“The water the settlers waste on their grass over there would suffice for a thousand human beings a day.” That’s what Abu Saqer says, and he should know.
He pays thousands of shekels every month to bring in water by tanker from Bardala, some ways to the north. Once he had 70 or 80 wells and rain cisterns scattered over the hills near Hadidiye. All of them, without exception, have been blocked by the army. Even the cistern that several of us cleaned out and made usable again, four or five years ago, is dead, stopped up with rocks and soil and overgrown with weeds.
Abu Saqer is the one who said to us then, at the height of the fiery Jordan Valley summer, that of all the crimes the Israeli occupation inflicts, day by day, the most inhuman is the denial of water.
He is a man of breathtaking dignity. “It is not the fault of the soldiers,” he says, “they do what they are told. It is the fault of the politicians, the government, and the despicable prime minister.” Insult, an infinity of humiliations, speaks in every syllable. He owns his land, holds deeds of possession going back to Turkish times. But can he use the land? What is left? He was born in Hadidiye, like his father and grandfather before him; both are buried in the nearby cemetery. In the dark crevices of his sun-seared face you can read the lingering life of that village.
But I can see that Hadidiye has shrunk since I was last there. There are still remnants of the house demolitions that I witnessed. Apart from that, the village as a whole embodies the remorseless logic of the occupation: hem them in to ever narrower spaces, then drive them out once and for all. It seems to be working.
Today, December 2, 2020, is an ordinary day. We start at dawn with a visit to the site where soldiers impounded Yusuf’s tractor a few days back. Don’t think of a tractor as just another kind of vehicle. For the farmers of the Jordan Valley, you can’t do much without one. Above all, you can’t plow the fields before you sow them with wheat and barley. The army is demanding 5,000 shekels to release the tractor.
Then we go out on the hills with Burhan and Ashraf and the sheep. The grazing passes peacefully this time. Just below us, soldiers are shooting at targets in the army camp. Clack clack clack, all morning long. Apropos of clicks and clucks, I learn something new from Burhan. There are two entirely separate languages the shepherds use, one for goats, the other for sheep. For example, to get the sheep to head home, you say something like ghughughughughughu. For goats: aghagahghagha.
Sheep are not expected to understand goat language, and vice versa. It is possible that you can say almost anything in either of these tongues, once you’ve mastered them. Turn left. Turn right. Go uphill. Watch out. Settlers approaching. Soldiers approaching. There are fresh thorns over there. Don’t lose faith. I love you.
Towards sunset we stop at Taibeh, on top of the ridge over the Valley. Last night, under cover of darkness, settlers from the new outpost plowed over a huge swath of Palestinian fields. Good, fertile soil, privately owned. Arik knows the Taibeh owners. This is one proven way to steal land. A spooky detachment of soldiers, not in uniform, are now positioned across from the fields, beside the drone that no doubt recorded the theft, also some fancy wireless pole. They are not happy to see us.
Those of you who have not lost hope in humanity can try hard to imagine that the soldiers are there partly to keep the settlers away. The rest of you may assume that the soldiers are there to aid and abet the crime. Maybe some of you, like me, can manage to believe both theorems at once.
Today, December 4, 2020, a settler from the outpost Rotem attacked two cows of a Palestinian cowherd from Ein Hilwe; the cowherd was also badly hurt. There was no way he could get the cows back to their home, so he watched them die out on the hills.
We know that settler. We got the call too late to help. It’s an hour and a half drive from Jerusalem. Another ordinary day in occupied Palestine.
David Shulman is an Indologist and an authority on the languages of India. A Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he is an activist in Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership.