Category Archives: Fatality

Music and Friendship at Salem: Sunita, Yasmin and the Harp

Dear Friends and supporters,

Below is a story told by Sunita Staneslow on the new friendship and the start of musical cooperation between her, an Israeli harpist, and Yasmin (Ikhlas) Jebara, a young Palestinian poet and graduate student living under Occupation in the village of Salem near Nablus. In the shorter run, the connection between Sunita and Yasmin began at the Music Center in Salem, a center we have helped develop ever since the idea hatched in the mind of its founder (and current director) Jubeir Ishtayya a couple of years ago .

In the longer run, the story of Sunita and Yasmin is deeply connected with the story of our relationships with Yasmin and her family since the murder of her father almost eight years ago. This story and its dramatic twists of pain and hope, suffering and joy, despair and perseverance, and above all — friendship — is told below, after Sunita’s account, by Erella, as translated by our fellow activist Tal Haran.

Ehud Krinis, Villages Group

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The Story of Yasmin’s Harp,

Sunita Staneslow, 28th April 2012

I first met Yasmin last autumn when I visited the Salem Music Program with my harp to explore the possibility of a workshop with a visiting jazz harpist. Our guest harpist at the First Israeli Harp Festival, Park Stickney, wanted to work with Palestinian musicians during his trip. A seminar was organized for the Music Center several weeks later. It was then that Yasmin told me that she would like to learn to play the harp. She fell in love with the sound. “It sounds like water—like the sound of the sea!”

Harps can be expensive; there are no harps in Palestine (that I know of) and no teachers nearby. But, the seed was planted for Yasmin’s wish.

Park Stickney is one of the worlds’ most innovative harpists and he divides his time between New York City and Switzerland. Park is also brilliant at improvising and his workshop at the Salem Music Center started with a jam session between Park and the instructors. Park later told me that it was the best way for musicians to introduce themselves and find a common ‘language’. Yasmin was the primary translator for the class, and Park taught the kids to play a jazz tune. It was amazing to see the kids learn a classic American jazz tune using their voices, oud, violins, drums, and keyboards.

Park Stickney played on my large classical harp and we gave Yasmin a chance to sit behind the harp and glide her fingers up and down the strings. Yasmin reminded me that she would love to learn to play the harp. I told her that I would help her get a harp and teach her, not knowing how we would ever find the money to buy her a harp.

My husband, Fred Schlomka was certain that if we tapped into our mailing lists and sent out a request for contributions, we really could buy a harp for Yasmin. I am a professional harpist and tour in North America several times a year, and am part of the international harp community. Fred, through his company, Green Olive Tours, has contacts around the world of people interested in helping to bring peace and justice to the Middle East. We sent out a request with a beautiful photo of Yasmin at the harp. At first, money came in from harpists, friends and family in amounts of$15-100. The Colorado Harp Society pooled money and sent a check for $300. But, it was a couple from England who were so taken with Yasmin’s photo that they sent 11,000 shekels to buy the harp immediately. In total, over 40 people contributed towards Yasmin’s dream to learn the harp and welcomed Yasmin into the international harp family.

On Saturday, the 28th of April, I drove from Kfar Saba to meet with Ehud and other members of the Villages Group, and present Yasmin with her harp. The harp is made of wood, has 34 strings and is similar to the style of a Celtic folk harp. Several hundred years ago, there was a tradition in Ireland of blind harp players that travelled across Ireland on horseback to perform to the wealthy landlords. The most celebrated of these blind harp players was Turlough O’Carolan. Many of his beautiful melodies have become standards in the harp repertoire.

In the harp tradition, we have this connection between making beautiful music and being blind, although the modern harp is designed for those who can see the patterns made by the different colored strings. It isn’t like piano, where you feel the pattern of the notes between the different size and shape of the keys. So, for Yasmin, I glued beautiful stickers in the shape of jewels to mark the different colored strings.

There is another complication with the harp. Each string can be more than one tone, and there are levers that shorten the strings by half a step in order to change keys. Small bands were placed on the levers so Yasmin could feel the difference between them.

Our first lesson was spent learning how to make sense of how the harp is organized. Yasmin learned how to tune the harp, how to move the semi-tone levers and learn all the names of the strings. I was impressed with how quickly she understood. Her first assignment is to explore the harp and compose a short piece. She wants to play music that sounds like the sea in the key of C!

It takes me about an hour to drive from my home near Tel Aviv to Yasmin’s house in Salem. I cross through a checkpoint from Israel to the Palestinian Territories and drive alone on a road that most Israelis would never dream of driving on without an armored car. But, it would be impossible for Yasmin to get a permit from the Israeli army to take lessons in my home, so that is not an option. This is an exciting opportunity for me to ‘cross the veil’ into Palestine and develop a friendship with an amazing young woman.

I plan to teach Yasmin every other week. Together, we will work on melodies develop our own arrangements. I will teach Yasmin any melody she loves from my international repertoire, and she will teach me melodies from her tradition. This will be a musical journey that we will explore together and learn from each other. The harp is not a Middle Eastern instrument and the word for a harp in Arabic is either an adaptation of the English harp (harb) or Hebrew Nevel (nebel). Yasmin may be the first Palestinian to have a harp, and certainly the first one who is blind.

