Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To The Cisterns

For love
I have gone to the cisterns
In the paths of the desert
In unsown land
For love
I have forgotten city and home
And followed you
With wild longing
To the cisterns, to the cisterns…
(Naomi Shemer)

To the ancestors who lived in this land 3500 years ago, and of whose story Zionism drew inspiration and legitimacy, rain and its absence were quite literally issues of life and death. A rainless year was a disaster year, a year of famine, a year when, to survive, the people of the land had to flee to where food was to be had.

For the Israelis of our time, the absence of rain is an interesting subject for conversation, one of many issues which the papers deal with. "Will the water level in the Sea of Galillee fall below the Red Line?" ask the headlines, and experts are called to the TV studio to discuss the problem in detail. True, the farmers among us are a bit more directly touched. When the November rains failed to come, they started to worry and calculate the financial loss from a spoiled harvest and worry if the government's compensations would fully cover it.

But there are still people in this country whose lifestyle had not changed much in thousands of years, shepherds living in the arid land on the margins of the desert, at the Southern Hebron Hills at the edge of the West Bank. Not that even in this remote region there is any lack of pipes to bring an abundant supply of water. Israeli settlers who came to live there always have running water in their beautiful homes all year round, and green lawns which would not shame any European country, and even some swimming pools. But these pipes laid by the enlightened state of Israel are definitely not intended for the use of the Palestinian shepherds outside the settlements' barbed wire perimeters.

It was left to the shepherds to look with increasing anxiety at a sky which remained blue with no cloud, and pray for rain to come and fill the cisterns which were hewn by hard dedicated labor in the desert floor.

The rain finally did come, early this week. Not that much of the rain got there, to the shepherds who so much longed for it. In Tel Aviv the storm raged and lightning flashed and thunder boomed and luxury restaurants on the shoreline were flooded with the rising water. The remote South Hebron Hills got only some odds and ends of rain, a scattered rainfall here and there. A far cry from the really big rain needed to fill the cisterns with the water of life. But some water is better than none.

After the rain ended the military arrived, equipped with bulldozers and heavy engineering equipment. They moved systematically from one cistern to the next, demolished and destroyed them and dropped heavy rocks to completely fill them in. The bit of water which the rains of this week provided will not provide drink to the sheep. Nor to the humans.

When setting on their work of destruction - twelve cisterns in all, accounted for within a few hours - the soldiers had their weapons drawn, lest the shepherds dare to approach and interfere. "I've got a properly signed demolition order" said the officer of the Defense Forces of the enlightened state of Israel. "These cisterns were dug without a permit. The law must be enforced!"

See for yourself: