Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tea, Bread, Sheep and a Donkey

Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine live and work alongside the people of Hebron and the South Hebron hills, trying to prevent abuse of Palestinian civilians by their non-violent presence and documenting abuses that do occur. Occasionally, CPT will report on abuse that happens to people they have come to know well. Their reports in recent days have highlighted some contrasts between days of normalcy and trauma for a shepherd named Kahlil in the South Hebron hills:

At-Tuwani: Signs of Life - Grass, Tea, and Shepherds
By Sam Nichols

K. had kept his flock out an unusually long time this morning. The sheep and goats were probably happy because an inch of grass had grown in some places due to the recent rain. Yet, it was the first rain of the season so the grass remained just short enough that the sheep appeared to have a tough time eating it. It reminded me of eating a pomegranate. So much effort is exerted to get those little kernels out, and when you eventually get them out and eat them, it doesn't even put a dent in your hunger.

After hours of grazing, some of the goats found shade under rocks and some of the sheep found cozy spots in the dirt to lie down. K. tied up his donkey to a fence post and took some items out of the bag that hung off the donkey, a kind of homemade saddlebag.

K. then scoured the area for dried brush. Once he had a sufficient amount of brush, he searched for stones. Assembling the three stones in a triangle, he placed the brush in the center of the triangle. The next item that K. pulled out of his sack was the corner piece to this puzzle, the tea kettle. The rest of the process was fairly straightforward. Cistern water from a canteen was poured into the kettle, along with a healthy amount of sugar, and finally the tea leaves and sage. K. lit the brush and manicured it to keep the flame under the blackened kettle. Once the tea was ready, K. called Sean and me over. We had been accompanying K. and his flock this morning and he graciously insisted on sharing his lunch with us.

We feasted on hard-boiled eggs, freshly-picked olives, dried goat cheese, fresh bread, and tea to wash it down. Throughout the meal, K. insisted that we keep eating whenever our body language suggested that we might be done. This insistence is very common in Palestinian homes. Hosts will urge that you continue eating until you assure them several times that you are full. Offering a “humdulilah” (praise be to God), will usually bring an end to these playful negotiations.

This morning I saw a glimpse of what shepherding in the South Hebron Hills is supposed to be; it certainly seemed closer to normal than is often the case. Israeli settlers didn’t harass K. and his flock nor did Israeli soldiers chase K. off the land. In fact, as we sat to eat lunch in the cooling November air, it seemed that we momentarily forgot about the illegal outpost and the illegal settlement behind us. In doing so we had a moment of seeing beyond the challenges and obstacles facing K.’s family and their way of life. The occupation is often front and center for Palestinians that work this land, but today we enjoyed the cool air, the emerging grass, the fresh food, and the company of one another.

At-Tuwani, Palestine
15 November, 2008

Israeli Settlers Attack Palestinian Shepherds, Kill Donkey, Injure Internationals.

Today, around 9:00am, around fifteen masked Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havot Ma'on attacked three Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their flocks in a valley south of the outpost. The settlers came running down from a ridge above the shepherds, hurling rocks. During the incident, the settlers were able to apprehend two of the shepherds' donkeys. The settlers killed one donkey with a knife wound in the chest area. They slashed another across the throat, but the donkey survived. The shepherds were able to get their flocks away without being injured. The settlers hit two internationals from the Christian Peacemaker Teams with large rocks. One of the internationals sustained minor injuries. The internationals were accompanying the shepherds at the time of the attack.

The Israeli police were called four times before responding to the incident. They did not initially respond to reports of Palestinian shepherds and internationals being attacked by settlers, but only responded when made aware of the injured donkeys. The shepherds were very concerned about the incident, as it occurred on land they graze daily. Additionally concerning was the loss of a donkey which costs around 1000NIS, or $265. (The Israeli occupation has impoverished the shepherds of the area, and they are dependent on food aid)

The attack took place on land that the settlers hope to take in an effort to expand the settlement. There have been numerous attacks in the past against shepherds and schoolchildren in the area, including several incidents where Israeli settlers have shot at the shepherds.

At-Tuwani Reflection: Breaking Bread with Friends
Janet Benvie
18 November 2008

[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law.]

“I am sorry Janet, I will not be able to offer you tea and bread.” Khalil told me. “The settlers killed my donkey and took everything in the bag”,

We were sitting on Khoruba Hill, where we often sit with Khalil, a young Palestinian shepherd. Most days we accompany him as he makes his way over the hills with his flock and his donkey. The route from his home to Khoruba passes within sight of the illegal Israeli settler outpost of Havot Ma’on.. Each day he leads his sheep on paths where his father and grandfather walked, on land coveted by the settlers. As he leads his sheep he attentively watches for Israeli settlers or soldiers who regularly chase him off the land.

By mid morning, Khalil and his flock usually reach Khoruba. He will have left home around 6:00 am, so, by 11:00 am he is ready for lunch. The sheep, tired from their journey over the hills, mill around in small groups, many of them lie down in the warmth of the winter’s mid-day sun. Khalil gathers sticks for a fire and urges us to sit down, “Tfaddil” (‘please’ in Arabic) he says, indicating a place for us to sit. He makes a pot of traditional sweet Palestinian tea, and insists we share in his lunch of home made bread, olives and potato slices.

Today we were not, as usual, drinking tea and watching the sheep graze quietly. Today masked Israeli settlers chased Khalil and his flock, hurling rocks and yelling threats. Khalil was able to run to a place of safety with his flock, but watched helplessly as the settlers led his donkey away. The donkey was later found dead (stabbed in the chest) at the bottom of Khoruba Valley.

Khalil means 'friend' in Arabic. There is a sense of 'communion' sitting on the hillside sharing tea and breaking bread together with friends. In the midst of the brutal, senseless violence of the settlers our friend's thoughts turned to us, “I am sorry Janet, I will not be able to offer you tea and bread.”

Reflections reprinted with permission from Christian Peacemaker Teams. Photos and film of the settler attack are available.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune, Daily Kos and Street Prophets

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