Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Water in an arid land

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east. And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it. For out of that well they watered the flocks, and a great stone was upon the well's mouth. And thither were all the flocks gathered, and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.

And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep. And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them. And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep. And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. (Book of Genesis, Chapter 29).

So begins one of the oldest and most well-known love stories in world culture. A story which was originally told in a society of shepherds for whom the raising of herds and watering them was at the center of daily life. A story which may have been often told when shepherds met at the waterhole, and which was eventually written down, and included in a Holy Book, and translated into all the languages of the world. It is still told to all children in Israeli schools (sometimes they hear it already in the kindergarten). A story which is part of the heritage that the Zionist Movement cited when firmly laying claim to the ancestral land of the Jews.

When arriving in this country as a young pioneer, David Ben Gurion tried his hand at being a shepherd, but did not last in that profession for more than a few months. But, there were still shepherds in this country, whose livelihood it had been from time immemorial - a life not so different from those of the shepherds of Jacob and Rachel's time (and perhaps those ancient shepherds are also among the ancestors of the present ones...)

Noah El-Rajabi is such a shepherd, with a herd of two hundred sheep and goats. He is married, and has seven children. They live near the town of Bani Na'im, 17 kilometers from Hebron. They live under the authority of the Israeli Defense Forces, the army which was established by the state which was established by the movement which firmly demanded that a Jewish state be established in the ancient homeland where Jacob and Rachel once grazed their herds.

Last week - just an ordinary Monday, October 11, at 08:00 am – the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces arrived unannounced at the spot where Noah El-Rajabi was grazing his flock. They destroyed his water cistern and his tent and a small wooden structure Noah used for cooking and storage.

The soldiers also kicked and beat the animals, and one pregnant ewe aborted. Noah's eldest son, 14, tried to protect the sheep. According to the army, he was arrested after assaulting the soldiers.

The Christian Peacemakers Team met Noah in Hebron. He did not know where his son was being held, or where he could get water for his animals. CPTers from Britain and Sweden accompanied Noah in his prolonged running about between three Israeli police stations, finally getting the information that is son was being held at the "Ofer" detention camp. For how long, nobody could or would tell. Nor were the police ready to hear the complaint which Noah tried to lodge about the behavior of the soldiers.

For the time being, Noah's herd is being cared for by his brother, who lives on a nearby hill and whose water cistern is still in tact...