We spoke of dreams for the future when Yasmin can teach other Palestinian students to play the harp, perhaps even in the Barenboim Center in Ramallah. Someone asked her if she ever imagined that she would really get a harp. Yasmin gave us a big smile and said, “I am a very optimistic person.”

Yasmin is interested in connecting with blind harp players around the world. She may travel to the USA in September and I will try and arrange meetings for her with other harp players. Her musical journey has begun!

Sunita Staneslow

http://www.sunitaharp.com
Tel: +972-(0)54-212-5159
Fax: +972-(0)9-777-0020
USA fax: 800-809-7913

Yasmin

Erella Dunayevsky (translated by Tal Haran)

I have been sitting for hours staring at the empty computer screen.

Walking the paths of this story is like pursuing a single trail that splits into many, each splitting again, like blood vessels. I know I mustn’t venture into this maze because my reader might get lost inside, and I also know that if I don’t, the blood of this story will not reach the heart of its readers.

Mid-morning. August. Hot.

Uri and I walk along a bumpy road. Holes yawn at us in spots where the asphalt is worn out and are filled with gravel and dirt and glass shards of bottles that someone may have hurled in anger.
This, more or less, is how most roads look in Salem village, 2004.

We’ve been walking the roads of this village for two years now, visiting homes and getting to know a growing number of the villagers. Every week the number of our friends grows in direct proportion to the number of victims of the Occupation’s violent hand. Every week sees more villagers who have heard of us, and get used to our presence simply because we show up, again and again – every week, almost.

Mid-morning. Saturday. October 2nd, 2004. Hot.

Uri and I climb a bumpy road. We are on our way to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family. Abed, native of this village, our old friend, accompanies us.
Sael Jbara was murdered five days ago. He was murdered while crossing a smooth road, free of potholes. It, too, is bumpy, though. A road that discriminates. An apartheid road, as local jargon would have it.
Sael drove a cab that hardly sustained his family at times of closures and barriers. (Salem drivers could deliver their passengers only up to the many checkpoints closing in on the village and preventing their passage even to Nablus and the neighboring villages, let alone other regions in the West Bank).
Five days earlier, Sael drove passengers to Beit Furiq checkpoint, hoping that perhaps this time they would be allowed through to Beit Hassan, a village sprawled south of Salem beyond the apartheid road. The soldiers at the checkpoint would not let him through. Sael was determined to bring his passengers home and put some bread on his own family table. Like all the indigenous inhabitants of this area who know the lay of the land as closely as they know their mother, Sael found a dirt track bypassing the checkpoint. Three meters of an asphalt road separated Sael and his passengers from the rest of this ancient dirt track leading to Dajjan Valley and Beit Hassan. The road has not only been paved upon the village farm lands, it is also a road that only ‘the lords of the land’ are allowed to use. Experience has taught Sael that if the soldiers catch him, they would force him back to the village (with or without getting beaten, depending on the soldier), or detain him for interrogation.
Sael took the risk and didn’t know that a settler from Itamar would take his life.
While crossing the road, Sael was shot in his heart, point blank.

The world of his wife and six children blacked out. The world of his two blind children was doubly darkened, for their daddy had promised to do everything to brighten their eyes and souls.

Saturday. Mid-morning. Hot.

Uri and I drag ourselves with Abed along the village’s bumpy road, the one with the torn asphalt, going to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family.
Luckily my identity does not include nationality, religion, state and other characteristics normally expressing one’s identity. (One had better not confuse identity with its manifestations). I am thus exempt of guilt feelings and shame for one of my own nation having perpetrated this murder. My heart is free to meet the full power of pain over the loss of life, free to look directly at the poisonous fruit of blind souls who seek their remedy in ideologies of hatred and pettiness, free to feel the paralyzing pain of helplessness.
As I make room for this difficult encounter and pray that they themselves will not regard me as one who has come to apologize for her fellow nationals, we arrive at the bereaved home.
Vines shade the mourning area in the yard. A few people are now seated inside. None of them is familiar to us.
We are invited to sit down. We gingerly accept the invitation.
I sit in a chair next to Yasmin, Uri sits next to Mohammad.
The eyes of the seeing see the eyes of the blind.
Yasmin sits upright, her head slightly bowed. Her face is soft and lovely. And I, next to her, take a long look at her. I see that her blind eyes see a lot.
Some years later, I will be writing to her: “… Dear Yasmin, I know that your vision is deep and focused. Much more precise than many people whose eyes see but are in fact totally blind. The ability to see starts with the heart…”
But now we are in the mourning tent.

Mohammad, his body larger than his twelve-years of age would indicate, sits withdrawn. Uri speaks with him in Arabic.

“My name is Erella” I say to Yasmin, in Arabic as well.
“My name is Yasmin” she answers me in English.
“I am with you in your pain” I continue in English.
“I will not be able to go on living”, she answers. “Father was everything to me”. Silence.
“Hope, too”, she adds.
I place my hand on hers and say that this is how one feels at first. That it’s natural. It’s permitted. When my father died I was nine-years old and I thought life was over forever. Somehow I even wanted it to be so.
“When was that?” she asks, wishing to know me by touching my face.
“A long time ago”, I answer, directing her hand.
“How old are you?” she asks, sailing along my face somewhat hesitantly.
“Fifty-seven”.
“Your voice is young and your skin smooth, I thought you are twenty.”
“And you?” I asked.
“I’m seventeen. I have another year until I graduate high school. But now I don’t know what will happen.”
I hugged her. I whispered to her that after mourning, one can choose to live again. That life wants us to live it.

