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.
The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.
The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.
On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.
Every day in the afternoon someone takes the sheep out to graze. This job belongs to the boys, and today it’s an outing for 4 brothers to take about one hundred animals out to pasture. They split the herd into two so that it is more manageable. Each half can be led by a single person, but it’s nice to have more people to help.
Mahmoud owns several pieces of land, and today since we are going to an especially dangerous piece one of the boys made it a point to ask me to come along. We are going to graze the sheep near an outpost and are therefore at risk of settler attack as well as harassment by the military. The name of the outpost (a small settlement illegal even under Israeli law) is Avigail.
We leave Mufaqarah and cross a valley, stopping for a drink most of the way up on the other side. The water comes from a cistern built for this purpose. The cistern has recently been cleaned, all the silt being removed by hand, one bucket at a time, from the tank. A dry river of soil lay downstream of the tank provides a dramatic illustration of soil erosion in the catchment area. All of this soil emptied from the tank represents destroyed topsoil.
The second time I visit Susya I’m exhausted and sick. I fall asleep in a tent and when I wake up I don’t know where anybody is. Eventually I get a call from the Operation Dove team who tend to be a little more on the ball than I :-). The protest is over and they pick me up to go back to Mufaqarah. My consolation is that I was able to examine a home-made grain thresher that someone in Susya must have built. Mahmoud tells me I abandoned him, and he almost got arrested. I tell him he deserted me in a foreign country where I can’t speak the language. We are both half serious.
A home made grain thresher.
The next time we go to Susya there is a march organized to protest the harassment and planned destruction of the town.
There are hundreds of people, with bus after bus coming from Israel and Palestine. The military tries to stop them, blocking the vehicles as they approach the village. People don’t turn around though, they get out of the busses and walk the rest of the way towards Susya. Continue reading →
This post contains accounts of serious human rights abuses and is for mature audiences only. This post has taken me many days to write and the people in this cafe must think I’m a bit strange since I have been visibly disturbed more than once.
The map shows the location of the Palestinian town of Susya, which has no label on Google Maps. The nearby labeled town of Susya is the new, invasive, settlement which has taken the name.
Susya is another village in the South Hebron Hills, about two hours by donkey from Mufaqara. Like many towns in this area, the Zionist movement is trying to erase this village and re-colonize the area with Israeli settlers. The story of Susya is inspiring because their resistance has been especially determined. Yet terribly sad because of what they have been through, and the fact that the same thing has happened to hundreds, even thousands, of other villages like Susya. In most instances the Israeli military was successful long ago and the towns no longer exist.
The town of Susya has been under threat for many years, and life has been very difficult since the settlements began. In the past, the town has been destroyed by the military more than once. Many people left, but some stayed and rebuilt their homes. Recently, the military has renewed their efforts to destroy the town. Five months ago the military issued statements that are coming to destroy 15 of their buildings. With support from an American Zionist organization, a new court case was been opened against the town of Susya, in February. The case claims Susya to be an “illegal outpost”, although the village has existed here long before the state of Israel. Continue reading →
After dodging soldiers for a few days, things get a little more quiet in the village. Further down the road things are heating up in a village called Susya, but I will save that for the next entry.
For now, I have a chance to pull weeds from the vegetable garden, and watch the last parts of the grain harvest. The dry season is well advanced, some zucchini and cucumbers are coming, the sunflowers are almost ready, the tomatoes are mostly still flowering and the grain is harvested. The olives are finished being pollinated but are still very small drupes. The third house is coming along, with Sayyid and Nisham working hard on it.
The third house is progressing, after sneaking materials past the soldiers. Continue reading →
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, Operation Dove has asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.