the possibility of protective presence for shepherding which they gladly accept ~ “20 days after the first rain,” they say. If there are enough of us, they might venture closer to the settlement outpost where there will be pasture for the sheep. There is strength in numbers. We offer to contact CometMe which provides electricity to vulnerable communities, but with demolition orders pending, the chances are slim.
We thank them for the tea and for their hospitality and make our way down the hill and back to our car. On the adjacent hill sits the illegal outpost ~ neat rows of houses with their telltale red roofs and green landscape ~ connected to the electric grid ~ clean running water ~ In my ears ring the words of the eldest father: “We have only our dignity, our tents and our sheep.”
I wonder how this is possible ~ Why does Israel not see that the occupation is cruel, inhumane and not sustainable? That the settlement enterprise is illegal according to international law? That the settlements are an obstacle to peace? ~ Why does the world look the other way as Israel continues this land grab? ~ The questions are stark against the dark backdrop of this father’s refrain: “We have only our dignity, our tents and our sheep.”