As Israel celebrates its Independence Day, Palestinians struggle to farm their own land

By EA Theresa, southern West Bank

Recently, as Israel celebrated its Independence Day, we were out in the West Bank just inside Area C (the area under full Israeli military and civil control), just by the gate for Area A (the area under the control of the Palestinian Authority) and below a military checkpoint. We were there to give protective presence to a shepherd called Jabar.

The shepherd’s family used to live near the gate on the hill now covered in flags, aptly named Flag Hill. When the Israeli military came to set up a military outpost on the hill they evicted Jabar and his family from their home. The family stayed in the area but experienced many problems from the both the outpost and settlers from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Susya so they eventually moved away to the nearby Palestinian town of Yatta, living as near to their original land as possible.

Each day Jabar walks his sheep from his Yatta home along the road, through the gate, up the tarmac road towards the military post, overlooked by a small military tower, and onto his land to graze. On the day we were there, he was intending to graze the sheep in an olive grove within 30 metres of the military outpost’s fence.

Flag Hill Military Outpost       Credit: EAPPI

Flag Hill Military Outpost [Photo: EAPPI/T.Mansbridge]

The sheep were so keen to get there that they literally ran from the edge of the road into the grove to feast on the vetch. Whilst the sheep grazed, slowly munching their way through it, we offered to help by pulling up the vetch to put in bags so it could be taken home to dry out as fodder for days when grazing is not possible.

Sheep here have good grazing   credit: EAPPI

The sheep here have good grazing [Photo: EAPPI/T.Mansbridge]

Although the sun was hot that morning there was a stiff breeze and rain clouds were scudding across the sky – we kept a wary eye on them as there was no shelter nearby. The valley below was fertile and lush as can be seen in this picture.

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Photo: EAPPI/T.Mansbridge

After about two hours of grazing, the shepherd expertly got a small fire going using a few bits of wood from the olive trees and made tea which he shared with us. We shared with him the bananas we had brought along for lunch.

Communicating was difficult as he had little English and we had little Arabic, but we learnt that he has ten children and six grandchildren and that the valley in the first picture is his. We think the lower valley in the picture above is farmed with his brothers. They have lost land to the military outpost and to the road building, all without compensation.

Jabar making tea: Credit EAPPI/ P Moore

Jabar making tea [Photo: EAPPI/P.Moore]

There are no close up pictures of the military outpost. Our driver was most insistent that we not take any as he didn’t want to be responsible for losing any of the internationals!

Then the rain came and through hand signals we were advised to ring our driver – Jabar was going to go home soon as most of the sheep were now sitting down and had grazed enough for the day. And by the time we got picked up we were pretty soaked.

By communicating with Jabar using our limited Arabic, a few recognisable words, gestures and facial expressions it was clear that he intends to continue to farm his land until he dies and will not give up getting all his land back.

The hope that one day Palestinians will also have independence to celebrate remains alive.