We arrived around 10 AM – Ehud, Emily and Jack (the latter two volunteers at “Bustan” – an organization aiding the Bedouins). We picked Nasser up and continued immediately to Tuba. The direct roads to this cave-dwelling village were blocked years ago by settlers from Ma’on and Ma’on Ranch. The settlers also took care to eradicate the last remnant of these roads by placing their new chicken sheds over them.
To get to Tuba nowadays, you can choose between two bypass routes – both of them rocky and passable only with tractors and off-road vehicles. The road takes three-quarters of an hour. Another option is to approach by foot, on a path safely removed from the Ma’on Ranch settlers which takes forty minutes. We chose this option. We parked the car at another cave-dweller village, Mufakra, where Fadel joined us. Fadel has recently lost the work permit (in Israel) for which he has been applying for a year and a half – all due to the vindictiveness of some subcontractor from Yatta.
Early on our way, we met two volunteers from CPT, who escorted local sheperds tending their herds near Ma’on Ranch. This normally tense region was now doubly tense, due to an increased presence of military and police forces. The security services now suspect that the two terrorists who hit Dimona last week, got there not from Egypt but from the West Bank through the cave-dwellers’ territory. It is a known route for undocumented Palestinian laborers on their way to Israel.
The internationals stood on a high hill and looked around with binoculars. When we met them, everything still looked quiet and the shepherds were peacefully tending to their herds. As we continued on our way, Ehud’s signature good luck in such situations started to clash with Fadel’s spate of bad luck. Fadel’s red-white checkered kafiyyeh apparently caught the eye of security forces. A military jeep was summoned, but by the time it got there we were already out of sight, deep inside some wadi.
When we arrived in Tuba we were greeted by Omar and entered his cave. There, other heads of family joined us – Ibrahim Omar’s brother, and Ali. Our main goal in this visit was to transfer money that Liz raised on behalf of cave-dweller college students: Mohamed Omar’s son, who studies computer science; and Haleel, Ibrahim’s son who studies sociology. We also gave Ali a donation which will enable eye surgery for his daughter Reem. Reem was injured in the head a few years ago, in circumstances related to the blockade of the road to school in Tuwwani by settlers.
We also met another Tuba family. The father, Haj Issa, has passed away only two weeks ago, at age ninety according to the locals. He left in Tuba seven children from his second wife – the eldest, Ali, is 22 – and one more on the way. Meanwhile, we received calls from the volunteers and from Ezra, warning us that security forces – whether from over-alertness or from boredom – converged on the shepherds near Ma’on Ranch and started to harass them and drive them away. But by the time we made our way back, things were back to normal again – the security forces had gone and the shepherds were still around. The internationals were still on their vigil, and let us know that this was the most difficult day for the shepherds since the Dimona attack. Another unwelcome side effect of that attacked and the increased military presence, has been the blocking of the road between Yatta and Tuwwani, for the first time in a year and a half.