AT-TUWANI: Shepherds and Nonviolence

22 February 2005

AT-TUWANI: Shepherds and Nonviolence
By Art Gish

Accompanying shepherds on their land, in addition to
accompanying school children, has become an important
part of the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams and
Operation Dove. They work in the village of At-Tuwani
in the South Hebron Hills.

The work began this winter with individual shepherds
asking for international accompaniment as they tried,
without being seen, to take their sheep to better
grass near Israeli settler outposts. If the shepherds
saw any settlers or soldiers, they immediately ran
away with their flocks.

It is different now. Shepherds from At-Tuwani are
joining together to graze near settlements and
coordinating with shepherds from neighboring villages.
 They feel there is more safety in greater numbers of
shepherds and sheep. Each day the shepherds inform
our team of where they will be congregating so that
the team can have a
presence with them.

On Wednesday, 16 February, two or more settlers
attacked the internationals,
seriously injuring one Operation Dove member. That
brought Israeli peace activists to the scene the next
day as well as negative publicity for the settlers and the military.

No longer do shepherds run when they see soldiers or
settlers. Each day the drama is repeated. The
settlers demand that the soldiers remove the
shepherds. The shepherds tell the police and soldiers
that they should be able to graze on their own land
and present copies of their deeds to the authorities.
The soldiers tell the shepherds they cannot go on
their land. There are often ten soldiers speaking to
the shepherds and about fifteen shepherds and four
hundred sheep that ignore the soldiers and
nonviolently walk out on their land. The presence of
international observers and sometimes media also
reduces the power of the soldiers to force the shepherds to obey.

How can anyone reject the simple idea that shepherds
should be on their own land? If that idea is
accepted, how can Israelis continue confiscating Palestinian land?

Now, shepherds are grazing their sheep on some of
their own land that has been forbidden to them for the past four years.