Accompanying Shepherds in the Jordan Valley.

When Rashid said that 5 of our group were needed for this activity it sounded idyllic to me, I naively thought that it would be a hassle free stroll in the desert - if the army saw us internationals with the shepherds. I was so wrong.

With Israeli activists Rabbi Arik Ascherman and Guy Hirschfeld, we travelled to the Bedouin village of Samra. Guy is always trying to encourage other Israelis from Jerusalem to witness what is happening in the Jordan valley and he had persuaded Michaela, a flamenco dance teacher to join us. Arik and Guy gave us some background: the shepherds, Diab, Himan and Faozi are continually prevented from grazing their sheep and two of them were detained for hours the day before, taken blindfolded and handcuffed to the army post. Luckily the sheep went down the mountainside unguided, luckily as it is essential that sheep drink water after a few hours if not it can result in their dehydration and death.

Guy accompanies shepherds three or four times a week and Arik lamented that one family he has been supporting could not endure the harassment any more and has left the area.

After a hearty breakfast - the shepherds insisted on us eating - we proceeded with the shepherds up the mountainside. At a roadside we met one army vehicle and after a brief conversation it sped off. Arik said that a message would be relayed back to base to say we were there. And sure enough, at the next peak we were met by three soldiers who said we could go no further. Guy, tried to take us to see the outpost that army were guarding for 'Omer the terrorist,' but we were barred. A stand off situation ensued: the soldier insisting that this was a closed military zone and Arik and Guy producing maps showing it wasn't. A shocked Michaela, who had not seen the army behaviour before declared, 'I am not happy in my skin.' After more argie bargie and, when Arik realised that the soldiers wanted to detain us, he shouted for us to go down the mountain, not wanting our passport numbers taken. So, we had the bizarre experience of being shouted at by Arik. 'Go down go down,' and the soldier running after us shouting 'Stop, come back here! Don't you understand me?' We obeyed Arik as he had impressed on us that we should always do what he said! We ended back in Samra to wait for them and the herd. More tea and coffee and 60 mins later everybody was back safe and sound. Arik said that he had heard the commander talking to the soldier on the walkie talkie saying 'if he quotes from Torah one more time arrest him.*'

We were invited to a delicious lunch and over this Guy explained that these shepherds had paperwork proving land ownership and he would be contacting a lawyer. Diab said that their case had been with a lawyer in the local town, Tubas, and nothing had happened for two years. Guy was optimistic he could do more. But it remains to be seen if anything can be achieved looking at the Israeli push to get the Bedouins out by declaring the land to be state land. The displacement of the indigenous peoples in the Jordan Valley encapsulates all of the elements of Israeli military occupation. There was time that the Jordan Valley supplied the West Bank with 70% of the meat and dairy products. Today, they are deprived of 85% of the land and their water supplies; 11,000 Bedouin are left whilst the settler population has grown to 65,000; many farmers have left for Jericho or Jordan. Without Arik, Guy and international accompaniers such as the EAPPI the situation could be much worse for the Bedouin. The following websites give a full explanation of the situation:

B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Four herding communities in the northern Jordan Valley at imminent risk of forcible transfer (OCHA oPt).
Humanitarian Fact Sheet On The Jordan Valley And Dead Sea Area (OCHA oPt).

*Arik often quotes from the Old Testament e.g Deuteronomy 22:1-3: "You shall not see your brother's/sister's ox or sheep lost, and ignore it. You must return them to your brother/sister. If s/he doesn't live close to you, and you don't know who they belong to, take them home until your brother/sister comes to claim them, and you can return them. You shall do the same for his/her donkey or his/her clothes, or anything else your brother/sister loses, and you find. You must not ignore. You shall not see your brother's/sister's donkey or ox fallen along the way, and ignore them. You must help him/her raise them up."