By EA Rosemary,
It’s spring in the South Hebron Hills. The sun is warm, the grass lush and wildflowers pepper the landscape. The latest to emerge are small blue irises and they join the kaleidoscope of pink, orange, yellow, white, red and purple jewels sparkling in the morning light.
Sef Hreisat, a local Palestinian shepherd, makes his way to the sheep fold, releases the door and a mixture of 40 sheep and goats surge out from the gloomy interior. They head off up the valley at quite a pace.
It is Saturday and, for the first time in a week, Sef feels free to take his flock in this direction. The land is owned by Palestinians but it borders an Israeli settlement.
Sef needs to use the pasture to feed his sheep but the settlers, their private security staff and members of the Israeli army, often prevent his access.
On Saturdays Guy Hircefeld from Ta’ayush gathers internationals including the EAPPI team based in Yatta, and joins the shepherds to provide a protective presence.
Ta’ayush is a partnership of Arabs and Jews striving to end the Israeli occupation and achieve full civil equality through daily non-violent direct-action. “It’s a movement, not an organisation” says Guy.
A sheep grazing, South Hebron Hills. Photo EAPPI
Settlements are illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention, applicable during military occupation, states that the occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Sef talks to his sheep, trilling and calling them; sometimes he throws a stone to encourage them to stay together.
After their initial enthusiasm to be out in the open, their pace slows.
As they round a corner the Israeli settlement becomes visible about 400 metres away. Shortly afterwards a white pick-up truck pulls up on the edge of the settlement.
Within five minutes an Israeli army vehicle arrives. Three soldiers emerge and engage in conversation with the settlement’s private security staff in the white pick-up.
Sef watches his flock. Guy and his accompaniers watch the soldiers watching them. Twenty minutes of inactivity later the internationals are asked to move to the other side of the valley.
This involves crossing the valley floor, which is Palestinian-owned land. They pick their way through the rocky terrain, avoiding the thorn bushes but crushing some of the flowers, then sit down to continue their watching brief.
Meanwhile an Israeli family approaches in single file, making their way across the valley to the settlement.
A few weeks earlier they had way-marked the path with white and blue paint. The soldiers watch them but allow them to pass without challenging their presence.
Israeli soldiers and police officers come and go. Eventually Sef decides that his flock has eaten its fill. It’s time to go home for lunch.
Settler harassment in Area C
The story of harassment by settlers is repeated many times across Area C – the part of the West Bank which is under Israeli control, but where Palestinians own land and homes. EAPPI and other groups are present to monitor and document any violations of international humanitarian law committed by either side.
Find out more about the work of Ta’ayush and the day-to-day lives of Palestinian shepherds living and working under occupation.
Share this story with your local politicians and ask them to raise these issues in their parliaments.