The Jordan Valley: Visiting shepherds families and violent incidents with settlers

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Nurit Popper, Tzvia Shapira , Sharon G.,Omer K. Yosi G. joining us , Tal Haran translating

Nurit and I left Rosh Ha-Ayin train station at 7:15 a.m. and drove straight to the northern Palestinian Jordan Valley. We parked at one of the junctions and got into the SUV of Sharon who was waiting for us there. We meant to first visit Hiam, in the encampment just below the track leading to the new settler-colonist outpost. Midway uphill we saw settler-colonists driving an old and rundown residential bus (this was the bus at the new outpost) and an empty trailer dragged by a pickup truck. We identified the settler-colonists – Tzuri (from Al Hamma), Menachem (from Hemdat) and Asael (from the new outpost).  When they saw us they must have called the army that came down from the outpost, but at this point there was no talk yet between us and the soldiers.

Hiam was very glad to see us. Her initial suspiciousness in our previous visits has completely vanished. She hugged us warmly and challenged our Arabic with her fast talking. We talked outside the tent, her husband Yahya came too, having grazed the flock right near the encampment. We asked about the disabled child’s health. She made a face. We brought them some important things: a mat, a rug, a warm blanket, shoes, clothes and toys for the children.

We wished to go up to the new outpost to see if it had in fact been evacuated. The soldiers hinted that this was so, but stood in such a way as to prevent us from getting there. We decided to drive to Ras Al Ahmar.

The way to Ras Al Ahmar passes vast green fields irrigated by sprinklers that do not spare water. The way was very muddy and driving was difficult. We felt that at any moment our tall and strong vehicle would skid and lose balance. But Sharon’s experienced hands and spirit managed to stabilize the car and lead us safely through the mud. (Later Sharon admitted that she too was concerned but felt we trusted her so she managed to get through).

R.’s family, as always, welcomed us with happy hugs, we entered the tent and were immediately served warm sweet tea, homemade tasty flatbread and delicious zucchini salad. Talking with them we learned, through a friend’s translation, that the reason Raneen didn’t register at the university was that her matriculation was not in sciences so she wasn’t accepted to study nursing. This we understood only in hindsight. We shall speak with them about this next time (if we manage the muddy track). They manage to reach the road by riding donkey-back, no skidding problems there…).

We drove back and waved to the man and woman who live in a tent on the way, with whom we spoke last week. We noted that next time we must stop with them for they seem to want contact with us.

Close to the ascent to the new outpost we no longer saw soldiers and decided to see for ourselves whether the outpost had been evacuated. We were already at the end of the ascent, just before the curve at the highest spot on the road, when suddenly we were faced with a pickup truck in which Menachem sat, stopping and blocking out way. Nurit went to him, knocked on his windshield, but the “lord of the land” did not deign to speak with her. Sharon could not back up on this steep, narrow track, it was too dangerous for us. At that moment settler-colonist Asael joined in another vehicle, and began to curse us. Sharon summoned the police, and we also called up our friends Yosi and Omer, who were done accompanying B. and his flock to pasture. They hurried to us which of course was very encouraging.

Policeman Mickey took much longer to arrive. From the moment he got there, “the great show” began. The settler-colonists summoned all their stars: Tzuri, Uri, Didi and other religious youth judging by their attire and skullcaps – who stared at us without understanding what we were doing there, and photographed us with their telephones. They must have emerged from one of the yeshivas in the area.

Policeman Mickey tried to speak to these hooligans the way a kindergarten teacher speaks with naughty children, actually pleaded with them – and they couldn’t give him the time of day. He demanded of them to move back and enable us to go up in order to turn around and go down. They stood there giggling, and wouldn’t budge. He asked all of us to get back into our cars. We did, while they just stood there laughing. They know no one will hold them accountable, a whole government endorses their behavior, and they will do whatever they see fit. Listen to a policeman?? Don’t be funny. “What’s a policeman? What the law? This land is ours and no one will tell us what to do here”…

For an hour and a half this shameful scene continued. The helpless policeman who has no authority over them called the army. Soldiers came, and stood by too, they also had their orders not to touch the lords of the land.

The vehicle line behind us was getting very long. Then a larger force of soldiers arrived, with helmets and bulletproof vests, all of the gear aiming to make the hooligans finally make way. We ended up passing through the narrow track, as “his highness” Menachem moved his vehicle a tiny bit. An officer arrived (Gal Rubin whom we all know), took charge and helped Sharon descend with her vehicle on the steep narrow track. Now the settler-colonists were pissed off. They stood around us, irritated, cursed and complaining that we had come to their home, called us rude old hags, and wished us dead (I actually heard Menachem say it). While the vehicle was turning around we looked and saw that the outpost was still standing quite there, with the cows in their corral, and nothing seems to have been evacuated.

To quote Omer: if this were not sad, it would be highly amusing – 5 activists, 15 settler-colonists, 10 soldiers and a helpless policeman.

One thought kept nagging the whole time: how true the verse – “thy destroyers and wasters are from thee”… This state has no hope after having nurtured the hooligan settler-colonist “lords of the land”.

We returned to Rosh Ha-Ayin at 2:30 p.m.