This thriving family of five and their flock of livestock are protecting Israeli land in the biblical heartland!
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Every day, Tchiya and Yair Ben David, along with their five children and herds of sheep and goats, stand as guardians, watching over a swath of farmland and forest that straddles the Judea and Samaria regions of Israel.
On their Kashuela Farm, the Ben David family confronts a wide range of threats, from agricultural terrorism, arson, and theft of equipment and animals to illegal land grab by local Arabs seeking to take over territory purchased in bona fide transactions over 70 years ago.
Despite these challenges, the Ben Davids are fulfilling the Zionist dream, settling the Holy Land in accordance with the mandates of the Bible.
They arrived in the area eight years ago with permission from the Gush Etzion Regional Council and the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
“This is undisputed, Jewish land purchased by JNF in 1930-1935,” Tchiya told United with Israel (UWI). “For the past 15 years, the area has suffered from Arabs cutting down the trees and committing agricultural arson, destroying the forests. Then, they plant olive trees in their place to try take over the land.”
The practice described by Tchiya is known as “land grab,” which represents a major problem facing Israel. When Arabs begin farming or grazing on Israeli land, it represents an attempt to establish “facts on the ground” with which to later make legal claims related to ownership of the land.
This strategy was documented by an internal report by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which “reveal[ed] that the Palestinian Authority is promoting a plan to take over land by planting olive trees in [Judea and Samaria], particularly near Jewish communities,” Ynet reported in 2018.
“Our big mission is to safeguard this area so that it remains part of the State of Israel and is available for the pleasure of tourists and visitors,” Tchiya said.
Gush Etzion council officials agree, Tchiya explained. If not for the presence of the Ben David family, there is a high likelihood that Arabs from surrounding areas would implement the PA’s land grab strategy to usurp Israeli state-owned land.
According to Tchiya, Israel’s security and government officials toured the area years ago and determined that having a farm there was essential to protect the land from an Arab takeover.
“We graze our herd every day over 14,000 dunams [about 3,500 acres] and watch what is happening in the nearby Arab villages,” Tchiya told UWI.
Sheep: Guardians of the Land of Israel
“Local Arabs have stolen over half of our sheep,” Tchiya explained to UWI, highlighting the importance of having a large herd.
“This is not only a huge financial lost, but, the more sheep we have, the larger area we are able to graze in. That gives us a greater areas to watch and safeguard. Arabs don’t come to areas where we graze. Less sheep means less protected Jewish land. That is why sheep are so important.”
Sharon Katz, founder and producer of “Dames of Dance,” Israel’s largest and longest-running charity dance event, recently visited Kashuela Farm. Seeing the tremendous self-sacrifice of the Ben David family, she is donating the proceeds of this year’s production, in March, to help the farm and the family.
After suffering tremendous setbacks due to incidents involving local Arabs, including the loss of sheep, trees and equipment to fight fires and work the farm, fundraising efforts are taking place to provide the farm with security cameras, protective fencing and animals to thicken the herd. Funds will also go toward a security vehicle, needed to patrol the area and battle arson attacks, as well as to replace stolen equipment.
“[The Ben Davids] rise at dawn to feed the sheep and other animals, and then pasture them all over the hills and valleys around Gush Etzion,” Katz told UWI.
Emphasizing the importance of replenishing the family’s flocks, Katz said, “Every single sheep is like a guardian of the Land of Israel.”
A Pioneering Family
When asked about raising a large family in this environment, the young mother said, “My kids love playing outside. They love helping to work the farm. We have a simple life, connected to nature. They have fun playing, spending time with each other. They have very calm personalities and love being here.”
However, Tchiya admits that it “isn’t always easy.” For example, the family can’t ever visit family, friends or attend events off their farm. “We must guard this area day and night, 24/7,” Tchiya told UWI. “If we’re not here, the animals would definitely get stolen.”
Tchiya explained that authorities only allow one family, the Ben Davids, to live on the farm, or the status of the area would change. “They don’t want it to turn into a new settlement by bringing even one additional family,” she said.
She discussed the importance of visitors to the farm. “Living as just one family limits the amount of friends my kids play with. We are making efforts to have more people come to the farm.”
The family welcomes and organizes individuals and groups to visit the animals, hike the surrounding forests, work in their greenhouse, camp in teepee tents in the spring and summer and participate in workshops that teach everything from making herbal teas to milking goats and baking pita bread on an open fire.
“We educate about Zionism, Jewish history in the land, the importance of our presence here, agriculture, and building the land with our own hands,” said Tchiya.
“Those who understand what we are doing, will join us and become part of our crucial and meaningful project,” she told UWI. “We are here for everyone, protecting the Land of Israel for all.”