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A Day in the Hebron Hills

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 18th, 2011 | Middle East

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Standing on the hilltop we hear the goat herder before we see him. The voice of a young boy, 11 or 12 perhaps, whooping and hollering to urge his goats forward and onto the grazing land his family has been unable to access for the past 10 years. After a long battle, Israeli activists and lawyers have won the support of the Israeli High Court and these Palestinian shepherds are once more reunited with their land. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Palestinian Shepherd Boy
Palestinian Shepherd Boy

Nestled snugly between settlements, the shepherds are often harassed and driven off the land by aggressive settlers. At 6:30 a.m I join a group of Israeli and international activists and drive to the Hebron hills to participate in weekly activities that support Palestinians facing harassment from Israeli settlers in the West Bank.


Shoving the goats aside, a young boy approaches me. “What’s your name?” His sole English phrase. I reply with one of my few Arabic phrases and ask him his. Mahmoud points at my camera. Snapping a photo of him, we shield our eyes from the sun to see how it turns out. He smiles shyly before his mother calls him to help. Just above us clouds of dust roll forward before dissipating into the hills to reveal an IDF jeep.

IDF monitoring
IDF monitoring

Three jeeps and 12 soldiers cluster together. There is a discussion with the organizer and we are asked to leave as this land is designated for Palestinians only. We retreat to a nearby hill where we can still keep an eye on things. The IDF remain. The police show up to investigate, but retreat without asking anything.

After a few hours we trek to a nearby cluster of tents and rubble to help move rocks. A few tents are perched above the remains of houses that have been demolished multiple times by the IDF, who say the Palestinians build there without the necessary permits. These permits are almost never issued so Palestinians often build anyway or live in caves and tents. The hypocrisy of it is almost too much to bear as the Israeli settlements surrounding these “illegal” Palestinian homes seem to expand by the minute.

It’s dusty and hot and we carry buckets of rocks to an older man who dumps them near the entrance of a cave where his wife sits making tea for us. There is no running water and she carries a bucket from the bright yellow water tankers sitting along the outskirts of their community. Little girls in brightly colored clothing hover near the outside of a beige tent peering at us intently and bursting into giggles when we say something to them in English. Another IDF jeep appears on the ridge, but does not venture into the community.

IDF and water tankers
IDF and water tankers

After a few hours and many buckets of rocks, we stop for lunch. Sitting on a rock eating falafel and squinting into the scorching sun, I draft a letter in my head to Obama. It’s a letter I know that I will never send, but I write it anyway. As a political analyst,  I understand why Obama bows consistently to the pressure of Netanyahu, I understand why the U.S. turns a blind eye to the oppression here and why this perpetual suffering is not only allowed but tacitly endorsed. However my heart does not. It will never understand this mess. In this respect I am naive. I am naive and idealistic to believe it is morally unsound to enable the suffering of millions to preserve a political and economic alliance.

The overseeing of justice falls once more on the shoulders of activists as politicians continue to sacrifice democracy for diplomacy. Dozens of unarmed activists, American and Israeli, stand their ground against soldiers outfitted in part by U.S. tax dollars. This is the visible discrepancy between what the U.S. is and what it should be.

Israeli Outpost and Soldier
Israeli Outpost and Soldier

Surrounded by Israeli activists taking enormous personal risk and facing increasing threats in the form of an anti-boycott bill passed by the Knesset last week, their dedication strikes a chord within me. The soldiers push us back as we approach an illegal Israeli outpost, a tent set up by the settlers on Palestinian land to claim it.

Watching the IDF defend this outrageous illegal activity, I realize that as afraid as I am of being considered irrational or of losing credibility by taking a strong stance, I am more afraid of living in a world where the greed of a few and the complacency of a few more oppresses and impoverishes millions. Three jeeps and dozens of heavily armed soldiers escort us off the land as three settlers stand in the distance overlooking the scene.

Fellow: Nikki Hodgson



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