February 26, 2023 — Across Masafer Yatta and the South Hebron Hills, many Palestinians are entering the heart of the shepherding season. As the winter rains subside and temperatures begin to warm, the agricultural communities of the region are bringing their flocks out daily to graze their sheep in the lush fields.
These fields are an integral piece of the region’s traditional livelihood. Without access to them, the shepherds would be forced to buy food for their sheep in large and expensive quantities, thus rupturing the way that they have lived for generations.
Nefariously, the settlers of the region have also taken up shepherding as a form of livelihood. They have developed a daily practice of bringing their own flocks to private Palestinian land, allowing their herds to eat all of the grass, and threatening the Palestinian land owners when they arrive to defend their fields. “They come into our fields, they eat what we’ve planted, they bother us in our houses, they steal our flocks. We don’t go into their fields, or their houses, and we don’t steal their flocks” said a shepherd that Hineinu activists sat with in the village of Al-Nizan. “And yet everyone says we are the troublemakers here. It doesn’t make sense.”
Al-Nizan, located in the southern half of the South Hebron Hills, has been dealing with settlers invading their farm lands on a daily basis. Last year, a new outpost was settled on the hill adjacent to Al-Nizan, which the settlers have named Chavat Yehuda. Hineinu activists have come to the area frequently, as shepherds have asked them to bring cameras, hoping that they could take pictures of the settlers trespassing. Unfortunately, even when the shepherds and activists are able to catch photos of the settlers trespassing and call the police, it is rare that there will be legal repercussions of any sort.
Hineinu activists are receiving multiple calls on a daily basis from shepherds across the region. Similar to the violence that Al-Nizan faces from Chavat Yehuda, countless Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta and the South Hebron Hills struggle against this form of dispossession and displacement — losing access to fields that are essential to their livelihoods. Over the years, as shepherds again and again are unable to access their fields to graze, many communities have had no choice but to leave their lands and move to the city. To this end, despite the risk and violence they face, it is a crucial and powerful form of daily resistance to continually return to these lands with their flocks.
Photos and text from Emily Glick.