By EA Emma
“Nahnuu Arab” says Mahyoub, spreading his arms and stepping back to encompass all in his welcome. We are Arab.
He is arguing with an Israeli peace activist about the food his village community has prepared for their visitors.
“Just bread and olives” says his guest, “We asked just for bread and olives”.
Yet to provide just bread and olives for their visitors is incomprehensible, and the villagers have laid on a huge spread.
We visit this community every week, and each visit brings a greater welcome and greater hospitality. We are greeted as ‘family’, and put to work feeding the sheep or serving tea.
Access to water
Life in the village is hard. Its residents have been here for over 50 years but they cannot get permission from the Israeli authorities to build permanent structures.
Water is bought in in tanks because villagers are not allowed to access the mains water network that provides water to the nearby military camps and Israeli settlements (which are illegal according to international law).
Electricity comes from solar panels that, in winter, do not provide enough energy to power more than a fridge.
Mahyoub’s wife and children live in Tubas, a 30-minute drive away, so the children can attend school and live in some security.
Violence from Israeli Settlers
People in the village fear violence from the settlers, or being arrested by the Israeli security forces for trying to feed their sheep.
“You being here allows us to smile” – Mahyoub, Khirbet Samara
Since we arrived in November we have responded four times to families who have had young people arrested for shepherding too close to settlements or military camps in the Jordan Valley.
All of these were under 22 years old; the youngest was 14. His hands were fastened with cable ties and he was blindfolded, taken to a settlement and then released to make his own way home in the middle of the night.
Despite this, we are greeted with smiles – with laughing and joking. “You being here allows us to smile”, says Mahyoub.
Mahyoub and his cousins are shepherds, and we come regularly to go with them and their sheep onto the hills surrounding their village.
On top of one of these hills is a military camp; on another is an Israeli settlement outpost, with lonely caravans away from the bigger settlements.
The land the villagers shepherd on has been decreed either a firing zone or a nature reserve, though residents have ownership papers for the land dating from the Jordanian period.
Often the Israeli security forces come to tell the family to move. More recently we have been told by them that the land belongs to Uri, the settler from the outpost.
These are the ‘temporary’ buildings that, until the recent Regulation Bill, were identified as illegal under Israeli law, yet they are supplied with water from the military camp.
The shepherds of Khirbet Samra will not go shepherding without protective presence, so every day EAs like us, or Israeli peace activists from Ta’ayush, come to go with them, protecting their right to access their land.
This is a right guaranteed under the international laws of occupation, which state that;
“The occupying power cannot confiscate or destroy private property, except where there is military necessity.”
First prohibited in Article 46 of the Hague Regulations (1907), Articles 53 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 reinforced this law.
Taking a different route each week, we often pass the land that Mahyoub is not allowed to farm because it in the designated nature reserve.
Each time we pass we note how much more of it has been ploughed and farmed by Uri. To shepherd in a nature reserve is forbidden, it seems, but for Uri to farm it is not.
Two weeks ago, Uri came to speak to Mahyoub while he was shepherding. He told him to move from the land, to shepherd somewhere else. And then he asked Mahyoub for a drink of water. Mahyoub gave him his water bottle.
“Why do you give water to the man trying to steal your land?” we asked him.
“Water is a human right” he replied.
Read more about issues relating to water rights through B’Tselem: http://www.btselem.org/water.