STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nestled in a barren, narrow valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a small community of Palestinian herders was raising sheep and goats. They made salty cheese sold in town. They were doing this in an area that Israel long ago declared to be a closed military zone. Recently, NPR's Emily Harris paid them a visit, and as it turned out, she arrived just hours before the Israeli soldiers did.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ROLLING OVER ROCKS)

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It's 20 minutes by four-wheel drive up a rocky canyon to Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah, a near-barren plain with a small spring. A handful of families live here, including more than a dozen children and over 700 sheep and goats.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMALS BAAING)

HARRIS: Meshchas Bne Menneh unzips the door to her home, a large tent on a sturdy square frame. She flicks on a battery-powered lamp and lights a propane burner for tea. Outside, children fill buckets of fresh milk.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN LAUGHING)

HARRIS: This land is in an Israeli military zone. The herders have been struggling with Israeli authorities off and on for a decade. In December, an Israeli court rejected their petition to stay. Meshchas Bne Menneh says the women and children live in town part of the year, but this is home, because of the sheep.

MESHCHAS BNE MENNEH: (Through translator) Our life is around the sheep. We have no other income source. This is our way of living.

HARRIS: The next morning, Israeli soldiers bulldozed the tents into tangled piles. Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Israeli administration in the West Bank, says the homes were put up without permits.

GUY INBAR: All of them were removed after the high court of justice had denied their petition and after the end of the 30 days that were given for appeals.

HARRIS: Later that day, Meshchas said the military came early.

MENNEH: (Through translator) We were trying to get our belongings out and dismantle our tent without really destroying it. They didn't allow us.

HARRIS: As she talks, Meshchas keeps doing what she does every day. She unwraps bundles of soft, fresh cheese, squeezes out extra water and wraps them up again. Belongings that weren't destroyed were arranged on a rug, like yesterday. Now, there were just no walls and no roof.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

HARRIS: But help arrived. The International Committee of the Red Cross put up new tents. Herder Atteyah Bne Menneh says the community's lawyer advised setting up these new tents at least a hundred yards away from the old sites.

ATTEYAH BNE MENNEH: (Through translator) Because if we build there, they can destroy immediately, because they already have the order. Here, it will take time. They will bring us the first paper, then the second, and our lawyer will also do something to buy time. And it could take two years.

HARRIS: Instead, it takes just four days until the military confiscated the Red Cross tents. The herder families spent that night under the stars and plan to stay in this valley. Emily Harris, NPR News.

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