In the month prior to Ramadan, MachsomWatch activist Rina Zur happened to meet two Israeli Arab women who are active in peace organizations, each from a different community in northern Israel. Rina told the women about the shepherd families she has been visiting in the Palestinian Jordan Valley for over 10 years. Each of the women asked Rina if they could join her on her next visit.
Rina took the women on a MachsomWatch shift to the area and together they visited several shepherd families. The women had the same experience everyone has when meeting Palestinian Jordan Valley families for the first time – shock and horror at the utter poverty of their living conditions. These families live without running water, without electricity, without access roads, all their belongings stored in a medium-sized tent, in the intense heat, on exposed ground without a single tree or bit of green, eking out a meager livelihood solely from their flock of sheep and goats.
The visitors were visibly upset. How could they not have known that Palestinians, their own people, are living in these dire circumstances? Their connection and bond with the shepherds was immediate and strong. First and foremost – they shared a language and were able to communicate easily. They wanted to know more and more about each other, they exchanged phone numbers and promised to come again.
Both of the women returned to visit the Jordan Valley, this time bringing along family and friends. They didn’t come empty handed. Before the beginning of Ramadan and prior to the feast at the end of the holiday, they organized two delegations of several vehicles filled with supplies and gifts, thus fulfilling the Islamic traditionof giving charity during the holiday.
On their second visit one of the women brought along a large truck (belonging to a friend of the family) laden with gifts for Ramadan. The truck was filled with food, clothing, household necessities, games and sweets for the children. All of the items were donated by people in her own village and by neighboring villages as well as from businesses around her area.
Unexpectedly, Rina met her new friends in the Palestinian Jordan Valley on delivery day. They told her about their journey and the hurdles they had faced along the way - the checkpoints of course. Their truck, loaded with donated goods, and the family and friends who were travelling in three private vehicles were turned back, forced to drive from one checkpoint to another until finally reaching the Palestinian Jordan Valley. Their journey required a 220 km (140 miles) detour through the entire West Bank before they were able to deliver food, household utensils, children’s games and clothes to many shepherd families living a mere few kilometers from the first checkpoint (where they should have been able to cross in the first place).
We hope that this determination and these friendships continue and perhaps others will join and initiate projects on their own and that in spite of the checkpoints, the chain of acts of kindness and generosity will grow.
At 84, MachsomWatch activist Rina Zur regularly visits the shepherd communities in the Jordan Valley. Rina is a retired high school history teacher who became politically active long ago as a young woman during her studies at the Hebrew University. She has been involved with MachsomWatch since 2004 and through the years has formed a deep bond with several Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley.