Who Knew Israel Was Kidnapping Syrian Shepherds?

Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard
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Israeli soldiers on the Syria border.
Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard

I’m lucky I’m not a Syrian shepherd living near the border with the State of Israel. Because if I were a Syrian shepherd on the Golan Heights, I might not return home at the end of a day’s work. I might leave the village in the morning with my sheep or goats, and while I was sitting on some rock and playing the flute (if that’s still in fashion in the trade), representatives of the strongest power in the Middle East would “pluck” me – in the words of Or Heller, the military correspondent on TV’s Channel 13. Just like that, as though I were a flower. What that means, for anyone who didn’t understand, is that they would arrest me and take me to a prison in Israel.

In other words, not only am I a flower, I am an unprotected species of flower. My wife and children wouldn’t understand why Dad didn’t come home for supper, and worry. Or not. Maybe they’re actually used to it. Maybe it’s a known risk of the profession in this region. Stonecutters risk diseases of the respiratory system and shepherds risk imprisonment in Israel. So maybe my family saw that I didn’t return and the eldest said to the youngest: “The Israeli army plucked Dad again.”

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Behind the affair of the Israeli citizen who, on her own initiative, crossed the border into Syria and was returned over the weekend in a deal that included the release of two Syrian shepherds, a pardon for a Druze activist from the Golan Heights and hundreds of thousands of Sputnik V vaccinations (according to foreign sources), hides a practice that we Israeli citizens don’t know anything about, and, to judge by the Israeli media, one that doesn’t really interest us either.

Because there are two possibilities. One is that the shepherds were arrested with no connection to the Israeli woman’s detention in Syria. But in that case, why weren’t they released? People tell me – because it’s a crime to cross the border without permission. Great. So, in such a case, we can’t complain that the Syrians have arrested the Israeli woman.

In addition, if the border was crossed by mistake, it’s not certain it’s a crime at all, and in any case a normal country should send such people back to their country. Others say they weren’t innocent shepherds, but rather people who collect intelligence for the Syrian regime. In that case, why is the press celebrating the “marginal” and “low” price that Israel paid for the return of our citizen? Two Syrian spies in exchange for an innocent Israeli is a low price?

The second possibility is that the shepherds were arrested to serve as bargaining chips. This possibility, which Heller reported, that Israel gathers shepherds into its knapsack as though they were assets in a virtual reality game, is horrifying. The arrest of people for bargaining purposes is an act that suits criminal gangs, which treat people like tradable property. It strips the kidnapped people of their humanity and turns the kidnappers into human traffickers.

If the defense establishment – which has already committed such abductions in the past, as in the famous affair of the bargaining chips from Lebanon (which ended in the High Court of Justice decision to release them) – has not uprooted this practice, it is embroiling itself in a grave criminal act that cannot be ignored. Objectifying human beings is a clear act of dehumanzation, whether it is sexual objectification or security objectification.

How will we learn the truth about this affair? The only way to find out is for journalists to start asking questions and provide the public with answers. A remark on the margins of the report about “plucking” shepherds is insufficient. It downplays the story and turns it into a humorous anecdote.

We need complete information about how the Syrian shepherds came into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces: Who made the decision, who approved it, is it common practice, how many other foreign nationals have we “plucked” and may be serving time in Israel to this day? And it wouldn’t hurt, either, if they told us what they did with the goats and sheep that lost their shepherds, but that’s for the advanced class.

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