A few nights ago, our team spent the night sleeping in the South Hebron Hills village of Susiya. Susiya has been the victim of several vicious settler attacks, and EAs often spend the night there as a protective presence. Originally cave dwellers, the Palestinians in Susiya have been removed from their original location by the Israeli army, and their caves intentionally destroyed. They now live in tents provided by the International Committee of the Red Crescent.
When we arrived, we were shown into a tent, inside which was an area the size of a generous living room with a small adjoining area for cooking. The tent is set up on a concrete slab as a semi-permanent dwelling. The living area was lit by a single bare overhead lightbulb powered by solar panels, and had a carpet with several thin mattresses on the floor. Almost immediately, we were offered dinner. There was the amazing bread, freshly baked in the taboun, an outdoor oven that uses sheep dung as the fuel. There was a dish of diced potatoes with a little egg, to be scooped up with the bread. There were sliced tomatoes as well as a tomato and onion sauce, for dipping. And there were pickles. This was the meal, together with sweet tea, of course. We sat on the floor mats, and a large piece of plastic was spread on the carpet between us. That is where the food was placed, and we all ate from the serving dishes by dipping the bread into them.
We are told that in this land, people often eat quietly, conversing after the meal over an extended time of tea, coffee, or both. After we ate, the extended family gathered with us in the tent and we exchanged what greetings we could with our limited Arabic. Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have children? How old are they? The enjoyment the family had with each other was obvious. The numerous children were happy and were obviously loved by their many uncles and aunts and brothers and cousins. We looked at word pictures with the children, who proudly showed off their English vocabulary.
There was no television or video gaming in the village, but this was not missed.
Later, when the family that lived in this tent went to sleep, we were taken for a walk in the dark. We could see lights of the settlements and the army installation not far away. The stars were lovely, and there was a soft baaing of sheep in the night. We were taken to another tent for us to sleep in. As we opened our sleeping bags the quiet of this place made it clear why the people love it here so much. Our sleep was punctuated by the occasional flapping of the tent in the breeze, barking of a dog, honking of a gaggle of geese.
Despite the idyllic setting, I slept restlessly. When I heard the tent fabric rustle in the breeze, I wondered, “What was that?” When the geese alarmed in the night, I wondered, “what was that?” When the dog barked, I wondered what the dog knew that I did not. Were there intruders walking in the village? I gained an appreciation of what occupation means for people who do not know what the footfall in the dark outside the tent might mean.
Thankfully, morning came without incident, and we emerged to see the sheep being fed in their sheepfold. There is nothing for them to graze at this time because of the drought and because the rains have not yet come, but after they were fed some grains, the sheep were led out to graze anyway. The shepherd disciplined them for getting up on two legs to try to eat the leaves off the lower branches of the olive trees.
We went out with the sheep for a while, gathering small sticks for fuel where we could find them. The boys showed us the herding dogs. Boys play with dogs in the same way here as at home, and we watched them having fun. Then we were invited to a breakfast of eggs, freshly baked taboun bread, olive oil and zaatar (a mix of spices: one dips the bread in the oil and then in the zaatar.), followed by sweet tea and conversation.
Village life is simple, except for the threat that overshadows it.