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Bedouin Land: A Fragile Desert Ecology and a Tenuous Life

The tan, rocky, low-mountain desert of southern Palestine receives a yearly average of about ten inches of rainfall and that is almost exclusively in the winter. The area was once the floor of a primordial sea and marine snail shells can sometimes be seen. Hardy scrubs and grasses are sufficient to feed the small flocks of sheep and goats of the Bedouin people who eke out a living here.
Eric and Walt hike through the sparse grazing lands.
As the MPTers hiked these rugged south Hebron hills to Tuba mid-morning to avoid the hot noon sun, they reminded one another of the sensitivity of the desert ecology and how well the lifestyle of the Bedouins who live here respects that sensitivity.

Despite the trekking of Bedouin shepherds and the flocks across these desert hills for hundreds of years, there is little visible damage to the landscape. Trails have not been dug into the land. Trails are actually difficult to find by inexperienced pathfinders. Previous to the 1990s, Bedouin flocks were up to 400 animals, but have been reduced to about ¼ of that with the increased confiscation of land for illegal Israeli settlements in this area.

Bedouin subsistence life is gentle to the land. Their diet consists of dairy products and meat from their animals, bread from the wheat they plant and harvest in the slopping ravines, and a few purchased food products.
Goats and sheep provide milk, meat and wool.
A few olive trees, grape vines, and tomato plants provide treats now and then.

A small garden is a source of pride and delight.

The expectation of a harvest

Bedouins dwell in tent-like housing or caves, carefully using the water they draw from deep cisterns on the hill slopes.

Young woman drawing water to be carried by the donkey.
When necessary, they walk, use donkeys and take public transportation to nearby towns. They are a people who seem happy with their families and simple life.

This gregarious young woman gives the team an ongoing commentary in Arabic whether the team understands or not.

However, the Israeli settlers have established large scale agribusinesses which are not environmentally friendly. The limited availability of water and the waste byproducts from intensive agribusiness pose a potential longer-term threat to the delicate desert environment.
Cattle containment stock lots operated by settlers.

Settler-owned and operated chicken containment coops.

MPTers arrived in Tuba on time to do school patrol for the Bedouin children coming home from school, which we repeated the next morning.
Walt walks the school children to the chicken coops to meet the army jeep that will take them through a settler area.

MPTers spent time visiting with two families and helping a bit with the harvesting of the wheat.

MPTers helped harvest the spindly wheat.

Despite the unfamiliar beauty of the land and the welcoming spirit of the Bedouin families, there was a sense of fear at times within the team. The Christian Peacemaker Team [CPT] had reported to them an invasion three days earlier of 20 heavily armed Israeli settlers, army, and police into the nearby At Tuwani village. Several Palestinians were injured and a member of Operation Dove [an Italian peace team that works with CPT] had a possible eye injury. All were returned from the hospital to the village before we left. The Israeli army and police did not respond to the pleas of the Palestinian villagers or the internationals from CPT and Operation Dove even when the police and soldiers were witnesses to the brutality of the Israeli settlers. After hearing this report, MPTers walked two and a half hours with great alertness through desert land where settlers have harassed and seriously injured Palestinians and internationals.

In the evening as the shadows crept across the hills and the women were drawing water, the 17-year old daughter from the family who lives in the cave, spotted two settlers coming down a hill a distance from them. When she pointed out the settlers, she seemed a bit hysterical. Her mother had been beaten by settlers a few months ago. To the relief of the young women drawing water, the settlers turned and returned to the settlement. However, the village invasion news, the citing of settlers on nearby distant hill, and the fact the Israelis were celebrating 60 years of independence [which for Palestine means 60+ years of occupation] kept the team alert.
Preoccupied with a possible settler attack, Eric and Ibrahim trudge under lengthening shadows home with the harvest.
Some MPTers slept fitfully that night wondering if settlers would invade to hurt the people and destroy their dwellings or animals and also hurt them. However, the team only has to deal with this feeling of fear for a brief time compared to the daily occupation the Bedouins feel for themselves, their children, and their livelihood.

Hafez - "Gandhi of the South.'

Returning to At Tuwani, the team stopped to visit Hafez, whom some MPTers call “Gandhi of the South.” He shared his inspiring life story, which is always difficult for him to tell because he relives the suffering at each telling. A few years ago, Hafez was at a meeting with Israeli peace activists when he received a call that his 71-year-old mother was being attacked and beaten by Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement. The settlers were attempting to steal the sheep his mother was herding in an area close to his home. Despite the threat of death with settler rifle shots near his feet, Hafez moved toward his mother. The settlers stopped and retreated, leaving the sheep with Hafez’s mother when they saw the Israeli activists had come to tape the events with video cameras. Hafez thought of revenge, but decided that violence against violence would only continue the violence and would eventually destroy his whole family. Even when faced with this horrible event he chose nonviolence and has continued to work with the Bedouin people of the area, developing leaders and helping to educate people in nonviolence. In a demonstration two years ago, he suffered broken ribs and received a court order that keeps him away from demonstrations, but not the opportunity to continue to organize the people and direct demonstrations by phone from a distance.

The team left with heavy hearts for the suffering of the Bedouin people, but with hope for the future because of the nonviolent work of the communities there, led by the “Gandhi of the South.”
Evening shadows cross the beautiful southern Hebron hills.

1 comment:

Ron said...

Greetings from Northwestern Ohio. This has been something that has been on my mind since I've met Bishop Younan who is the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land last year. Please know that all of your group is being lifted in prayer by the Northwest Ohio Synod-ELCA prayer team. May God's Holy Spirit guide you and keep you safe.