Goats in Judea
Goats in JudeaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Modern-day news stories don't get more Biblical that that of elderly shepherd Avraham Herzlich – who is dogged by Arab thieves in the hills of Samaria. According to both Jewish and Muslim tradition, the Arabs are descendants of Ishmael (Isma'il), son of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, who was a shepherd. 

Last weekend, Arabs stole about 400 goats from the herd of Avraham Herzlich, leaving him with only four goats out of what was, for him, much more than a money-making business.

His son Shmuel told Arutz Sheva about the robbery, not the first one where Arabs have left his father without the herd he nurtured on the hills of Samaria (Shomron).

Shmuel says that he himself is the owner of another kind of business altogether, but at various times he is called to help his father take care of the herd. One of those times is the time of moving from one pasture to another, so a few weeks ago his father Avraham left the Tapuach area, where he lives, on a grazing trip in the Givat HaYekev (Winery Hill) region in Binyamin, the hill where the Migron expellees were sent.

In our conversation, Shmuel recounts his story of the move from Tapuach to Givat HaYekev, before the night of the theft. The father, an elderly Jew, makes his way on foot with the herd, and when he arrives at the grazing area, he stops for a few days, then sets out on his way after the Tapuach-area pasture is depleted. He then moved on to Rechelim. The distance between Tapuach and Rechelim with the herd was not long - only 2 hours - and there in Rechelim, he stopped for about two weeks.

Afterwards, he moved on to Eli. After a day's walking, he arrived at the Ein Oz springs near the settlement, and there he stayed for about three weeks. From there, he continued moving in the direction of Ofra with another day of walking, and after a few days worth of grazing in the Ofra region, he continued walking towards Migron. "The destination was Migron because there's good pasture area, an unused area where there were also several friends who wanted to help him in the pasture", relates the son, who emphasizes that it isn't just about walking from place to place, but about moving fences, food and not a small amount of equipment together with him, so he came to the aid of his father.

And how do they sleep at night? Seems that Avraham Herzlich has no problem sleeping in the field. As a man of nature, he feels very good about sleeping under the stars, but nevertheless, Shmuel provided him with a small truck he could live in.

The day before the theft, Avraham Herzlich arrived in Migron, where he asked the winery owners if he could put his herd near the winery. The owners were at first concerned that the herd's proximity would bring noise and dirt, but they agreed when they understood it was to be for one day only, just until he could set up the pen and fences some distance from the winery. Shmuel strung out some lights and the herd was left at a distance of just tens of meters from the winery.

"On Wednesday night, we undertook construction", he says. On Thursday, he was a little busy and decided that on Friday he would finish the construction of the new pen – except that around 5 a.m. Friday morning, he got a call from his father that the herd had been stolen. "Every night he gets up at midnight to study. He checks that the herd is OK and comes back to study in the truck. This is what he did that night, when the dogs suddenly started barking. He went out, lit up his flashlight to check the herd, and when he didn't see any problem, he went back in to study. He must have fallen asleep, and two hours later when he got up, he saw that there was no herd..."

The first phone call Shmuel made was to the regional security officer, Avigdor Shatz, who got there in about half an hour. Together they rushed to the place where they thought the herd was supposed to be loaded onto a truck. And in fact, there they discovered signs of a rendezvous between the herd and three or four trucks. Trackers confirmed these conclusions, but it looked like the trucks traveled north from the rendezvous point on the outskirts of the village of Muhmas, towards Wadi Hermiya.

The police and Shin Bet got a hold of photos from the cameras installed in the area; Shmuel and his father are currently awaiting updates.

The latest incident of theft is not the only one from Herzlich's herd. About five years ago, the entire herd was stolen except for a few kids left at the site. After that incident, another 170 head were purchased to enable Herzlich to continue his work of grazing the animals, to which he is so connected and attached. "This blow is much more serious at the moment. My father is older. He had thought about dividing the herd into two, and now they stole everything", says Shmuel, who points out that the financial loss caused by the theft of about 400 goats is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of shekels. "My father doesn't have any more money, he doesn't have a bank account", he says with a bitter smile, and adds his hope that he will be able to buy himself a few head of goats, enabling him to go back to tending his sheep, which for him is almost like the air he breathes.

"The hard part about this whole thing is the Hilul Hashem (desecration of the name of G-d). The thefts are part of the fight for the land", he says, and mentions that the Shin Bet has been sending out specific warnings about villages around Tapuah which have invited bands of professional rustlers to steal his father's herd. The Herzlichs, for their part, beefed up security around the herd, but the thieves apparently waited until it was almost time to move the goats, when it would be easier for them to operate, and as soon as they could, they carried out the robbery.

Herzlich is convinced that this was a combination of lust for pillage and ideology. He emphasizes that almost all of the herds stolen were taken from Jews, with only a few incidents of thefts of Arab herds.

In his opinion, the security establishment is aware of the importance of, locating the thieves and putting a stop to the phenomenon, with the understanding that the same people who execute well-planned and integrated theft operations, could one day move a step up and breaking into a military base. Nevertheless, he estimates that it won't be easy to find the flock. He emphasizes that the flock contains many superfluous males good only for slaughter and sale of their meat. His hope now is to find the thieves and restore the deterrence factor.