Nearly six years later, when we leaf back through the pages of this first meeting, Yasmin will remind me that I told her also that in order to live she should be independent and free, and that a higher education will be of great help to her. She will remind me that a week later we came to visit once more and I brought her a jasmine plant. I told her to plant it in her garden, so it would remind her of life.
She suggests I open my story as follows:
“Ten days after the mourning, a child of love was born named Yasmin. She was born of the Jasmine planted in her garden and blooming to this day”.

Since that condolence visit, the Jbara family entered our circle of friends.
Yasmin graduated high school and matriculated.
That year we helped her and Mohammad fulfill their father’s dream – bring them into Israel for a medical examination by a senior eye expert.
It was easy to set up the medical examination but hard to obtain their permits to enter Israel, for after their father was murdered, the children and their mother were black-listed, entry-prevented. This is the status assigned a Palestinian injured by a soldier or settler, and all of his family relations down to the tenth generation of descendants – even if the injury is lethal.
Anticipation was great, hearts trembled. On a rainy winter day Yasmin and Mohammad, escorted by Muna, their mother, made their way to Tel Hashomer Hospital. Uri and Edna drove them, supporting, escorting them.
The doctor examined them. Slowly, thoroughly. Finally, he gave his verdict, delicately, painfully: “They will never see”.
Heavy-hearted Mohammad and Yasmin were cheered a bit when Uri and Edna took them to the beach. It was their first time ever to see the sea. Or rather hear its roar, taste it, feel its water.
Salty sea drops blown by a strong winter wind dripped over the wounds of their heart and gave them a moment of respite.
They would return to this sea. At a more southerly beach, in the summer, in days that were not yet born.

In the meantime, another summer.
It’s hot.

Again we drag ourselves along the bumpy road to the Jbara home. This time we tell them the State has brought the murderer to trial. An exceptional event in the life of the nation. For a moment it seems justice might be done. David, present at the court sessions, learns all the details and updates the family.
Muna is taken up with her mourning and raising her children. She is grateful to David for what he is doing.
It is important for the family that the murderer be punished for what he had done. Not that any of them – neither old nor young – numb their pain with thoughts of vengeance. And still, the thought of such murderers behind bars could instill a measure of physical and emotional security. After all, the family knows that their occupier is a progressive democratic state run by law as other nations in this world, even enlightened occupiers.
In this summer of 2005 the verdict has been issued at the murderer’s trial: manslaughter. But the judge sent the defendant home until the sentence is issued. The State prosecutor poses no objection. The defendant does what he had been enabled to do – he runs away. No state institution – not a living soul – really takes the trouble to look for him. The seal is set.

Sael was murdered yet again. Once by Yehoshua Elitzur, a German convert to Judaism from Itamar settlement, and again by the justice system of the State of Israel.

The family mourns again. We stay with their pain, contain it, and together with them lick again the seething wounds of helplessness.
At this time, Yasmin is getting ready for her first year at university.
She spent her first ten years of school at a special school for the blind in Ramallah. Her last two years of high school have been successfully accomplished at the normal high school in her village.
But university is an altogether different matter.

In spite of her full fluency in Braille, in spite of her talent and the stable part of her personality that enables her to recover time and again, Yasmin is anxious before starting off her academic studies. A small tape recorder which we give her for the lectures she will be attending helps a bit to assuage her fears. But this does not begin to meet the needs for independent movement. This has not been taught at the special school for the blind.
For two long years Yasmin grapples with her need to be escorted on her daily journey from Salem to Nablus and back, and in the large university campus itself. She learns to transform the shackles of constant debt to her helpers into the liberating state of gratitude.
When Yasmin learns, at the beginning of her first semester, that most of the professors mail their lectures to the students electronically, we engage in finding a special computer for her with a particular program for the visually impaired.
As always, this time, too, we have gambled. The challenge is met by a Jewish Israeli citizen who donates money to buy the computer.

Saturday, early summer 2006. It’s hot.

After walking up the bumpy road, full of potholes, we gather at the Jbara home – Noa and her partner Ehud, who look to the professional aspect of the computer; Qassem, computer-store owner from Nablus, where the computer was purchased. He has never before been in Salem, four minutes ride from his shop; Fadi, the blind installment technician (Palestinian citizen of Israel from Sha’ab village in the Galilee); Yasmin and her family and ourselves, of course.
We all crowd into the small living room to celebrate another phase in Yasmin’s coping with her boundaries.
Silence fills the room. Some of the people deliver a few modest and celebratory words on this occasion. So does Yasmin. Then silence wraps us again.

A Palestinian from Nablus, Jews from Israel, a Palestinian from Israel (arriving on the bumpy road, without the potholes, receiving a special permit to enter through the military checkpoint), visit a Palestinian home in Salem. They all sit in one room from which the curtain has momentarily been lifted. For a borrowed moment they witness the order of Creation as nakedly self-evident as when it was eternally born – serving each other with the measure of love needed to heal pain. Love manifesting itself in various modes of one identity – a human at the shrine of the deity.
Muna serves heaps of stuffed vine leaves. We eat, laugh, weep, chat, take leave. Each of us goes home, having to cross the army checkpoint again on our way out (no other possibility when the order of things loses its obviousness).

Mohammad, who, until now, has attended a special school for the blind in Jenin, is transferred to a similar school in Bethlehem. Yasmin is finishing her sophomore year at Al Najah, and is moving to Nablus to live at a special hostel for blind students, going home on weekends. Muna cannot resist the pressures of her family and neighbors and the computer, waiting for Yasmin at home, becomes everyone’s business and is in a state of disrepair. Our attempts to convince Muna to move the computer to the hostel are resisted, We don’t understand the reason for this. Nor do we understand why Yasmin, who usually knows how to hold her ground, does not veto this. But we do realize there are things beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps these are social, family or neighborhood codes unfamiliar to us. Whenever I touch the thin line separating that which is in my hands from that which isn’t, I am deeply saddened. It’s an existential sadness that opens its arms to me, and I surrender to it until the pain eases.
It happens this time, too…

Muna is a woman of valour. A brave navigator in stormy seas. Sometimes in a tsunami. Only occasionally, here and there, are the skies are partly cloudy or clear.
As the family now has no breadwinner, Muna makes good use of her wisdom and the special knowledge that the impoverished use in order not to drown. With the meager funds that the Palestinian Authority allots bereaved families, and the meager help of her extended family, she somehow navigates the ship. Her nights unravel her worry. How will she ensure the future of her children – Suhad, the eldest, not yet done with her technology studies at Nablus’ Hajawi College; Yasmin still faces another three years, almost, until she completes her B.A. in English; Sharif, already seventeen, does not want to continue his schooling and has been looking for work – so far in vain; Mohammad has yet another three years until matriculation. Then he plans to go to the university in order to acquire a profession he can qualify for with his blindness; Beautiful Assala, just twelve, already knows she will be a lawyer when she grows up; Yahya, the youngest, is still a long way from maturity and independence.

In July 2007 the family wins its civil suit, pressed against the State by an attorney. The State of Israel pays them damages which can never be enough to hide the naked obscenity, but still provide Muna some relief.

The family breathes more freely now. It shows in Suhad’s shy smile, completing her studies; in the walls of the home, freshly painted by Sharif; in Mohammad’s daring to return home and begin, for the first time ever, a year of normal high school; in Asala, an outstanding student, and in Yahya who now enters adolescence.
In the meantime, without any emotional privileges, Yasmin ripens into young womanhood. Along with her ripen her poems.
A love crisis slashes her spirit in late summer 2009. Yasmin recites for us a poem born of this crisis. (As always, since childhood, writing, her openness and her ability to share help her rise all the stronger from the pitfalls on her way).

“In our silent, narrow street
I followed his footsteps…

In a dark and cloudy mood
Moon, sun, stars
Look so bright,
Confidence… courage… Oh fear
Not even a teardrop in heaven’s eyes
Only a spark of hope so close
That even escape will not defeat”…

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January 2010. Cold. Rainy.

Danny, Ehud and I navigate the bumpy, potholed road, now muddy too, trying not to trip. We walk to Yasmin’s house, to give her a private party of our own, celebrating her graduation as a Bachelor of Arts in English.

In honor of the occasion, Yasmin writes:

“Have you ever felt
What it is like to be a person
Soon graduating,
Standing at the university gates,
Facing the threshold of one’s life?
People coming to congratulate me
Light within me a spark of hope.
Like a king who has won a kingdom
I am a woman loved by her fate…”

A few weeks later Yasmin calls us, profoundly depressed. No school. No Nablus. No hostel. No friends. Yasmin is home again. This secure nest no longer fits her size. Yasmin wants to break out, spread her wings and take off – away from the arms of her mother and little village. She wants independence, she wants to own herself. But she has no mobility skills and no job. Muna is resourceful and tries to use this time to enable Yasmin more independence in performing household chores – cooking, laundry, cleaning… Yasmin cooperates but, at the same time, sinks into a deep black pit.

Ehud suggests we mobilize our friends abroad, especially in England, to call her on the phone and keep her busy conversing and exercising her English, and especially to give her a sense of contact with the ‘world out there’.
Dear Nancy from faraway Edinburgh takes charge. With so much attention and empathy she keeps calling. At first because we asked her to. Then, because Yasmin’s personality fascinates her, invites her to love. What a gift Yasmin is. If only she could trust her strength, rely on the beauty of her garden.
“Jasmine blooms in winter”, I remind her in our frequent support calls and visits.
Nancy has managed to arouse the interest of her friends in Yasmin’s story. They have transformed their obvious empathy into donations for purchasing a new computer for Yasmin (laptop, this time), including a modern program for the blind. The computer that was out of order will now be repaired, and will serve Mohammad in his next year of studies, his matriculation time. (Our many attempts to revive the computer with Tel Avivian knowhow were futile. Recently the solution was found in Nablus. Masters of improvisation).

On a Thursday in February, 2010, as on every normal Thursday (if there is such a thing) we are in the South Hebron Hills. While our friends from Umm Al Kheir show us the ruined fence in their farmland (the tracks of its destroyer lead to Carmel, the nearby Jewish settlement), my cell phone rings. It is Nancy from Edinburgh calling. She joyously tells me Yasmin has been summoned for a work interview in Ramallah, by an NGO called “Stars of Hope”. My spirit cannot share her joy. One part of it is still caught in the broken fragment of that ruined fence, and the other part is twice-shocked – first, realizing that news of Yasmin reaches me via Edinburgh, and second – wondering how anyone in “Eastern Palestine” even knows of some Yasmin in Salem village looking for work. This is the “gamble” that has reached some haven and has been picked up.

The story of Yasmin, which we have made public by email several months earlier in an attempt to help her in her despair, has reached the Ramallah NGO through one of its workers whom Ehud met at one of the Jewish-Palestinian conferences we attend occasionally. At her request, Ehud added her address to the list of our contacts.

Between winter and spring, in March 2010, Yasmin begins her training in the Palestinian society for the advancement of disabled Palestinian women – “Stars of Hope”.

She goes to live in Ramallah, is nearly independent and is earning her own livelihood for the first time in her life. Yasmin’s joy soars and is blessedly gathered into the lap of a soft, embracing heaven. Then her rage crashes against a tight, parched ground in a painful emergency landing. She is fired after one month.

Her insult is as deep as the bleeding pain of her ripening understanding of the existence of elements that interfere with her fate, which she has no way of directing or affecting.
She is home again, restoring the debris of her life. The school for the blind in Ramallah has notified her that she will not be appointed teacher in the coming school year. Yasmin realizes she must expand her employment opportunities, and decides to proceed with her graduate studies in English, specializing in translation.
This will happen only in October, and in the meantime – a long and exhausting summer lies ahead.

Summer 2010. Hot. Humid.

I climb up the bumpy potholed road to the Jbara home.
Between tea and stuffed vine leaves (that Muna prepares, knowing I like them), Yasmin sows an idea as old as our acquaintance: “I would so much love to visit you at your home”, she says.

Typing her family data on my keyboard, a slight shadow creeps into my mind. I try to ignore it but it grows insistent until there is no escaping it. I feel it hammering in my head: “They will not be issued permits”, “they will not be struck off the black list”, “there’s no chance”, “Occupation never changes”. Then I hear my heart: “No doubt they’ve been taken off the black list”, “even brutality has its limits”, “it’s been six years”, “after all, perhaps the regime is building trust by making mobility lighter”. And again the hammers strike, again the heart speaks. Hammers… heart… The mail to Buma (our ‘permit’ friend) is on its way. Two weeks go by. Buma calls. The answer has arrived. No permits. All this family’s children are ‘prevented’ (denied entry into Israel-proper) by the Shabak secret police, formally known as the General Security Services.

No hammers, no heart-voice. Only the blunt ache of helplessness spreads throughout my body and what remains of my sane mind. Nothing has changed. Nothing changes. Six years are like the forty-three years of Occupation. My heart goes crazy, my mind leaps out of itself. I cry.
In my mind’s eye I already see myself arriving at Salem this weekend, on the bad road without the potholes, how I’ll climb on foot to their home on the bad road with the potholes, and tell them, face to face, that they have no permit to be free.
Buma suggests suspending the answer. He has filed an appeal, requesting permits once again for the family in spite of their being blacklisted. “You know how it is”, he says. “This whole business is arbitrary. Perhaps the second request will be treated with a different arbitrariness”. And indeed a different arbitrariness is applied.

“Thank you for the right to freedom that loses its freedom by being granted, let alone granted by the mean insolence of arbitrariness that leaves not the slightest doubt who is just and who evil…” my soul wants to cry out. I transform the outcry into a wish: “I wish for you, the blind, that one day,” I say in my heart, “your eyes will open to see”… my soul, tamed to transform, relents, tired but grateful for this wish that has transformed a raging fire into the light that enables me to tell what is in my hands from what isn’t. Freedom itself is embodied in this aching acknowledgement. Freedom that can neither be granted nor robbed, for freedom of the heart can never be dependent on anything. When I do the deeds that bring me in the way of blunted hearts and other damages of blindness,
I do them of my own free will. I use my fullest freedom when I choose to come in touch with the realms of suffering of the other one, and to be a true healer. After all, I could choose not to be present on such occasions.

Summer. August. Hot. Humid.

The Jbara family walks the narrow paths of Kibbutz Shoval. Danny, Ehud and I lead them to our home.
In a little while we’ll drive to the beach. Zikim beach. They will be sitting in the waves that lick the shore, abandon their bodies to the water’s warm caress, taste salt, laugh with their whole being as they’ve never done before, at the thrill of a first encounter.

Only Yasmin and Mohammad will remember that their first was five years ago, in winter after a medical examination. The rest will have no memory. The first time on the beach that is no further from their home than it is from mine. We will look at them lovingly. Our souls will laugh and cry, and so will theirs, when the sun will set into a hazy horizon, patient and soft, reminding us of the order of Creation, self-evident.

Erella Dunayevsky, Villages Group, May 2012. translated by Tal Haran.

Songs by Ikhlas-Yasmin Jebara from Salem: Part II

This continues the previous post, showing for the first time songs by our friend Ikhlas.

The picture above was taken a few weeks ago, when Ikhlas visited the Mediterranean Sea for the second time in her life. The sea is only 47km from her home (measured via Google Maps), but the Occupation regime – especially its prisonlike nature during the past decade – prevents most West Bank Palestinians from visiting it. Both of Ikhlas’ beach visits were initiated by the Villages Group. On the first time, Ikhlas and her brother Mohammed were taken to Tel Aviv to meet an Israeli eye specialist, who unfortunately confirmed that their blindness is incurable.

