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Another Trip to the Caves of Tuba

On July 8, 2008 MPT traveled to Tuba in the south Hebron hills for another overnight stay with families who live in the caves there. Even before arriving they came upon a change that has taken place since their visit two weeks earlier. The Israeli army has placed a series of large earth mound roadblocks across the road that leads to At Tuwani and Tuba. The MPT taxi was forced to turn around at the roadblock and MPTers continued their journey on foot.

MPT’s Christian Peacemaker Team friends in At Tuwani explained that the Israeli army had begun putting the roadblocks up on the same day that they had delivered an order to demolish a cistern local Palestinians had recently built. The cistern had been built without a permit because Israel would not issue a permit and the people needed water.

Now the cistern is gone and with the roadblocks it is not possible to bring water in by trucks. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has become involved because Israel’s actions are clearly creating a water crisis for local Palestinians.

As MPT walked with CPTers to meet the shepherds of Tuba on their grazing land, they passed the entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’on.

The greenery in the photo below indicates that unlike the Palestinian communities, the Israeli settlement of Ma’on is not suffering from a shortage of water.

Palestinians first asked for an international presence in this area in 2004 because the settlers of Ma’on had established a pattern of harassing and brutalizing them. Of particular concern was the settler practice of beating up Palestinian children as they walked past the illegal settlement on their way to school.

An Israeli court has actually ordered the Israeli army to provide a protective escort to the Palestinian children as they go to and from school each day. This is the only place in the Occupied Territories where an army escort has been ordered to protect Palestinians from the brutality of Israeli settlers.

The Israeli army does not always live up to its court-ordered responsibilities. Sometimes the army arrives late, and some days they do not show up at all. CPTers are thus on constant watch to monitor the children’s safety as they walk to and from school.

MPTers also walked past a fenced in grove of olive trees, an unusual sight in that the fence is not the high razor wire type used by Israelis and Palestinians do not usually fence their trees. CPTers explained that in 2006 Israelis had chopped all these trees in half, killing many of them. (The stories of wanton Israeli destruction are unending.)

The trees had later been fenced in by the Palestinian family that owns them to protect them from further attack and to try to resurrect them. Two years later the trees are coming back to life.

A phone call came from one of the Tuba families explaining that the shepherds had brought the sheep in from grazing early because they had caught sight of some threatening settlers in the distance. Soon after the phone call MPTers spotted two donkeys coming down the hill from Tuba to meet them. It was a royal welcome!

After passing the early afternoon in a Tuba cave drinking tea, conducting a lesson in English, and watching children play cards, MPTers went out with the sheep for late afternoon grazing.

This time the sharp eyes of the shepherds spotted a settler on horseback on top of a distant hill, but the settler did not draw close. Can you see the settler?

The rest of the day passed peacefully as MPT watched the sheep and goats move nimbly over the hilly, rocky terrain. Listening to the sounds of their movement and their munching gives new meaning to the term “rustling”, which is exactly the sound the animals make in a quiet that is otherwise broken only by the occasional sound of a shepherd’s call - or by the annoying roar of an Israeli fighter jet streaking overhead.

MPTers learned on this visit that the names of two young pups learning their roles as sheepherders are Rex and Bobby. They are the cutest little team at age ten months, and their work obviously tires them out at this stage of their careers!

Back in Tuba for the night, the sheep and goats were fed grain, milked, and reunited with their babies.

A common symbol in this part of the world is a blue glass eye once thought to provide protection from evil. MPT noticed a necklace with this blue glass eye around the throat of one of the sheep. Let us hope it and powers far greater work for these animals and the families who own them, and for all who are so vulnerable to the whims and violence of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

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