13.06.2018 | South Hebron Hills. Susiya | Ahmed watches as IDF soldiers speak by phone to the police following a settler complaint
Shepherding and the Invisible Line
A shepherd grazing his sheep while an Israeli soldier watches over him. The man is from Susiya. In 1986, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Susiya after the remains of a 5th Century synagogue were discovered. Using archaeological digs as a pretext for displacement is a common practice of the occupation. The purpose is two-fold: Displace Palestinians and promote historical Jewish connection to the land. The Palestinian residents of Susiya, who have lived there for hundreds of years, have since lived in tents on a small part of their original farming and grazing lands. The adjoining settlement, which retained the name of Susiya, has been steadily expanding since the 80’s. The tent town of Palestinians displaced in ’86 is an unwelcome impediment to the further expansion of the settlement. The Israeli government has destroyed the community four times, but the Palestinians have returned every time.
The soldier on the hill is watching to ensure that the shepherd does not cross a line. This line is invisible, ever-changing and defined by the settlers who live just over the ridge of the hill, at the soldier’s back. The soldier is not told before he arrives at his post for the first time where exactly this ‘security perimeter’ lies. The head of the settlement security, an armed civilian, will inform him where the line is. If the shepherd crosses this invisible line, the settlers will then complain to the soldier and ‘help’ him avoid making the same mistake in the future. Crossing this invisible line, even while remaining on your own land, results in a 20-year old soldier shouting at you to move, armed settlers arriving to harass you, and the likelihood of being arrested by the paramilitary ‘Border Police’. Knowing that this invisible line only moves in one direction; outwards from the settlement, shepherds are forced to constantly maintain their presence at the limits of their shrinking territory, where the harassment and violence is a guarantee. They must stay on the land today, or tomorrow they will be told it was never theirs.
Ahmad’s land is not where it was yesterday. A settler called the army. The army called the police. And this is how Ahmad discovered that the invisible line has moved again, this time by 100 metres. He discovered this by being ordered to leave by three armed 20-year olds. “It’s not his land”, said one of the soldiers confidently when I asked him to explain. “You can see the way he left without arguing too much. He knows it isn’t his land.” Or maybe it’s Ramadan and he’s too tired to fight today. Maybe he’s thinking of his baby daughters, and how he wants to be with them tonight, rather than handcuffed in an army base. Maybe it’s just hard to argue with someone with a gun. Tomorrow he will return with his sheep to the outer limits of his land, and will have to make a decision: 100 metres or peace?