By EAs M. Mowe and G. Kerr-Sheppard, Yanoun Team.
EAPPI HAS MAINTAINED A ROUND-THE-CLOCK PRESENCE IN YANOUN SINCE EARLY 2003. THE PRESENCE OF ‘INTERNATIONALS’ AS WITNESSES TO DOCUMENT AND RECORD INCIDENTS HAS HELPED TO DETER SETTLER ATTACKS BUT THE SITUATION REMAINS VOLATILE.
Our regular evening walks are one of the Yanoun teams most pleasant tasks. We gladly undertake this hour and a half long trip, it is a delight to ramble down the old road between Upper and Lower Yanoun and then to turn East towards overlooking the Jordan Valley.On our way, we pass rolling hills with picturesque hillsides and a valley floor with crop bearing meadows, almond and olive trees. The oldest of these olive trees, known as a ‘Roman’ because it dates back to the days of the Roman Empire, has spread its trunk so wide that we can step inside it. Yet, as old as it is, it still has leafy branches and bears olives.
Once we turn left at the cross road we see the hill known as Nabi Noon, still bearing the remnants of an old mosque built in honour of the Prophet Noon. There are pastures and more olive trees, with ancient stone boundaries that clearly mark out each family’s share of the land.
Midway through the walk we reach the furthest point accessible to us, with a view of a beautiful valley with rolling hills as far as you can see. Rocks and caves are a feature, once home to shepherds who tended their flocks on the hillsides. Sometimes we are lucky enough to catch fleeting glimpses of Palestinian gazelle bounding across the landscape. Hawks glide past and small mounds of earth are tell tale signs of moles. When the weather is good, we can easily see the mountains of Jordan in the distance. It is powerful and awe inspiring, yet relaxing in its natural beauty.
This area has been the home and livelihood for the residents of Yanoun for generations. Life here follows the cycle of the seasons. Sewing and planting takes place in stages throughout the year depending on the crop, in autumn the olives are harvested, and spring brings the milking and cheese making season.
Suddenly, it occurs to us in the midst of all this rural harmony that one thing was missing during our evening walk. There were no domestic animals in sight! In other countries sheep roam freely on hillsides, grazing on seasonal pastures. But here, around Yanoun, there are no animals grazing along the rocky sides of the hills, moving at will, close to nature.
The mystery deepens when, on our return from the walk, we meet a small herd of sheep and goats accompanied by the sons of one of the villagers. These sheep and goats live in the barn below our house and they have been allowed out onto a small flat area beside their shed, where they are being fed. With grain. Yanouni farmers have to buy grain feed, despite the plentiful, free vegetation close by.
The answer to the mystery of this interuption to the organic, natural and rural way of life becomes increasingly obvious to us as we settle into the routine of our new home. The hilltops surrounding us are no longer known by their ancient names, but are now know by numbers ascribed to them by the Israeli Administration. The hills we walk past are called 836 and 777. And clearly visible from all parts of the village are the cabins and agricultural buildings of settlement outposts inhabited by the settler farmers and their livestock.
The settlers present a constant danger to both sheep and shepherds. Shepherds grazing their animals too far up the hill sides may be attacked, arrested or even shot. Sheep who wander too far will be taken and lost. There is no negotiation, and no recourse to law. Under the Oslo Accords of 1993 the village of Yanoun lies in Area C. It is thus under the full control of the Israeli administration, which controls all security and land-management (http://www.btselem.org/topic/area_c). Hidden behind our hills lies the ever growing settlement of Itamar, founded in 1984. The outposts surrounding Yanoun are paving the way for further expansion, absorbing the lands of all the villages surrounding it.
So, while Yanoun waits for its fate to be decided in the far-off international forum, here in the village the march of time brings a steady encroachment on the lives and livelihoods of her families. And leaves her hillsides sadly empty of sheep.