Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

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Mufaqara, Part 5: An Attack on Human Rights Observers

In the background, from the beginning of my visits to this area, there has been a group of Italians who run a project called Operation Dove(1). They describe themselves as a non-violent peace corps. I’d like to introduce you to them a little more, because I think they are running an excellent and inspiring project.

After getting to know the team for a month, I have found the who work with the project without exception to be sincere, courageous, hard working and generally lovely. They are welcomed by the shepherd families with wide open arms. Watching them play with the children is charming, and the adults trust them.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, they have asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, Operation Dove has asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.

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Mufaqara, Part 4: Building Houses

Last time I went through the details of dodging the military in order to move materials into Mufaqarah in order to build small concrete block houses. Two loads of concrete blocks were successfully delivered, while the military prevented some powdered rock and concrete from being delivered.

The day after these adventures with trying to sneak in building materials, we hold our usual Saturday get-together in Mufaqarah. Some Israelis, local palestinians, and international activists from many countries, including Canada, England, Germany, and United States come to visit the village. They are here to hear the story about the village, get updates on the campaign and help in the actual construction of new houses. They help to spread the story of this village as well as deter immediate violence from the military. Many of them work for news agencies, or NGOs. One or two are politically interested tourists.

In the morning the military comes to tell us, again, not to work on constructing the mosque. We make a big show of moving rubble (from a building that the military previously destroyed) into the mosque, ostensibly to level the floor. In fact, we have no intention of working on the mosque. We deliberately use it as a distraction so that they don’t pay attention to the houses we are putting up. It astonishes me that something simplistic like this could work, but the activists here assure me that it does. As for the importance of a concrete mosque, the shepherds here pray in the field next to their sheep, on the road lit up by the headlights of the military, in their caves and in the dining room. It looks to me that their mosque is in their heart, not composed of concrete blocks. They seem to have no qualms about using the building as a distraction to help in the campaign win their freedom.
An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor.  The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background. An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor. The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background.

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Mufaqara, Part 2: Moving In

In the last part of this series, I introduced the town of Mufaqara. Today I move in with Mahmoud and his family for a month.

A man in a ghutra, which is the collection white cloth and with black ropes that men here use instead of a hat, speaks loudly at me in Arabic. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, of course. Is this really going to work out? I don’t want to be shouted at for a month. The old English maxim that if you shout English loud enough, everyone understands isn’t true. It turns out, it’s not true for Arabic either. Before the rest of the international guests leave me here, I ask them to carefully explain to Mahmoud that I do not, in fact, speak a word of Arabic. And then, I am left, mostly incommunicado, in the South Hebron Hills, with some kind cave dwelling shepherds to document their determined resistance against the Israeli army and the Zionist movement.

My cellphone actually works if I stand in the right place in the village. And I’ve been here a few times before for the day to take pictures and help with house building. So things are not as odd as they may appear, but I know that I am in for some serious culture shock. I am more prepared than most Westerners, however, because of my experience living in an Ashram rural India and a monastery in Thialand. It turns out the conditions are much the same, which is to say extremely basic. I prefer to look at the situation as camping in a very nice, sturdy tent rather than living with no electricity or running water. Anyways if these people have been living here for years, I can do it for a month. It just takes some getting used to.
In front of the Temporary Portable Structure from the UN

One of the first things to get used to is quite serious for me. Normally, I’m vegan. But I have temporarily suspended my veganism with the justification that the whole point is to work against oppression. Sometimes, one needs to keep that in mind and in the balance I suppose that the oppression of these people somehow outweighs the oppression against the sheep from whom we take milk. Fellow vegans, judge me not. I am determined to remain vegetarian, which will come up later in this story in a most hilarious manner. Continue reading

Al Mufaqarah; Shepherds in Palestine Struggling to Exist

This series comes from a friend on the ground in Mufaqara, Palestine. We wish to share his writings and photos in order to give an in depth look at a lived experience in a conflict-affected area, delving into the issues around food and agriculture as appropriate.  Enjoy!

Part 1
Introduction to the little village that wouldn’t give up.


This map shows the location of Mufaqara. It has no label in Google Maps.

Mufaqara is a small village in West Bank, Palestine. Surrounded by the hostile Israeli army and aggressive, armed, Israeli civilians, the village of shepherds is putting up an unusually determined fight for its existence. For those of us familiar with the story of Asterix and Obelix the comparison is unavoidable. Continue reading