The second time came about after repeated appeals to military authorities, to allow the Jebara family a visit to Israel in order to breath some fresh air of freedom. The family was automatically blacklisted by the Shin Bet after the father Sa’el was murdered by a settler in fall 2004.

The cruelty of the Occupation regime is perhaps most directly illustrated via this story. The settler, a German convert with troubled history, was nonetheless given – like most settlers – an M16 automatic assault rifle by the military for his “self defense”. He then used it to murder an innocent civilian, who happened to be Ikhlas’ dad, in broad daylight. The lengthy legal proceedings end with his conviction of manslaughter. But the judge inexplicably allows the murderer a home leave before his sentence is set. He disappears without a trace, and to this day no one has found him (has anyone even looked for him?). If you find this hard to believe, here’s an account from the Israeli mainstream news site Ynet.

Meanwhile, the victim’s family having lost its father and provider without recourse to justice, is automatically labeled as a “security threat” because now they have a reason to revenge! Therefore, they are placed under even tighter confinement than other Occupied Palestinians.

This year Villages Group activists petitioned the authorities, arguing that 6 years after the murder perhaps the victims should be allowed a one-time reprieve from their punishment, due to their good behavior, and be allowed to visit their friends in Israel. The plea was rejected. Knowing how mindless and arbitrary the Occupation system is, the activists did not give up and submitted the exact same petition again. This time it was accepted. The Jebara family was treated to a day of fun, visiting the homes of their Villages Group friends for the first time ever, and seeing the Mediterranean Sea – second time for Ikhlas and Mohammed, first time ever for their siblings.

This fall, Ikhlas will begin her M.A. studies in English literature at the Nablus University.

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It is perhaps appropriate that unlike the personal tone of Ikhlas’ first offering of songs posted last week, the songs below carry a more political message.

Ikhlas will be happy to communicate with any of the readers. Being in touch with people from faraway places does a great deal to alleviate the depression and suffocation of living under the Occupation regime. Ikhlas’s email address is ikhlas_soh@hotmail.com.

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Believe me we can not dare

Believe me we can not dare
to say that occupation is something that we can not bear
But even if we said it
they will our bodies like pieces of cloth tear
Not by human butchers
rather it has become the machine butcher’s career
Be silent my friend
and do not say whether it is cruel or fair
Because if you said this
you will be thrown in fire

—————————

If you tried to turn your face

If you tried to turn your face
In a moment you will be in the hospital as a critical case
Occupation is willing to chase
Every person who is from the Arabic race
And the steps of history trace
Occupation has no conscience

when it the bodies of Gazan children dismember
in the last December
I am torn by pain when I remember

the bodies of children trampled under the feet
of an unworthy Israeli soldier member

Dying words on their tomb door
saying war is every where

On the heads of the poor
Palestinian life will become sore
You will live in pain more and more
Let it be forever let it be forever

When will facts chant?
When will Justice on her feet stand?
When will we together
in the face of cruelty stand?
When will we our rights defend?
When will we like a bomb explode?
When will we our rights defend ?
Or shall we wait for someone to rescue us?

—————————

Do you know

Do you know what your life is like?
Your life is a play
if you wonder I will say
what role in this life I play

a good person I may be
as a fruitful tree
slave people I can free
if they appreciate they will agree

a source of evil I contribute to life
by carrying my sharp sword and knife
I can steal a husband from his wife
And deprive a person of his life

To me you can describe
What type you want your self to ascribe
No matter you are from this or that tribe
But what really matters is you are mature and ripe

Yasmin Opens the Braille Little Oxford Dictionary

One of our Villages Group’s strongest connections is with Yasmin Gebara, a very special young woman from the village of Salem near Nablus. Yasmin is blind from birth.  A younger brother, Muhammad, is also blind. In September 2004, Yasmin’s father Saael, a taxi driver, was killed in cold blood by Yehoshua Elitzur, from the nearby Itamar settlement. Elitzur was sentenced in an Israeli court for eight years, but then fully exploited the pro-settler leniency of the Israeli justice system who let him go home before reporting to jail, and has probably escaped the country without serving a single day.

In the meanwhile, Yasmin’s Mother Muna was left on her own with six children in the ages 9-18. We started to visit Yasmin’s family regularly after Saael’s murder. During this period of five and half years we accompanied Yasmin in her long way from the senior year in Salem high school, through  four years term of academic studies in the Nablus university.

In January, we celebrated with Yasmin her graduation from university in the field of English Literature. During this celebration, Yasmin read for us from the Braille a poem of her in English, written especially for this occasion. Erella from the Villages Group read to Yasmin our greetings, praised Yasmin’s unique personality and great achievements and her supportive family (especially her late father and her devoted mother). Yasmin applied to be an English teacher in the Ramallah School for blinds. Hopefully, she will be accepted for this job.

Also last month, we sent an email plea to our list of friends, if anyone can help Yasmin continue and develop her English by sending her CDs of English poetry and English literature – and especially an English-English Braille dictionary and/or Arabic-English\English-Arabic Braille dictionaries.

Before we had time to post this plea online, it was already answered. Jamal and Georgina from London sent Yasmin the “Little Oxford Dictionary” in Braille. Since this dictionary has 39 volumes, I assume that if anyone wants to send Yasmin the “Big Oxford Dictionary”, you will need to hire an entire ship! Also, Yasmin can enjoy now from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on CD’s sent to her by Edna from Herzliya.

We wish Yasmin success in her future plans, and thanks again to all who pitched in to help.

