Palestinian Shepherds Beaten and Arrested as Israeli Occupation Forces Stun Grenade Their Sheep
As he speaks, the cut under Islam’s eye is clearly visible. From his quiet and kind demeanor it is impossible to tell, other than this injury on his left cheekbone, that less than 48 hours prior, he and his cousin were beaten, handcuffed, blindfolded and left in the hot sun outside a police station in the illegal Elon Moreh settlement bloc near their village of Salem, for twelve hours.
The cousins were tending to their flock in the small piece of field, near the shared illegal settler/occupied Palestinian road they are relegated too per their occupiers, around 7am when Islam got too close to the road. The road is off limits to Palestinians who are not in vehicles, thus as they work to limit the area their sheep are covering, if they get too close to the road, occupation forces in jeeps drive up within moments of spotting them from the Israeli watchtower just several dozen meters away. On this morning, when the jeeps pulled up, Islam was thrown to the ground and beaten by soldiers as his cousin yelled for them to stop. “Because I yelled that he was my cousin and to leave him alone, they arrested me too,” Adnan Eshtayah, 34 tells IWPS volunteers. They threw multiple stun grenades, crowd control weaponry commonly used by IOF – which creates deafening blasts and smoke, at Islam’s flock of sheep injuring several of them.
The pair were handcuffed and blindfolded before being driven into Elon Moreh where they were left on the ground in the sun outside the police station with no food or water for 12 hours. Antagonism being one of the most prolifically utilized weapons in the Israeli occupation arsenal; the men were then driven away from the nearby village they were kidnapped from and taken to the Huwara checkpoint several kilometers away, on the Israeli side, and left there after begging to be taken back to their homes. After walking nearly half the distance, they were picked up by a Palestinian who drove them back to their village.
A third farmer, Isladeen, 30, has a similar story from just a week earlier; he was beaten, handcuffed and blindfolded and when released from the police station, he was driven several kilometers away into a settlement where Israeli soldiers left him handcuffed and blindfolded. “I was stuck in the settlement for eight hours unable to see where I was or how to get home before someone found me near the main road and helped me.” Another issue stemming from these deplorable arrests are that the shepherds’ sheep are left alone to wander after their guardians are taken and in these particular instances, they got into another farmer’s land and grazed which created problems as the farm land they are restricted to is already so limited.
Isladeen then takes us near the road where he was assaulted and within less than three minutes, an Israeli military jeep pulls up and three aggressive soldiers emerge and surround him, telling him to come with them. IWPS volunteers stepped in and argued with the soldiers who stated they were following orders and berated volunteers saying they ‘weren’t human.’ After ten minutes, the soldiers returned to their jeep, no arrestees and sat for several minutes before driving away.
At Islam’s family home, IWPS volunteers are invited in and served tea and bread as his father recounts instances of Israeli soldier’s abusing him and his son. “It didn’t use to be like this. They would just tell us to leave. Now they beat and arrest us and throw sound bombs on our sheep.” These scenes of senseless violence and animal cruelty are now a commonality in the Salem village, population 8,000. So are home demolitions.
Young Palestinian activist Mohammad Eshtayah, 26, brings IWPS volunteers through the village of Salem, situated between rolling hills and illegal settlement blocs- including a settler theme park which overlooks the embattled town where bullet holes are visible in the outside walls of homes and where some streets hold the memories of young Palestinians shot to death by occupation forces during the Intifadas. Mohammad’s uncle, a taxi driver, was shot to death by Israeli soldiers on the road where the shepherds were arrested as he crossed to bring an elderly woman he had just driven a bag that she had left in the backseat of the car. His second cousin, was killed after being shot 12 times by Israeli soldiers in July of 2002. His grandfather, the former mayor of Salem, was murdered inside of a shop he owned in Nablus by Israeli soldiers during the first Intifada after he openly opposed an illegal settler road project that would come to fruition just several years after his killing.
The village of Salem holds many tragedies. Along with the kidnappings and violence against the heavily restricted farmers and shepherds- and the senseless cruelties against their flocks, residents of Salem face other routine instances of antagonism including home demolitions and standing demolition orders, crumbling ancient homes that they are forbidden to repair in the slightest of ways without impossibly expensive permits that are routinely and arbitrarily denied and having their trees uprooted by the hundreds. In one case, a Palestinian family in an ancient home suffered the collapse of part of their house during a period of inclement weather. The family was subsequently rounded upand taken in for interrogation until they had satisfied Israeli occupation forces sufficiently enough that the damage to their home wasn’t purposeful for repair and was instead due to heavy rains.
The crumbling homes are often visited by occupation forces who inspect the premises to ensure no repairs are taking place before leaving. The ones whose rightful Palestinian owners go unoccupied for three years get automatically seized by the Israeli government. The ones with standing demolition orders are frequent targets for raids and middle of the night ‘census’ visits where sleeping families are awakened and gathered in one room so they can be ‘counted’ and their rooms photographed. This is the face of the Israeli occupation of Palestine as it plays out in the small village of Salem just northeast of Nablus.
The face of the resistance in Salem is inspiring despite their suffering; whether its expressed by the villagers pulling together to donate sheep to a Salem shepherd who has had 100 of them stolen in the night by an illegal settler, or by Mohammad and other Palestinian activists replanting trees in the wake of the uprootings; Salem continues the struggle against Israeli occupation, antagonism and violence.