South Lebanon shepherds face risk and ruin from cross-border hostilities


Majdal Selm (Reuters) – The rolling pastures of southern Lebanon have provided perfect grazing grounds for local shepherds’ flocks for centuries. But they are now off-limits, rendered too dangerous for sheep, cows and their herders by Israeli air raids and artillery fire.

“All of us shepherds take our herds to (the border areas of) Mays al-Jabal, Houla… but with the shelling, you can’t get anywhere near there,” said Ali Beber, with a flock of 350 sheep.

They are now squeezed into a corrugated metal pen in the town of Majdal Selm, about seven kilometres (four miles) west of their usual grazing spot.

Beber, 57, walks them briefly every day but has had to buy haystacks to feed them at a cost of around $2,000.

“This isn’t cheap. I had prepared hay for them so they could eat during winter, but that was meant for rainy days,” he said.

“The hay I have left can feed them for another two or three days, then I’m going to have to go into debt to get them food.”

Fighting broke out in Lebanon after Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas went to war in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. Lebanese Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has fired rockets at Israel, which has retaliated with air strikes and artillery shells.

The resulting fires have burned olive trees and torched agricultural land across southern Lebanon, devastating herders and farmers already hit hard by a four-year economic meltdown.

Jihad Said, 45, told Reuters he had moved his herd to the town of Rmeich after losing three cows to Israeli shelling earlier this month on a farm on the outskirts of the town.

Two Lebanese shepherds were also found dead after being shot at by Israeli troops earlier this month.

Lebanese herders have long learned to live with the cross-border tensions between Lebanon and Israel. Those who venture too close to the border are often questioned for hours by the Israeli military. Beber said he had been detained by Israel twice.

A month-long war between Israeli forces and Hezbollah in 2006 also hit farmers hard. It prevented Tony al-Amil from harvesting five hectares of wheat and barley, he told Reuters.

This time around, he stayed in the south for the first two weeks of shelling – but then took his 100 sheep to the edges of the Lebanese capital Beirut.

“If it (the war) ends tomorrow, I’ll go back tomorrow. Otherwise I’m going to stay here, I have nowhere else to go.”

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