Prophet Amos’s Words Still Ring True

A visitor to the Palestinian village of Teqoa’ nowadays can enjoy the nice landscape surrounding the small village of 7000 inhabitants. Located on the Judean hills overlooking the Mountains of Moab and the Dead Sea, Taqoa’ is better known for being the hometown of the biblical prophet Amos. Although the prophet Amos has long been gone, the prophetic voice still echoes in the hills and valleys of Taqoa’ of today through its residents, who are a living witness to a great injustice that has befallen their village recently.

 The source of many woes for the villagers, as the energetic and highly motivated Palestinian young Mayor of Teqoa’ Sulieman Abu Muffareh explains, comes from the nearby Israeli colony that has the same name and which was illegally built on confiscated lands of the villagers in the mid-seventies. Sulieman has made it his mission to spread the story of this village and point to this injustice. The stark difference between the Palestinian village and the Israeli colony highlights the injustice further.  

looking N to Herodion
Looking north from the Palestinian village Teqoa' to the land of the village. Behind the olive orchards the Israeli colony of the same name, built on expropriated lands. Its houses have red roofs and water is available 24 hours. On the right in the background the conic shape of the Herodion, palace-fortress of the Roman period.

 On the morning of May 9th the bodies of two Israeli settlers were found in a cave nearby the settlement of Teqoa’, a settlement that was built on the expropriated land of Teqoa’ village. Fingers were quick to point at the residents of the Palestinian Teqoa’ as being responsible for the killings. Sulieman has been trying to solve this mystery that has negatively impacted the every day life of his constituency. The Mayor and the council, whose work has been characterized by a deep commitment to community development, are determined to face up to this new challenge, which is the latest in a long list of problems that they had to face since taking office. 

Looking east, on the left the white roofs of barracks (Teqoa' B), in the middle a view down to the gorge of Wadi Khareitoun. Note the new access track  towards Teqoa' C, cutting off the traditional ways of the shepherds along the gorge and of visitors to the historical sites of the wadi. In the background the Judean desert with another Israeli colony named Noqdim. Only the gorge is protected landscape, its edges can be used by Israeli colonies, while Palestinians need Israeli building permits outside of already built up areas.

  According to Sulieman, the Israelis arrested fifteen people from the village then released them without pressing charges. He said that the killing of the two Israelis was announced on Israeli radio at 7:30 AM. By 8:00 o'clock of that same morning a number of caravans were placed on top of an opposite hill which belongs to Palestinian families from Teqoa', ‘announcing the birth’ of a new Jewish settlement. “The Israeli forces did not exert any effort to bring these caravans from anywhere else. They were already there waiting for a suitable excuse and a perfect timing.” He added.

Looking east over the barracks of Teqoa' B. In the midst of the olive groves on the next hill stands the new water tower, beginning of all colonist activity. Left of it the roofs of the newly installed containers. The olive trees are now out of reach for the Palestinian villagers.

 

Olive orchard in front of the wall of Teqoa' B. Partly the trees were uprooted.

 Following the incident, the Israeli authorities adopted a number of military measures against the Palestinian residents of Teqoa’. To begin with, the Israelis have sealed off the town, preventing some 1200 Palestinian workers to get to their jobs in Israel. Isolating the village from the outside world also meant denying the villagers access to their traditional shepherding areas, which extends in a 5km width down to the Dead Sea. Every night since the incident, Israeli bulldozers have been piling up dirt on all the roads leading to the village to block vehicles traveling to and from the village. Each morning, Palestinian kids can be seen trying to open one of these roads to maintain a lifeline to the village. Any Palestinian caught driving on one of these roads may be stopped by the Israeli soldiers the whole day until sunset, thus loosing a day’s wage before allowed to go back home.

In addition to threatening the well being of the Palestinians of the village, a whole tradition that has been maintained since the days of Prophet Amos is being endangered by the Israeli forces. The tradition of the prophet Amos as a shepherd is well known and has continued until today through the life of the Palestinian shepherds. Yet, this particular tradition is being eradicated by the latest Israeli land confiscation in the area. One area that has suffered in particular is the Chariton Valley. “All of the Chariton Valley has become enclosed within the settlements' boundaries.” The Mayor emphasized. The Valley takes its name from St. Chariton, founder of the monastic life in the Judean Desert. As a hiking trail that both local and foreign hikers used to trek, enjoying the beautiful nature and fascinating atmosphere away from the crowded city life, the Chariton Valley has become forbidden for Palestinian shepherds, students of environmental ecology, nature, and organized tourist groups. (see our article "What in fact is dangerous here in Bethlehem?").

Olive orchard near the connection road between Teqoa' A and B. Some trees almost died on a mysterious cause, but not of lack of water: they shoot out again near the root. Villagers are very afraid to work on their land. In the background the other side of the gorge with the Israeli colonies Noqdim (right) and El David (left).

 Prior to the outbreak of the recent Intifada and this incident in particular, the Mayor of Teqoa’ and the village council have tried to invest in the great potential that Teqoa’ has as a tourist destination. After all, Teqoa’ is the hometown of Prophet Amos. It also has a Khirbe with remains of a Byzantine church including a monastery, a crusader tower, as well as the famous prehistoric caves of Wadi Khareitoun.

 "Does a lion roar in the forest when there is no prey for him?

Does a young lion grow from his den unless he has seized something?

…..Truly, the Lord god will not do anything unless He has revealed His secret to His servants the prophets."    Amos: ch: 3 Vs: 4-7  

The baptismal font is back in Teqoa' waiting for its new place: Mayor and village councilor present that piece of Palestinian heritage.

      In addition, Teqoa’ has an original Byzantine Baptismal Font, which was restored to the village after it was stolen ten years ago by black market antiquities. Mayor Abu Muffareh’s personal efforts to restore this Font continued for four years and have recently culminated in success. The authentic artifact has meant a lot for the village Mayor and its people, who welcomed its return joyfully. As the Mayor says: “Imagine! My mother is 65 years old, but she still remembers that Font from when she was 10 years old. Imagine what this Baptismal Font mean for the village people.” He went on to say, “all our names were carved on it.” The Mayor intends to give the Byzantine monument a special place in the village by placing it at the entrance of the new municipality building. By doing so, there will be one more reason to visit the village of Teqoa’.

Article by Sami Abu Ghazaleh, 
pictures by Andreas F. Kuntz

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