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Friday afternoon, a shepherd is kidnapped

An incoming text ringtone breaks the evening gloom, 15 minutes before the Shabbat meal. I pull the cutlery from the drawer. A thick sadness fills the room and outside the trees wave in the heat storm under the pressure of the skies of the end of the world.

Good news don't come at this point in the week. I force myself to glance at my phone, knowing that I’ll be forced to act after. I can’t ignore it, already see across my eyes the elderly shepherd whom soldiers kidnapped from the pasture and hid, God knows where. The activist who informed me about this asks us to call the commander of the battalion, the District Coordination and Liaison, and the military brigade.

I have no strength for these blunt conversations. I dial the military headquarters’ number. A pleasant manly voice answers immediately. “What?” He asks surprised. For sure a new soldier is on the line, who doesn’t understand how a feminine Hebrew voice is telling him quickly about the elderly shepherd in the South Hebron Hills. To speak to him efficiently, quickly, decisively, and eloquently, not giving him a chance to hang up. And then, as expected: “Who are you?” I’m a human rights activist, who are you? “Get back to me in a few minutes.” Still a pleasant voice, now with a lack of confidence. He hangs up.

I call again. “Hello!” An aggressive female voice, for sure the commander of the pleasant voice. She doesn’t let me speak: “We don’t know about the incident, and if we did know, we wouldn’t be allowed to talk to you about it, we’re [Hamal] do you know what that is?!” I know, and that’s why I’m addressing you because you’re the only ones able to know where and why the elderly shepherd was taken. Soldiers took him. I ask to know on what premise he was taken and when he’ll be released.

I speak quickly, trying to break through the wall of bureaucracy that covers the soldier’s understanding. “Good evening!” She barks and hangs up.

I know we are talking about one insignificant event during a war that is killing tens of thousands. All day I watched videos from Gaza. This week I also read about the progression of harassment of one Palestinian family that resides in the central junction of the West Bank. The army declared the junction a closed military zone after activists arrived to protect the Palestinians from the settlers. Now there is nobody to protect them and the army comes every evening and turns their homes upside-down under the pretext of “searching.” These are small events compared to the war that kills Palestinians en masse, Israeli hostages, and soldiers. What’s the significance of one Palestinian shepherd who disappeared on Friday evening? He’s a grain of sand in the desert, no?

But I dial again. Maybe it will move things a tiny fraction in this horrible world. I call the District Coordination and Liaison. A masculine voice answers immediately and listens. He responds and asks “Who are you?” The context is always hard to understand in the militaristic mind. Some grandma calls on Friday evening and speaks in Israeli Hebrew about an elderly shepherd with a hard-to-understand name from some village they never heard of. The young man reveals a willingness to listen again from the beginning. He promises to clarify where the shepherd is, who took him, and when he’ll be released.

I call him again, I already know his name. I say, this is Talma. Have you clarified everything? “Yes,” says Shay (a fake name). “The army doesn’t know about the incident.” Shay, I persist with exhaustion, do you think the headquarters doesn’t know what the soldiers do in the field? Shay: “I’m convinced that if they took him there’s a reason.” Me: So there’s a chance the headquarters knows about the incident, right? Because I’m not as convinced as you. An elderly shepherd that was grazing in his legal pasture. What reason do soldiers have to kidnap him? Shay, tiredly: “I’m sure there’s a justified reason.”

Oy, Shay, I say, oy, and I peacefully part ways with him. The two of us slide into the darkness of Shabbat. Me in endless pain and young Shay with a firm feeling of confidence. A day will come, certainly will come, when this foundation collapses, molded from absurd practices and the unreceptiveness of a young heart. And then, what will be of his innocence?

Meanwhile, in the depths of the night, the elderly shepherd was chucked onto the main road next to Kiryat Arba. He was thrown into the night from a military car, far from this home. In an area hostile and dangerous to any Palestinian man. Abuse is an action with a beginning but no end.

At least this happened: the army knows that we know.


English translation: Sam Stein

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