By EA Lesley, Southern West Bank.
Each day, while watering his flock after grazing, Abu Ahmed repeats his thanks to God as he pulls a bucket out of the well. Giving thanks for another day of grazing for his sheep and goats. Giving thanks that today there was no incident with the settlers who overlook the grazing pasture. Giving thanks for the presence of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), who have answered his request for protective presence.
Abu Ahmed is the first person we accompany as we take over as rookie EAs in the South Hebron Hills (in the south of the occupied West Bank). On our first night he called to ask us to be present as he grazed his sheep on the common pasture in the valley. The other shepherds have stopped grazing there for fear of harassment. Abu Ahmed does not proclaim fear. He just wants to shepherd his flock on the land that he and his forefathers have shepherded for generations. He understands the value of having “internationals” as witnesses to the circumstances in which he now lives.
He greets us as we approach his home, just before sunrise. His trust and welcome are part of his culture. A stranger will be welcomed and given hospitality for three nights before being asked why they have come. But we are not strangers. EAPPI is well known to Abu Ahmed and previous EAs have walked this land with him. As the sun rises we sit and share taboon bread, hot from the oven, made by his daughter Hadeel. We wash it down with black tea infused with sage and sugar.
Now it is time for work. We follow Abu Ahmed and his flock as they walk down the pasture towards the valley. Walking silently behind I watch the master shepherd with wonder and delight. He interacts with his flock in an elegant and organic way. I am reminded of Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.
Abu Ahmed is also watchful. But not for the predators that kept his father alert. He looks continuously to the ridge of the valley, conscious of the possibility of anger or demand.
This morning that possibility became a reality. A settler – one of 380,000 Israelis living in the occupied West Bank, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – called down the valley to Abu Ahmed. Within five minutes an armed Israeli soldier had arrived. Abu Ahmed continued to graze his flock. An Israeli military vehicle arrived and five more armed soldiers emerged. Three made their way towards Abu Ahmed and ordered him to leave the pasture. Under protest, Abu Ahmed moved his flock back down the valley and began to water his animals from the cistern. The soldiers ran forward again and insisted that he stop watering the animals and leave straight away.
As I walked back up the valley behind Abu Ahmed I wondered how he was feeling. What is it like to be ordered off the land that you have worked on all of your life? I wondered how the young armed men in uniforms were feeling about giving orders to a clearly unarmed elderly civilian. I wondered about the possibility of creating hope in this Holy Land.
As an EA my role is not to make sense of it all. I am here to be an impartial presence. I am here to give witness and report incidents of injustice. I am here to listen and notice and look for hope.