Shepherding under occupation

By the Jordan Valley team,

We arrived early, just after sunrise. We met with Abu Sami* and his family along with members of Ta’yush, an joint Israeli and Palestinian organisation. Abu Sami lives close to a settlement in the North of Jordan Valley and his family looked very afraid of the consequences of the land action that was about to take place. Abu Sami and his family were preparing to graze their sheep on land that the settlers have taken control of in Khirbet Tell el Himma. The land is privately owned by a Palestinian family and Abu Sami rents it from them to graze his sheep, however, because of frequent harassment from settlers, the family are no longer able to use it. Today was going to be different…

“We have been living next to the settlement for many years and we don’t do any harm to anyone, we just want to live and to be able to walk with our sheep and have access to the land” – Nadia, Um Sami*

There was a long discussion between the family and the members of Ta’ayush. When the discussion was over, Abu Sami and the shepherds began guiding the flock of sheep towards the top of the hill near the outpost. We accompanied the shepherds to provide presence and deter the settlers from harassing them. EAPPI teams provide this type of protective presence to vulnerable communities throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. [1] [2]

1. Khirbet Tell el Himma Shepherds with their flock. EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 22.09.2016

Tubas, Khirbet Tell el Himma Shepherds with their flock. EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 22.09.2016

“We want to send a message by this action, we will not let them take over the land”
– said a member of Ta’ayush.

Settlements and settler violence restrict farmers access to land 

It took Abu Sami and his sons a while before they dared to lead the sheep down the hill facing the outpost. They were very tense and kept looking around to make sure there was no danger for themselves or the animals. We were quite worried too. Settler attacks are quite common. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were a total of 221 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2015. Attacks are often carried out under armed protection of Israeli soilders and attacks against Palestinians rarely result in a conviction. [3]

When they got close to the outpost and the road to the settlement they turned back again and lead their sheep to the hilltop. Abu Sami had got too worried. The noises the shepherds made to communicate with the sheep had become more pressing, more urgent.

2. Khirbet Tell el Himma. Sheep close to outpost. EAPPI/I. Hernes. 22.09.2016,

Tubas, Khirbet Tell el Himma. Sheep graze in the foreground with illegal outpost in the background. EAPPI/I. Hernes. 22.09.2016,

The dust the sheep made as they walked on the hill that early morning created a beautiful sight. Abu Sami looked pleased to see his sheep graze on a side of the hill he would not normally use out of fear of harassment by the settlers. Even the sheep seemed excited to be on a spot where there was much more grass to eat than where they are usually taken to. It appeared as though this was a feast they had been longing for!

While we were standing on the hill, some settlers took pictures of us from a distance while others talked on the phone. We expected someone from the settlement, like a security guard, to come and talk to us. We had maps which showed that it was legal for these farmers to graze their sheep on this land. Meeting with settlement security would have enabled us to remind them that these farmers had a right to access their land and that even according to Israeli law the settlers had no legal right to access the land.

There are currently between 500,000 – 600,000 Israelis living in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law. According to international law settlements and outposts are illegal because the violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory. [4]

It is unlawful under the Fourth Geneva Convention for an occupying power to transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies. This means that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of settlements, as these are a form of population transfer into occupied territory. Any measure designed to expand or consolidate settlements is also illegal. Confiscation of land to build or expand settlements is similarly prohibited. “ [5]

As we were on our way back, we saw a military jeep arrive but then leave again. Everything seemed to be calm. The sheep were taken back to drink some water. We left, determined to come back if it was requested by the family. They were still quite worried, expecting some sort of retaliation: they had been harassed so many times before for only trying to approach the other side of the hill.

Khirbet Tell el Himma, Sheep drinking water. EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 22.09.2016

Tubas, Khirbet Tell el Himma, Sheep drinking water. EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 22.09.2016

In the afternoon, Abu Sami went to graze the sheep on this hill again. When he reached the top of the hill, a car with what he thinks were settlers appeared close by. He got frightened and lead his flock back down the hill again.

Five days later, we received a phone call from the family. Their whole village, consisting of 11-28 structures had been demolished. Israeli authorities arrived at 8am on the 27th of September and demolished village without warning. According to residents homes, livelihood sheds, water cisterns, lavatory facilities and solar panels were all destroyed.

Khirbet Tell an Himma, Mass home demolitions five days later. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 27.09.2016

Tubas, Khirbet Tell an Himma, Mass home demolitions five days later. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler. 27.09.2016

The residents of Tell an Himma as well as NGOs who work in the area, including B’Tselem, believe that settler might have pressurised the Israeli authorities to demolish the village in retaliation for the land action.

“We have a permission to be on this land that we rent from the owner who has the papers to prove it. They took pictures of us to be able to tell the soldiers that it was us grazing the sheep last week” – said Abu Samis sister.

“This demolition was a form of punishment of the family” said a B’Tselem representative.

The community tell us that they are afraid but that they will try to graze the sheep on the same place again tomorrow. They are determined reclaim access to their land, it is their right and the survival of this shepherding community depends on it.
*The names of these individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

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