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The settlers came out yesterday and drove the shepherds away. Yesterday was
Shabbat and the first day of Pesach. There are many ways to celebrate a festival.
Today the shepherds have four large herds out on the hills. We walk two or three
kilometers, maybe more, toward the farthest herd. The sun is leaking light as we begin, but
by the time we approach the ridge the sky turns black, and then it’s raining hard, and after
that there is heavy hail, and a fierce frozen wind. It doesn’t stop. In all my years in Palestine
with Ta’ayush, I have never encountered a day like this.
The hillside turns into a bog. We tough it out for a while but when the path becomes
more or less impassable we begin to slog our way back through the mud, toward the tents,
pushing upstream against the wind and slipping on the wet rocks. The shepherds, lightly
dressed, soaked to the skin, as we are, tell us they are going to stay put and take the sheep
down the slope into the valley. No settlers will come out on a day like this. Sometimes I
think the settlers, and the State, with all their guns, don’t know who they’re up against.
Earlier, over a breakfast of pita and fresh butter, Ali says: “For the last thirty years
there were no problems here. We could take the sheep anywhere on the hills. The soldiers
didn’t bother us either. Two years ago the settlers [of the illegal outpost, Angels of Death]
arrived, and since then the trouble never ends.”
“It will end someday,” I say. “We’re here with you whenever you need us.”
“Soon, Inshallah,” says Ali.
I say, “This whole week is a holiday, you know?”
“Yes, we heard.”
“We are not supposed to eat bread, hubz.”
“For the whole week?”
“Yes, the whole week.”
“What about some rolls?”
“No, not allowed.”
“Why this rule?” It’s like being back at the Seder table.
“It’s a holiday about when the Banu Isra’il left Egypt, where we were slaves,” I say.
“Yes, they came out into the desert for 40 years, we know the story.”
“And they had to hurry, so there was no time to bake bread.”
“Would you like to see what we eat this week?” I ask him. I have brought some
matzot in my backpack, I dig them out and offer them to Ali. He likes the taste and takes
another piece, then another. Guy disappears for a moment into the tent, and Ali asks me,
“Is he Jewish?”
“Guy? Yes, he’s Jewish, like me. We’re Jews.”
“Right, you’re good people. Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, Palestinians, what does it
matter? It all comes from Allah and is in his power. There are good people and not so good
people. Tomorrow I will die, or you will die. What difference does it make what names we
“Yes,” I say. “It’s true. Then we were slaves. Or at least that’s the story we tell
ourselves, and because we escaped, the Jews have this holiday. And they call it ‘Id al-
hurriye, the festival of freedom.” I am wondering if Ali can hear the bitterness in my voice.
“Hurriye,” says Ali. “What’s that?”
By David Shulman