My name is Zuhour Muhammad Awad, and I am 73 years old. My mother gave birth to me and I opened my eyes to life in Tuba. I have lived a life that is very normal in Masafer Yatta, a life of hard work every day, living in or beside caves, relying on farming and livestock to sustain us. For most of my life, we didn’t think about anything other than this normal life that we are living. Today, I miss this sense of peace of mind and safety that we used to have. Today, everything is very different.
I didn’t go to school, not even for one day. From a very young age, I wandered the mountains of Masafer Yatta by myself. At that time, the lands were very safe and our life was mobile, especially in the summer. My brothers would walk everywhere, searching for grass and water for our sheep. They often walked from Tuba and passed through Wadi al-Suwayd (where the settlement of Susiya is today) and around Qawawees (where the outpost of Mitzpe Yair is today). My family wasn’t worried about me, and there was nothing to worry about .They would sometimes go very far distances, sleeping wherever they were when the sun set, staying away from home for months. As a child, my routine was to go out every day, carrying food and water, until I found where they were with their sheep. We would eat and sleep in the mountains without any fear or hesitation.
Our life was full of tiring and hard work, but it was all very beautiful and simple. It was a life of love and cooperation between the people of this region. We didn’t have modern machines in that life; we were completely dependent on animals and humans to complete the work. We relied on the donkey to plow the land, and the camel to carry the cut barley and wheat when it was time to harvest. We would tie a group of our animals together, let them walk on the dried grain, and mash it into straw. After shaking it in the air to separate the straw from the grains, we would fill it in bags with grain and store them in caves so they would last all winter.
Processing the milk from our sheep is also a central piece of our life in Masafer Yatta. When we milk the sheep and collect the milk, we process it in our traditional, natural way. We place the milk in a suitable temperature, put it in a special bag made of goatskin leather, and hang the bag with ropes to separate out the butter. We cook butter in wheat, until it becomes ghee, and store it in jars for the rest of the year as well.
We also make yogurt from the milk. The yogurt becomes solid from cooking it, and we store it in large canvas bags that maintain the moisture. When it is ready, we divide it into small pieces and shape it. I have always liked the pyramid shape the most. We put the shaped yogurt out in the sun to dry, covering it with canvases to protect it from the direct light and dust. After a few days, the yogurt becomes solid, and we can then collect it and store it inside.
I got married when I was fourteen years old. My husband and I are cousins, so he also grew up in Tuba. My husband’s mother was blind, and he has no brothers and all his sisters are older than him. So once all of his sisters were married and he was busy working, there was no one to take care of his mom. Our families decided that we should get married so that I could stay with them and support his family.
It took us five years until the first pregnancy happened. Unfortunately, we lost our first son. It was my first birth, and there was no doctor to help. The women in the village helped me give birth, but I suffered so much, and by the time I managed to birth him, the baby had already died. After this, I gave birth to nine sons and six daughters in Tuba, all without a doctor. Some were with the help of the women in the village, and some of them just by myself. I’ve spent my whole adult life in the routine of one year pregnant, one year breastfeeding. When I gave birth to my last son, I was 49 years old, just 25 years ago. By that time there was a doctor, but I gave birth to him by myself.
I did all the work to raise my 15 children. They ate the food I produced from our land and our animals. When they were sick, I treated them with the plants and natural medicines from our land. Only if someone was really sick would we go to the hospital. All of my children got married, and some of them have children, and they are living healthy lives.
Today, the world has changed completely. And here in Masafer Yatta, we live in daily terror and under threat of displacement. In 1999, we actually were displaced. Even though we returned to Tuba, all of our homes have demolition orders, the outposts are taking over more and more of our land, and we are unsure what will happen to us in the future. This year, the settlers had taken so much of our land that we could no longer rely on grazing to feed our sheep. We needed to find another way to stay alive, so we bought food for the sheep. A few weeks later, the settlers snuck into Tuba and set 41 bales on fire. The food that was supposed to last for the whole year was burned in two hours.
When I was seven years old and moving all over the area, nothing happened to me, even when I went far from home. A few years ago, my 7 year-old granddaughter, Sujood, went to take a bottle of water to my son, her uncle, just behind the nearby hill. On her way, a group of settlers started chasing her and throwing rocks at her. She fell, and they came closer and hit her in the head directly with a rock.
I hope that my grandchildren will get back the security and freedom that I had when I was a child in Tuba.