Saturday, September 5 2009 Accompanying Bedouin shepherds in the South Hebron hills

Over the last weeks there was an increase in settlers’ attacks on Bedouin shepherds near the outposts of Avigail, Mitzpeh Ya’ir, Havat Ya’acov, Talia and Asahel. Soldiers also started recently to participate in the effort to expel the shepherds from their grazing lands.

Following an attack by a settler from the Avigail outpost on a Bedouin shepherd from Mufakara during the course of the week, and after the settlers’ attempt on Friday to persuade the army to expel the Bedouin from the area, we decided to accompany the shepherds on Saturday. While we were with them, and all was especially quiet and uneventful, one of the settlers decided that he doesn’t want the presence of Palestinian shepherds in the area. This was after a “boundary” had been fixed which the Palestinians must not cross (valid for them only and not for the settlers) in order to preserve a distance of 30 metres from the outpost of Avigail. We were with the shepherds in the “permitted” area when the settler arrived. He tried to threaten the shepherds, moving among the sheep and goats in a vain attempt to drive them away, but as we did not react, and continued to peacefully graze the flocks, he then turned towards the huddle of tents and shacks which is the village of Mufakara. Two army jeeps were already standing near the grazing area (the soldiers had already checked the Palestinians’ documents at the beginning of the day, and confirmed the limits of the permitted grazing area). The settler entered the village and started to “check out” the first tent on his way. He walked around inside the tent as if he owned it, the women and children inside screaming with fear. He then started towards another home full of women and children, intending to enter, but we were close behind him and blocked the entrance. He claimed that as there was no electric gate to the village he saw no reason why he couldn’t walk in. His presence and his attempt to enter the tents aroused fear, anger and frustration among the women living there, especially as all the time six to eight soldiers “accompanied” him and did not prevent him from entering private homes. (If it had been the other way round and we had tried to enter Avigail they would immediately have pulled out a “closed military zone” order or have arrested us – not to mention entering private homes) The soldiers protected him from the potential results of his provocation. Only after we begged them to do their duty and get him out of there, and they sensed a brewing storm, did the soldiers (politely) ask him to leave. We returned with the sheep and goats to the grazing grounds, only to find that the soldiers had limited even further the permitted grazing area and did not allow us to reach even the first boundary that had been set.

The settler’s behavior and his violation of the law were recorded by us and a complaint was filed with the police.