By the South Hebron Hills team.
Jibrin sits with quiet dignity and explains the effects of the occupation: ‘Life has become as small as a ring’, he says.
Jibrin was born in Qawawis, a community of shepherds in the South Hebron Hills. His family had fields of wheat and barley, sheep and olive trees. Then, in the mid-1980s, the Susya settlement, illegal under international law, was established by the Israeli government on Palestinian land just across the road. Things started to change. The settlers let their animals into the Palestinian fields and damaged the crops. They threw stones at the shepherds. Jibrin’s family moved nearer to the village for protection.
But the harassment didn’t stop: it got worse. The settlers carried guns. The last twenty years have seen fatalities and serious injuries among the shepherds. Two died after stepping on an improvised explosive device placed on a shepherding path. Jibrin’s neighbour has a plastic stomach as a result of being shot by a settler. Another has a damaged voice box after being shot in the neck and speaks with difficulty.
Nine years ago, settlers shot at Jibrin and put their sheep in his field. Jibrin went to another village for a year, still planting his Qawawis land even though the harvest was always taken by the settlers. But he realised he was in danger of losing his livelihood entirely and he returned to Qawawis.
Then the illegal outpost of Avigayil was set up. The Israeli government built the road to Avigayil on Jibrin’s land and he lost 10 dunams (about 1 hectare or 2.5 acres). Other land of his is in Firing Zone 918, declared a closed military area for military necessity. Jibrin risks being shot or imprisoned if he goes there. He has lost a further 500 dunams (about 50 hectares or 125 acres) as a result.
Land confiscation has reduced his flocks and profitability. Before the occupation, Jibrin bought 4 tons of winter feed for his 250 sheep. Now it’s 9 tons for only 50 sheep. ‘Many people have left because of all the problems here,’ he says. ‘If they all came back, we would have 100 new families to add to the 24 that remain. If we could get our land back, we could all survive and our way of life would survive, too.’
International organisations, like Operazione Colomba (Operation Dove) and Israelis opposing the occupation, like Ta’ayush, Yesh Din and B’Tselem, have been supporting the shepherds. For Jibrin, some things are better. Lawyers help to challenge land confiscation but it’s an expensive and slow process. Jibrin’s case has been with the Israeli government for two years. Shooting at shepherds has stopped but there is still shooting at sheep, running them down on the road, poisoning and theft of animals. Deliberate scattering of flocks happens regularly.
Complaints to the police result in no action, even when the perpetrator has been videoed in the act and is known. ‘And the army sees everything but does nothing’, Jibrin says. ‘A settler can ride a quad bike through a grazing flock and no one cares.’ Jibrin still challenges intruders, though. ‘Why are you here?’ he asked one settler who was walking on his land. ‘I am here for the Israeli Government,’ the settler replied. ‘But you are poor people. You are here for nobody.’
The settlers cut down 45 of Jibrin’s olive trees last year, losing him a ton of oil, a valuable crop which his family needs. He relies on the support of international agencies to keep his life viable. But he is determined to stay, continuing an existence thousands of years old. “Ibrahim, the father of the Jews and the Palestinians, was a shepherd, just as we are now,’ he says. ‘My life and my company are the sheep and the plants. I know no other life. I just want to live in peace.’
Under Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention an occupying power is prohibited from transferring parts of its own population into the land it occupies. All Israeli settlements are therefore illegal under international law. Remind your elected representative about this illegality.
Jibrin is one shepherd among thousands. Tell his story to explain how the settlements displace Palestinians from their land; prevent access to their land; damage their livelihoods; destroy Palestinian communities and their way of life. These are abuses of human rights. Tell your elected representative.