Ehud

A Sderot Woman Speaks Out against Gaza War

Kol Aher (another voice) is a group similar in spirit to ours. Its members are Israelis living near the Gaza Strip, and attempting to build a human bridge of understanding and solidarity with Gaza residents. And they have found partners on the other side.

Of course, the terrible violence of the past two weeks places an especially heavy strain upon Kol Aher members, as they and their friends across the border are under personal risk, from a war in which they do not believe. Nomika Zion, a Kol Aher founder, decided to speak out. Below is her text. Please distribute widely. Please do something to stop this war – contact the nearest Israel embassy or consulate, Israel’s ministries directly, or your own government.

Also, consider donating to efforts for providing emergency humanitarian assistance (see details in our more recent blog post; also here). Thank you.

————

Sderot War Diary

Nomika Zion, Sderot, 8.1.09

“I talk with Sderot people and everyone’s cheeks are rosy again”, boasted Fuad on the war’s second day [Fuad is Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a long-time centrist Labor minister - Assaf]. “The heavier the blow we deliver – the more our hearts widen”.

Hey Fuad, not everyone. Even if I was the only one around Sderot feeling differently – and I am not – my voice should be heard.

Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security. Destroyed homes, bombed schools, thousands of new refugees – are not in my name and not for my security. In Gaza there is no time for burial ceremonies now, the dead are put in refrigerators in twos, because there is no room. Here their bodies lay, policemen, children, and our nimble reporters play acrobatically with Hasbara strategies in view of “the images that speak for themselves”. Pray tell me, what is there to “explain”? [Hasbara literally means "explanation" - Assaf] What is there to explain?

I got myself neither security nor quiet from this war. After such an essential calm, that helped all of us heal emotionally and mentally and experience some sanity again [Nomika is referring here to the first 5 months of cease-fire, which were observed by both sides - Assaf] – our leaders have brought us back to the same wounded, anxiety-ridden place. To the same humiliating, terrified sprinting to shelter.

Don’t mistake me. Hamas is an evil, terrible terror organization. Not just for us. First and foremost to its own citizens. But beyond that wretched leadership there are human beings. With hard labor, ordinary people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. This is what the Kol Aher, a group of people from Sderot and elsewhere on the Gaza border of which I am a member, has been doing. We have tried to lay down a human route to the hearts of our neighbors. While we have won a five-month calm, they continued to suffer under the siege. A young man told us he does not wish to marry and have kids, because in Gaza there is no future for children. A single airplane bomb drowns these human gestures in depths of blood and despair.

Qassams scare me. Since the war started, I almost didn’t dare cross the street. But even more frightening is the monolithic tone in our public sphere and our media, the unbreachable wall of jingoism. It scares me when my Kol Aher colleague is assaulted by other Sderotis, as he is interviewed and criticizes the war – and later receives anonymous phone threats and is afraid to return to his car. It scares me how little room there is for another voice, and how difficult it is to express it here. I am willing to pay the price of social isolation, but not the price of fear.

It scares me to see my city light up, celebrate and put up flags, and cheerleader squads hand out flowers on the streets, and people honk in glee at every one-ton bomb dropped on our neighbors. It scares me to hear the resident who happily admits that he has never been to a concert, but IDF’s bombing of Gaza is the best music he has ever heard. I am scared by the smug reporter interviewing him, who doesn’t challenge him even one bit.

It scares me that under the screen of Orwellian words, and the children’s corpses blurred on TV as a public service to us, we are losing the human ability to see the other side, to feel, to be shocked, to feel empathy. Under the codename ‘Hamas’, the media has created for us a huge dark demon with no face, no body and no voice. A million and a half people with no name.

A deep, dark stream of violence flows into the veins of Israeli society like a deadly disease, and it gets stronger from war to war. It has no smell and no shape, but we feel it very clearly here. It is a type of euphoria and trigger-happiness and joy of revenge and power-drunkenness and love of Mars, and the burial of the noble Jewish commandment: “when your enemy falls – do not celebrate”. Our morality is so polluted, so soiled now that it seems no washing will be able to remove the stains. Our democracy is so fragile, that you have to weigh every word in order to safeguard yourself.

The first time I felt the state is really protecting me, was when they got the ceasefire. I am not responsible for Hamas, and therefore I ask our own leaders: have you turned every stone in order to continue the calm? To extend the ceasefire? To use it to get a long-term agreement? To resolve the border-crossing and siege issues before they blow the whole thing up? Have you gone to the ends of the world looking for the right mediators? And why did you wave away, unblinkingly, the French ceasefire initiative after the war started? And why do you keep rejecting, to this very moment, every possible offer of negotiations? Do you think we have not reached our maximum Qassam quota here, that we can stand some more? That we have not yet reached the quota of killed Palestinian children that the world can stomach?

And who guarantees that Hamas can be toppled? Haven’t we tried this trick elsewhere? And who will come in its place? Global fundamentalist organizations? Al Qaeda? And how, from the heaps of rubble and hunger and cold and dead bodies, will moderate voices of peace grow? Where are you leading us? What future are you promising us here in Sderot?

And how much longer will you hang on our backs the tired old “backpack of lies” [cultural reference to a well-known book of 1948 war anecdotes - Assaf]: “there’s no one to talk with”, “it is a no-choice war”, “let the IDF finish the ‘job'”, “one good blow and we finish them”, “let’s topple the Hamas” and “who doesn’t want peace?”. The lies of brute force and the idiocy of even more brute force – your only guide for resolving the region’s problems.

