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The Colonel and the Shepherd

This story is dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Dan Gorfain, who passed away recently after a valiant battle with cancer. It’s a story about territory; it’s a story about occupation; it’s a story about oppression; and ultimately, it’s a story about the battle for peace. You’ll be the judge, I’m just reporting the incident. Here goes:

The Colonel gets out of his armored vehicle, leaves it behind on the winding dirt road, and climbs the low hill ahead. Behind, a convoy of armored army vehicles, a whole battalion in fact, comes to an abrupt stop. Some of the Colonel lieutenants, and lower rank soldiers—their weapons at the ready, just in case—follow the Colonel up the hill. There, the Colonel—dressed neatly in his military fatigue—halts and looks around. Ahead of him, far in the distance, he sees the beautiful silvery lake glistening in the valley below. He puts his binoculars up to his eyes, which enable him to see the green river, and how it flows majestically into the lake. Behind it, he can see the high, red mountain range, from where the blazing sun is now appearing. The Colonel breathes deeply, his heart full of joy; he can never get enough of this glorious site.

But then, as if out of nowhere, a Shepherd comes into view from within the rolling hills below. He’s dressed as if he were an old Biblical figure, holding his rough wooden stick, leading his white sheep and black goats ahead. It’s not a large herd: fifty animals at the most. At the tail end of it walks a boy, twelve or maybe thirteen, playing a simple tune on his crude flute. He has a yellow, happy dog running by his side. Now, while the Colonel is mildly disturbed by this sight, and by this sudden interruption of his morning moment-of-peace, the Shepherd continues to walk slowly, letting his sheep and goats graze the meager grass and shrubs around, as if he has no worry in the world; as if he owns this place. So thinks the Colonel.

Thinking and seeing that, something possesses the Colonel suddenly. It’s as if a foreign element, a complete stranger—though in truth, the Shepherd and his ancestors have been living here for many, many years—has captured this land, this magnificent holy land, and has grabbed it away from him. The Colonel takes it personally, and with a swift urge for action—of teaching the Shepherd a lesson, maybe—he goes downhill towards the Shepherd and his herd. Behind him, his lieutenants and soldiers, with their guns of various kinds pointing forward, follow him closely. Farther behind them, the golden city perched on the highest hilltop, watches after them.

The Shepherd—how so?!—is not entirely surprised to find the Colonel in front of him, blocking his path. Even more alarming, with a smile on his face, he greets the Colonel humbly. The Colonel is surprised somewhat, since the Shepherd says “Shalom” in the language the Colonel speaks. Nonetheless, the Colonel demands to know what the Shepherd is doing here, disturbing the peace. The Shepherd answers quietly that he is doing no such thing, just leading his sheep and goats on their daily outing, as his family has been doing for a thousand years. And where do you live, demands the Colonel. Some distance away down the hill, says the Shepherd, but you cannot see it from here.

As they are talking, the sheep and goats disperse around, no longer in a close group, yet still grazing peacefully. The boy, meanwhile, has stopped playing the flute, as he becomes very worried about his father. His dog, irritated, begins to bark. He orders him to be quiet, as he sees with alarm how the Colonel commands his father to sit down on the ground, pointing his gun at him. When his father refuses, protesting he has work to do, and accidently raising his stick, one of the lieutenants punches him in the face. He falls to the ground; his stick taken away from him.

The boy cannot understand what has brought that about. Instinctively so—after all, he’s just a kid—he picks up a small stone from the ground and throws it at the colonel. The stone misses its target, but that doesn’t prevent some of the soldiers up the hill from shooting at the running boy and the barking dog. Indeed, his flute flies out of his hand when he is hit by one of these speeding bullets, and falls to the ground. The dog stops too, yelling first, then licking the boy’s face.

Seeing that, the Shepherd gives a cry of anguish, and tries to jump to his feet. That doesn’t work so well, as one of the lieutenants by the Colonel’s side knocks him down to the ground, using the butt of his rifle. Then, as the Shepherd is lying on the ground on his back, helpless and injured, the Colonel puts his heavy army boot on the Shepherd’s chest, pressing down on it. The Shepherd stops crying, as he could hardly breath now. He can no longer see his beloved sheep and goats, as his eyes are full of tears. They took off running anyways, the animals, upon hearing the shots ringing in the previously tranquil air. And of course, his son’s fate is piercing at his heart like a sharp dagger.

This has no effect on the Colonel, as his boot continues to press hard on the Shepherd’s chest, his gun pointing at his face. The Colonel instructs the Shepherd to never return with his herd to graze on these hills. Surprisingly, the Shepherd still has the audacity to demand an explanation. My soldiers are going to build an ‘outpost’ here soon, the Colonel tells him. What’s an ‘outpost,’ the Shepherd asks. A temporary habitat, the Colonel patiently explains, before a large settlement is to be built right here on this beautiful, strategic hill.

