Jordan Valley, Uja, shepherd escort
Today we accompanied the Auja shepherds M., his brother A. who led Abu A.’s flock, and Umm R. The flocks leave the village at 5:30 a.m. and walk about 3 km towards the Omer Ranch, where there is very little dry stubble for the goats to feed on. The gap is great - between the colors of the Omer Ranch drenched in green, and the yellow fields where even thorns have a hard time. The shepherds reached the area at 6:10 a.m. and dispersed looking for grazing. We brought along Halahs, honey and apples for the New Hebrew Year, hoping that this year something would change for the better. One can always hope… Unfortunately, the State of Israel and its emissaries at the outpost ‘ranches’ understand only brute force and violence. Around 8 a.m., towards the end of our stay, A. who was further into the area with the flock, called and asked me to join him for he saw Omer’s car. Obviously he was very afraid and made a huge detour to return to the road and on home, far from the ranch.
Nurit and Michal stayed with Umm R.’s flock. A short while afterwards, indeed Omer appeared and stopped his car next to them. Umm R. covered her face and walked away. One could see she was very scared. Omer tried to be friendly, but didn’t really manage it. He began by saying he appreciated what we do, in spite of our differences of opinion. We asked him why his neighbors are so afraid of him and why he wouldn’t let them graze their flocks in peace. He said that he had leased the grounds (including the part across the road that was held by Nahal Yitav which didn’t make it) from the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department for 49 years. He pays monthly leasing dues and has invested a lot of money developing the area. He also said he learned how to regenerate the grazing grounds. He claimed that when he got there it was all barren and he was the one who “made the wilderness bloom”. Right not, because of over-grazing, the are is barren again and it must be regenerated. We remarked that if the shepherds had his water, help and resources, they could also regenerate the same grazing ground.
Omer said he is interested in guiding the shepherds in caring for this area, and has already made contact with a roots organization in Jericho. Answering our question why he didn’t think of such cooperation 17 years ago, he answered that he was different then, and now he has “undergone a process”. We hurried to finish our conversation. He also mentioned that he has no intention of leaving his ranch and will continue to expand and develop it. He said he owed a lot of money to the banks, but interestingly, just this year he has begun to have profits in his ranch and is able to expand it. Another point he made was that he has leased both sides of the road but he “deigns” to let the Palestinians graze on the one side of the road.
Omer also said that he was caring for youth in danger, making sure they enlist in the army and that hundreds have already been in his care. The youth reach the ranch through the welfare bureau. This is another ‘smoking gun’ attesting to the links of the state institutions and the education to hatred by means of these ranches and their ‘hill youth’.
Throughout our conversation, we repeated emphatically that his mere being there is a sin. But Omer continued to play the role of the goodness in man.
At 9 a.m. we got in our car, collected Umm R. who waited for us, and her 14-year-old son returned the sheep home. We drove to her home in the village. She managed to tell us that the settler-colonists of Mevo’ot Yericho, too, harass them, and have dug a ditch preventing the sheep from grazing there.
We finished with some strong black coffee – and may we be able one day to get there not only to drink coffee nor have to prevent harassment by the settler-colonists, lords of the land and its thieves.