Friday, February 15, 2008

"This is not Israel"

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

Art Gish

At-Tuwani, West Bank

28 January, 2008

It all became clear to me out in the mountains south of Hebron as I was accompanying shepherds grazing their sheep on their own land. A major work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, with whom I work in the south Hebron Hills, has been accompanying shepherds. Israeli settlers have been threatening the shepherds and demanding that Israeli soldiers remove the shepherds from the whole area around the settlements. Sometimes the settlers have been carrying clubs. On January 12, settlers fired six shots to frighten the shepherds.

The actions of the soldiers have been inconsistent. Sometimes they drive the shepherds away, sometimes do nothing, and sometimes say the shepherds can be there.

On Sunday, January 27, Israeli soldiers approached us and announced that the shepherds could not be anywhere in that area, demanding that everyone leave the area immediately. The reason, the soldiers said, was that it is not safe for the settlers if Palestinians are anywhere where they can see the settlements. That means a huge area of land is off limits for the Palestinian shepherds.

We reminded the soldiers that the Israeli High Court has ruled that the shepherds may graze their sheep on that land. We suggested they follow the laws of Israel instead of taking orders the settlers.

We pointed out to the soldiers that we were on Palestinian land. A soldier quickly informed us that the land did not belong to Palestinians. "This is Israel," he said. I told the soldier, "This is not Israel, this is Palestinian territory. Even President George Bush recognizes that this is Palestinian territory, not Israel."

We did a little preaching to the soldiers, telling them "There will never be peace here as long as you claim everything to be Israel, as long as you intend to steal all this land from the Palestinians. The real reason for not allowing these shepherds to be on their own land is that you are helping the settlers to steal this land."

We reminded the soldiers, "You do not need to protect these settlers. It is those settlers who continually are attacking these shepherds, and even attacking little school children. Repeatedly soldiers have stood by and watched as settlers have attacked Palestinians. The question is, do you want peace, or do you want to take this land?"

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