And how come every hasty interview with a Kol Aher member, always begins and ends with the disdainful punch line by the reporter: “Don’t you think you are being naive?” How come the option of dialogue and negotiation and agreements and understandings, even with the worst of our enemies, has become a synonym for naivete, while the option of brute-force and war is always a wise, rational, ultimate one? Eight year of senseless cycle of bloodshed haven’t taught us anything about the futility of brute force? The IDF has slammed and shot and assassinated and razed and hit and missed and bombed – and what have we gotten in return? A rhetorical question, ain’t it.

It is extremely hard to live in Sderot nowadays. At night, the IDF pounds infrastructure and human beings, and our home walls shudder. By morning, we get Qassams – more sophisticated ones each time. A person going to work in the morning, does not know whether their home will be found standing by evening. At midday, we bury the best of our sons, who have paid with their lives for yet another “just” war. In the evening, after many difficulties, we manage to make contact with our desperate friends in Gaza. They have no electricity, no water, no gas, no food, nowhere to hide. And only the words of N., the 14-year-old whose school was bombed and whose classmate was killed, don’t leave my head. She writes us in perfect English, an email that her mom somehow managed to send:

“Help us, we are human beings after all”

No, Fuad, my cheeks are not rosy, they are not. A ton of Cast Lead is weighing on my heart, and my heart cannot contain it.

(translated from Hebrew by Assaf Oron)

Greetings to our friends, whose heart is in the right place


I am using the message written by Amos, who regularly delivers his “Don’t Say We Didn’t Know” reports, to give you a brief rendition of this event – words and descriptions cannot even begin to convey what Uri and I saw less than 24 hours after it took place. Perhaps merely the addition that Amos quoted at the end of his depiction can give you an idea:

“On Monday, April 7th, 2008, a youth named Sharif Bajes Farid Shatiya, crossed Road 557 with his family’s flock of sheep, on his way back to the village Salem near Nablus. Road 557 leads to the settlement Elon Moreh, and only Jews are allowed to use it. Sharif was 15 years old, and was the fourth shepherd to cross the road with his flock.  A bus driver from the Dan Co-operative, called Arnon Shay, who was driving his bus there, hit Sharif and killed him. The impact of the hit was so strong that Sharif was flung a distance of 70 metres. Sharif’s donkey and five sheep died in the accident as well. Many more sheep were injured. The driver sped off and escaped to the settlement Elon Moreh. The Ariel settlement police arrested him and released him on bail.

The next day, Tuesday April 8th, 2008, a Machsom Watch activist at Taysir checkpoint heard a soldier serving in the Nahal (religious) unit, who was also a settler from Elon Moreh, describing the accident to a friend, shouting as he described how the day before a bus had killed “some little Arabush, what a laugh it was, what a show, with the boy smeared all over the road…”

I visited the family twice: first with Uri less than 24 hours after the event and again with Dani and Ehud a week later. In my first visit I was embraced by dozens of mourning women who sat and supported Sharif’s mother who was beside herself with grief. Although we have been visiting this village for five years now and much mutual trust has been built, still I thanked the family for receiving me so naturally, to take part in their mourning.

In our second visit, after the traditional days of mourning (three days by Moslem tradition), we sat with the mother, the elder brother and Abu Zaki, the cousin, and heard about the family’s economic condition, which even before the tragedy had been one of the poorest in the village.

At the same time we have also initiated the legal process. We have learned that the family will probably receive considerable reparations at the end of a civil suit, but this procedure takes years. In the meantime the family is assessing damages: twenty sheep (out of sixty) are dead. Some were killed in the accident; others hopelessly wounded and had to be slaughtered. Others disappeared, and not seen again. Two rams were wounded and died as well, and the donkey which Sharif had been riding before he was hit and killed.

The economic plight resulting from the greatly reduced herd is especially hard now in the height of the milking season and preparation of cheeses for market. In additional, the father is still incapable of taking the herd out to graze and seeing in his mind’s eye the horrific death of his son which he witnessed on his way to meet him on that fateful day. The father has now been feeding the sheep at home, and the price of concentrated feed is higher than ever.

Alongside with Uri’s and Buma’s attempts to obtain more concentrated feed for the flock, for the time being, we also thought of sounding the call for personal donations, in order to try and bring the herd back to its original size and enable this family’s livelihood.

Just to have a general idea: the price of a milking sheep is 1,200 NIS. The price of a ram is 2,400 NIS. The price of a donkey is 300 NIS. The total value of the lost livestock is 29,000 NIS. Every shekel in private donations helps.

Erella

Villages Group http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/

Checks can be sending to the following address:

Erella Dunayevski, Kibbutz Shoval, D.N. Negev 85320, Israel.

Bank transfer can be made according the following details:

Account’s name: ‘Villages Group’.

Account’s owners: Uri Pinkerfeld & Ehud Krinis.

Owner address: Ehud Krinis, Kibbutz Shoval, D.N Negev 85320, Israel.

Bank address: Bank Leumi, Branch: Kiryat Malachi, 985.

Swift Address- LUMIILITXXX, Code- IL010985, Account number 98502230230

If you have chosen to made a bank transfer, please send a note to the following e-mail: ksehud@gmail.com

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