Opinion

A Planned, Calculated Killing of Sheep in the West Bank

The attack last month, like hundreds of others before it, was clearly directed toward one goal

A photo of the slain sheep that a Palestinian shepherd claims was killed by Israeli men.
Yesh Din

The Haaretz story on the Jewish masked men who attacked a Palestinian shepherd and killed his sheep – in the village of Einabus, south of Nablus – received 96 shares on Facebook. What do these shares express, shock from the attack or support?

Either way, the memory of the crime committed almost two weeks ago, on February 21, certainly has been obliterated under the raucous headlines about the graft investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends, and packed away in the warehouse of Jewish national amnesia.

A week after the attack, Zafar Ryan, 27, still looked in shock. His father, Mahmoud, and brothers said he still wasn’t himself. He too nodded in agreement when asked if he was still troubled by the event.

But to make things perfectly clear: The attack didn’t prevent him from returning almost immediately to grazing his family’s flock with a few of his brothers. The brothers usually go out to the pasture together. The sheep pen is a few dozen meters above their home, up on the mountainside.

But that day Zafar went out with the sheep alone. It was noontime. The people there in the unauthorized and illegal outpost at the top of the mountain took advantage of it, concludes his father. They hurried to come down to him. Five of them, with their faces masked, hit him with sticks in the head and hands.

Zafar Ryan.
Amira Hass

He had a staff; he tried to defend himself and hit back, he says, but there were too many of them. Other unknown people descended on the flock, literally slaughtered a few sheep in the neck, kicked other sheep and drove others off.

A cousin who was doing construction work nearby saw what happened and immediately called for help. Young men from the village rushed to climb up the mountain, from which Israeli soldiers and police came down. Zafar was concerned about the sheep that ran away. It still wasn’t clear how many sheep were killed, how many were hurt and how many disappeared and where to.

Zafar was taken to the hospital in Nablus and remained there until the evening. The swelling in his head shrank. He had bruises on his hands. Most of the sheep in the flock are pregnant, including some the attackers killed and some that disappeared. One that was injured gave birth to a stillborn lamb. If the Israeli police have arrested suspects, we haven’t heard about it.

The attack was not perpetuated by hotheads; neither was it a momentary slip by otherwise moral young Jews, absolutely anonymous, who were suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of pogroms committed by Christians against Jews. This attack on Palestinians and their livelihood, like hundreds of others that preceded it, was very rational and calculated, directed toward a goal.

Every attack has a clear division of labor among everyone on the scene: the attackers; the army, whose duty is to protect all Jews wherever they may be, settler or visitor to the settlement, including pogromists; Civil Administration inspectors in the West Bank, whose job is to deliver stop-work orders to unauthorized Jewish structures in the West Bank, but whose duty is not to implement those orders in most cases.

Then there’s the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council, whose responsibility is to carefully implement the policy under which Palestinians are forbidden to build, hike, plant and graze on their lands; then the council takes the land and gives it as a gift to Jews, who will build and procreate on it. Then there are the settlers who don’t attack anyone but demand more protection, including for the outposts. And there’s the police, whose duty is to ignore the past attacks, and the Israeli Jews, whose responsibility is not to connect one attack to the other or think and then to defend the sanctity of the settlements and the settlement blocs. (All are illegal according to international law.)

The unauthorized and illegal outpost where the attackers came down from is one of nine outposts born over the years to the illegal and authorized settlement of Yitzhar. Every outpost is another brick in another new settlement bloc. It brings the Jews nearer to the Palestinian villages, orchards and pasture lands.

An important layer in the army’s defense strategy is the commanding general’s order that forbids the Palestinians to enter their lands, in order to prevent friction with the pogromists. This is how the territorial circle that our Jews, heads high, can reach and then plant or graze or build on expands a little bit more. And a little more. And some more.

In the next stage they will also come close to the Palestinian houses. And then the army and Border Police are obligated to come and attack with tear gas grenades and stun grenades, and even with rubber-coated metal bullets, the Palestinians who are protecting themselves, their families and their property.

Everything is calculated. The division of labor has already borne fruit all over the West Bank. A centimeter here, a quarter dunam there, a full firing area there – and the Palestinians are pushed more and more into their urbanized enclaves.

By the way, the Ryan family’s origins are in the ruined Palestinian village of Majdal Yaba or Majdal al-Sadiq (south of today’s Rosh Ha’ayin). It had around 26,000 dunams (6,500 acres). In the 19th century, Sheikh Sadiq Ryan built a mansion on the ruins of the Crusader fortress on the site. The abandoned mansion overlooks the road to this day.

Zafar’s grandfather had a brother who lived in Einabus on the eve of the war in 1948. A few of his brothers joined him instead of moving to a refugee camp. But the grandfather died of a broken heart and pining for his home.

The father, Mahmoud, opened a printing shop. His sons learned professions such as engineering and graphics. But the print shop isn’t enough to support the family. About a year ago they bought the sheep.