Beanfield War?

When I read this piece last week I immediately thought back to The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols, 1974, still in print).

The parallels aren't perfect, but in both cases you've got the poor and downtrodden agricultural types being oppressed by powerful people who want their land, you've got harassement and violence by masked goons, you've got the troublemaking activist giving the community hope. I should point out, though, that Nichols' novel was a locally revolutionary tract; this Ha'aretz article is supposed to be a feel-good human interest story about Zionist settlers versus Palestinian cave-dwelling farmers and shepherds in the Hebron hills. Here's the setup:

A 53-year-old plumber from Jerusalem has become a one-man institution dedicated to helping and protecting the Palestinian cave dwellers of the southern Hebron Hills.

Even the Palestinians say they would not have survived in the area - facing pressure from the Israel Defense Forces and harassment from the settlers - without Ezra Nawi.

About two months ago, Palestinian shepherds from the southern slopes of the Hebron Hills noticed a settler spreading poisoned wheat kernels in the pasture fields. They managed to get their sheep out in time - dozens of farm animals were killed in a similar incident - but the next morning the carcasses of two wild deer that had eaten the poisoned kernels were found.

Nawi, a left-wing activist who had arrived as usual that morning to help the Al-Tawani village residents, decided to protest. He took one of the carcasses and placed it in the middle of the road to the Maon settlement, from where the Palestinians claimed the poisoners had come.

Then again, the Beanfield War was notionally a fight over water and development rights ... the local villagers were collateral damage. Here, the fight is over the land itself, and the locals are seen as the enemy. So the tactics are nastier.

The southern Hebron Hills area has become in recent years the arena of a harsh conflict between the Palestinians - mostly cave dwellers, peasants and shepherds - and the settlers.

And in the past six months, the settlers - radical groups occupying the illegal outposts in the area - have considerably intensified their attacks and harassment of the Palestinians.

In an incident three weeks ago, several haystacks made by Palestinian farmers were set alight. ... And that week, Jewish shepherds brought a herd of goats and sheep to Palestinian fields that had been sown with lentils.... In Beit Imra, some 200 olive trees, each about 15 years old, were chopped down. Settlers drove a plow over a cultivated field nearby and destroyed it. And two weeks ago, 20 settlers armed with sticks and stones arrived and beat up some shepherds. A 10-year-old boy suffered injuries that required stitches to his face, and three ewes were killed. ...

The settlers reserve their most violent attacks for the international volunteers, who sometimes accompany the Palestinians to protect them from harassment. On several occasions in the past months, masked men attacked Palestinian children and foreign volunteers who were walking with them to school. Several volunteers were hospitalized as a result.

The settlers' attacks on the Palestinians in this region are a daily occurrence. The most extreme zealots keep coming up with ever-more malicious and destructive ideas - arson, plowing cultivated fields, bringing herds to seeded fields, poisoning sheep, poisoning water wells and more.

But despite antagonistic police, the loss of clients, and open threats from the settlers, Nawi soldiers on. He's organized local and outsider volunteers to dig wells, open a clinic, file official complaints, and escort Palestinians near settler areas. And to date, nobody's managed to "take him out." Because, you see, this is a happy human interest story.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on June 10, 2005 8:44 PM.

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