An eye-witness report from Christian Peacemaker Teams
"Yesterday they told us we couldn't be up by the chicken barn. Today they tell us we can't be anywhere in this valley. Tomorrow they will tell us we can't be in our caves," an elderly shepherd from the Palestinian village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills told two of us from the CPT At-Tuwani team. "This is our land and we can be here."
This was the second day in a row security personnel from the nearby Israeli settlement, Ma'on, and Israeli soldiers came and demanded the shepherds from Tuba leave this valley with their sheep, claiming the land belonged to the settlement.
Two weeks earlier, officers from the Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO) had been there and declared the residents of Tuba owned and could use this area. Now the soldiers were threatening to arrest the villagers and us for trespassing if we didn't leave. Once again, the Palestinian villagers refused to leave their land and asked the DCO to come and help clarify earlier legal rulings about the disputed land.
Two hours later, heads held high, the Palestinian shepherds walked back to their village with their sheep. The DCO representative once more made it clear that they owned this valley and could have full use of it.
Later the villagers were more sober as they told us that while they were happy with the outcome, they knew this was just one of many more attempts the Ma'on security official would make to try to take more of their land, bit by bit.
They explained there is a high turnover rate for Israeli soldiers and new ones rotate in who don't know the situation and believe what he says and the maps he makes up to support his claims. It is like a continuous game the settlers often win. The Palestinian shepherds also feared today's failure for the settlers may prompt them to initiate more attacks out of revenge.
As we sat with them in their caves and tents, residents of Tuba spoke of the continual, almost daily attacks settlers have made on them and the encroachment on their land. One time a group of settlers beat one of the women on the neck and hit two of her children while they were out with their flocks.
Another time they came with slings and flung rocks at them. Other times settlers threaten or attack villagers while they travel between their homes to the city to get supplies. Settlers from Ma'on also recently built a new tent structure on a nearby hilltop, from which they come and attack the villagers.
"This makes our life very hard," said one of the women from Tuba. "They want to take away our land, but we simply want to live a normal life with our children."
During the confrontation on the hillside one of the soldiers yelled: "Go Home!" to one of the shepherds. The shepherd calmly replied, "This is my home."
Ekklesia is independent of Christian Peacemaker Teams, but we are pleased to work in cooperation with them (www.cpt.org) - both in the UK, and internationally.