Sheep wars

During the 1950s and 1960s, West Bankers owned significant numbers of livestock. Sheep, goats, and other such creatures are not very good at respecting private property, and it seems that shepherds sometimes pretended not to notice that their flocks were gobbling up someone's newly planted trees or laying waste to their vines. There was a crop protection law (صيانة المزروعات والغارس), which seems to have had been on the books since 1937, that basically provides a mechanism through which landowners could lodge complaints, request inspections, and get the state to force the shepherd to pay compensation. The law also seems to have had a provision that, if the owner of the animals could not be identified, then the entire neighboring community would be held responsible, which would lead to some pretty silly things, like the guy from Ramallah who basically sued every shepherd in Beituna. 

There are a few years of these complaints in the ISA, and they are fascinating. The fights are sometimes between families and neighbors (and often end with the offended party settling the issue and withdrawing the complaint), but there are a ton lodged by villages against Bedouin shepherds as well, usually with the goal of expelling them from village lands. The complaints would involve a whole host of people and institutions: the mukhtar of the village, an agricultural inspector who would have to come and check the damage, the police who would interview witnesses, and sometimes the courts, if the offending party refused to pay. 

My favorite one of these is from Beit Hanina, because we get the whole thing: the complaint, the inspection, and the witness statements. The police statements are strange documents and are often a transcription, or at least an approximation, of what the witness is saying, dialect and all. Sometimes the handwriting is terrible, but they are usually great documents because of the little details, they contain. 

'Ali Taleb, who worked as the watchman (natour) in Beit Hanina, reports seeing the a guy trespassing on his land. He tells the police that his name is 'Ali Taleb "from Beni Hasan and lives in Beit Hanina". He says that he saw about 100 sheep (gives the colors) inside the land (he gives the location). Then, he reports the conversation, which seems kind of typical: 'I went over to him and asked him what he was doing, he got mad, I told him he had to take his sheep and go, etc.' And then there is this strange detail: 'He told me: "I respect you because you aren't from Beit Hanina. If you were, I would break your head." After which he continues the report as normal: 'I went to a guy how was there, I told him to go tell the landowner, the shepherd left in the direction of Bir Nabala, I went to the landowner and told him about what happened'.

The shepherd, obviously, doesn't include this little detail in his statement.