Why is it strategic, the Shepard has the ‘chutzpah’ to ask. Because you can see forever from here, comes the reply, and because this land is our ‘promised land.’ It’s belongs to ‘my’ people!

And who says this land belong to ‘your’ people, and not to my people, insists the Shepherd. I say so, says the Colonel. I’m the ‘decider’ here from now on, and my word is the law. If you want to live in peace, continues the Colonel, go gather your herd and never come near this hill again.

But what kind of peace is that, asks the frightened, terrorized Shepherd. My kind of peace, replies the Colonel. Take it or leave it.

I rather die, says the Shepherd.

Boom!

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Can Water Bring Peace?

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Not sure. But it can certainly bring hope. I know this first hand, as someone who was born in a kibbutz and worked, growing up, in the fields, the orchards, and the fishing-ponds. Back then the kibbutz was largely an agricultural endeavor, not as today mostly industrial, electronic high-tech, or a bed and breakfast kind of a place. But what about peace, you ask?

Let’s find out together. First though, a couple of personal stories to illustrate my point. Back in the late seventies and the early eighties, I did my reserve duty in the Israeli Army in the Golan Heights a few times. On one of these occasions, my company oversaw the southern part of the border, near and around Hamat Gader, where the borders of Israel, Syria, and Jordan meet. As an officer, one of my duties was to drive down the slope with a couple of soldiers for protection, and meet a similar Jordanian Army delegation at the break of dawn, at a low, narrow point where there was an easy access to the Yarmouke River, flowing down the mountains and hills toward the Jordan River and valley.

That was the border between our enemy states at the time, before peace—you see, it’s possible—had been established between Israel and Jordan. We would exchange some morning pleasantries first, and then proceed directly to the business at hand. It involved an easily maneuvered wooden shaft, a small handmade dam of sorts that, when switched one way, diverted the flow of the river toward the Jordanian side. We will meet again at dusk, and would simply reverse the process, allowing the water to flow freely into the Israeli side, down to the Jordan River and all the thirsty fields, orchards, and fishing ponds of the kibbutzim. We would bid goodnight to each other, even exchange some fruits and such. Just as in the mornings, we would sometimes drink black coffee together.

Simple as that. And here the kicker, my friends—which, in all honesty, I never thought of before writing this piece—maybe this simple operation, concerning the sharing of water resources between us Israelis and Jordanians (I believe the Jordanians had their own agreement with the Syrians, not sure though), did help in bringing peace between our two nations later in the mid-nineties. One can certainly hope that that indeed was the case. Which, though some years had passed since then, brings me to my second story.

This one happened as recent as last December, when I was visiting Israel. My brother was driving me to the Jezreel Valley to visit friends, family, and old places. And our kibbutz, Heftziba, of course. As we were getting closer, down on the slope of Mount Gilboa there is a favorite spot, a national park of Biblical significance (where the Prophet Gideon selected his warriors), called The Well, or Spring of Harod. A beautiful spot (see above picture), where the fresh, cool water streams from a cave in the mountain, and falls into a small lake. Plenty of memories I have flowing directly at me from this place. Anyhow, I suggested to my brother that we’ll make a stop there, and he surprised me by saying that unfortunately, it’s totally dry now. What happened, I asked in alarm. The Palestinians, he said, blocked the flow of the stream and diverted it elsewhere.

Which comes to show the chasm that still exists between Israelis and Palestinians, and brings us to the here and now. As the above first story about Israel and Jordan demonstrates, one can only hope for a similar outcome with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. As it happened, just last week there was major announcement about a joint effort and agreement between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, regarding water issues, and endeavor titled the “Red-Sea Dead-Sea Project.” I’ll let the NY Times brief you on that, as reported there on July 13th: “That project… will take water from the Red Sea, near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, and use gravity to carry the water 137 miles via the kingdom of Jordan to the southern part of the Dead Sea, adjacent to Israel’s Arava desert. There it will be desalinated, with the brine deposited in the shrinking Dead Sea and the fresh water transferred into Israel for still-to-be-built desert farms. In exchange, a water pipeline will be built from Israel into Jordan’s capital, Amman, and Israel will augment the already significant amount of water it provides to the Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron area.”

Quite the project, don’t you think? What’s more, the report in the Times continued, “The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to entirely break the water ties established here without creating substantial hardship for their populations.”

Wow, ain’t that something? It makes one think—especially now, as the fires of war again threaten to erupt in Jerusalem, the West Bank and elsewhere—that there’s hope after all. That water, treated the right way, pouring in the right direction, supplying in the right amount to all parties, can not only extinguish the old fire of hatred and hostility, but can give bloom to a new peace. Make cooler heads prevail. It runs deep, water, you see. After all, this is how King David captured Jerusalem in the first place, through the water shaft, or tunnel. It is hard to believe, considering all the animosity going around, but survival in that ancient, dry land, can only be achieved with the help of water, which necessitates cooperation. Let’s hope it brings peace, too—and sooner, rather than later.

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