Zoom In, Zoom Out and Everything In Between

12.5.2018

Luckily we who belong to the human race have been endowed with the ability to exercise perspective – to experience things and events, mine or yours, from the distance of time, of place, of space. To ‘zoom out’. Like a camera.

It enables us to regard things in proportion, with the proper approach. To be more removed, less involved. Less judgmental, more balanced, somewhat protected from our own emotions that sometimes tend to overflow beyond our own capacity (except for times when we view a landscape from an especially high vantage point, a plane or spaceship, and exclaim, “Wow!”).

But luckily, we can also ‘zoom in’. Otherwise, our ability to contain things would lose its capacity to bear human situations that play on our personal heartstrings, our sensitivity would be reduced, and we would gradually drop the most precious of our gifts as humans – compassion.

So I invite you readers to join one of our ‘zoom in’ journeys, which we hold at least once a week as we visit our friends.

Thursday, May 3, 2018. It’s a pleasant May morning. In my mind I recall a verse from an Alterman poem titled “Don’t Give Them Guns”: “It was the most beautiful of Mays that Mother Earth had ever birthed”. Our Subarita (a Subaru that is seeing its 25rd year on the road…) sails east, among the rolling hills of the northern Negev desert towards the South Hebron Hills rising in the distance.

A tall concrete wall topped by barbed wire coils lances the pastoral landscape even for those who have no idea that this is the Separation Wall winding along the 1967 ‘green line’ and occasionally devouring generous swaths of farmland and residential areas from Palestine’s inhabitants.

Slowly we prepare our minds to transit from the relatively relaxed ‘zoom out’ mode to that of ‘zoom in’. We cross the checkpoint freely (after all, we belong to the master race…) and begin our day of visits in Tuwane. This is a Palestinian farmer village, very close to which the illegal outpost Havat Maon – next to the settler-colony of Maon – has chosen to crown a hilltop.

Our old friend Jum’a, tall, strong, good-looking and of smiling nature, receives us with a smile, seated in a wheelchair in his own yard. We already had a rough idea of the story that Jum’a would tell us in a moment. But now here comes the ‘zoom in’ version.

Jum’a says that for quite a while now, the Havat Maon settler-colonists did not hassle the people of Tuwane. Not at home, nor in their fields nor in their greatly reduced grazing grounds. The Tuwane villagers blessed every quiet day. In early March the harassments began anew. This time, not just the youngsters of Havat Maon but adults, too, joined the action. They uprooted olive trees, threatened to run over children in their SUVs, came with ski masks on their faces to the home of Jum’a’s mother (at the edge of the village, the nearest house to Havat Maon), etc.

“At the end of that month,” Jum’a continues in his good Hebrew, “on March 25, 2018, at 7 a.m., I took out my small flock to graze in my field, not far from home. I was recovering from abdominal surgery so I walked slowly. Suddenly I noticed I was surrounded by settler-colonists from nearby Havat Maon. I realized immediately they had ambushed me. I began to yell for help. No one in the village heard me yet, but the settler group surrounding me ran off. Except for one. A single settler-colonist remained and began to throw stones at me. I fell and didn’t manage to get up again. Then he threw a very large stone that fractured my leg from the knee and up my thigh. Still no one from the village came. At this point, as I couldn’t get up, the man points his rifle at me and tries to shoot me. His gun jammed and didn’t fire. (God is great…)

After about an hour villagers who had heard me crying out for help arrived. First to come were teachers from the schoolhouse that is relatively close to the field, followed by some others from the village and outside it.

Then came the army. A soldier began to question me. I answered him with a question: Did you come to interrogate me or to help? I need help. Bring a stretcher. I was taken to the hospital. It was a complex fracture with several breaking points. I had surgery. The Israel Police came to investigate. The policeman asked: “Why are you lying about the settler? We heard you fell near your home. So why do you invent this story with the settler?” After a week at the hospital I came back home and to this day I am still recovering. I cannot step on that leg yet. The Palestinian Authority did nothing to help pay for the surgery and hospitalization and rehabilitation…

Several days later, Sami, a student from Tuwane, son of a very old friend of ours, was also floored, and his leg is badly fractured as well. Not a stone this time. He was intentionally run over by a mini-tractor belonging to Havat Maon. Driven by someone…

We descended from Tuwane, taking the rough track (that has suffered both army use and harassment and bad weather) towards the ravine leading to Jinba at its southern tip. This is the ravine (wadi) which the army has declared ‘firing zone 918’, and whose 8 out of its hamlets, situated sparsely all along, are destined to be demolished. Yesterday (2.5) the army demolished 7 buildings in several villages: in Halawa, Markaz and Jinba.

We visited Ahlam, an old friend. “They didn’t demolish my home this time”, she told us, her blue eyes a mixture of sadness and determination. “Let them demolish. They demolish and we rebuild.” After a moment’s silence she adds: “But may they demolish before the Ramadan month sets in. It’s more difficult while fasting…” Her mother-in-law sits with us this time too. She always makes a show of presence when we visit. She doesn’t really understand what we’re actually doing there. She knows we are Jewish and Israeli, and precisely because of that she is certain we are responsible for the occupation, although she also knows we’re on her side. She is angry with us every time we come – “Why is the occupation still lasting and doing all the bad things it does?” she asks, scolding us. Personally I’ve grown tired of this and try to ignore her, doing my best to hide my own ever-shorter fuse while her tirades grow ever longer. And this time too. But this time, suddenly, she gets up from her seat opposite mine, and sits down beside me. Tell me, she asks me in a voice that sounds almost entreating. Are you Jewish? Yes, I say. And you’re from Israel? Yes. So why don’t you tell them to stop the occupation? Sometimes something catches me off guard and hauls out quite the right response. Are you Muslim? I ask her. Yes, she says. And you’re from Palestine? I add. Yes, she answers. Could you please talk to Abu Mazen and tell him to hand to you at long last all the funds he has been receiving for you from countries all over the world? No!!! she answers, and her face suddenly lights up. At once she has grasped what was long a mystery, that we’re just plain people with a good heart coming to offer mainly emotional support. After a short silence her face saddened.  “The house they demolished in the neighboring village of Markaz is the home of my daughter Maryam. They destroyed everything. The house and the electricity and the water” she says in a stifled voice.  I hug her and listen. And she goes on describing her pain.

Then we rose to leave. She walked with me all the way to our waiting Subarita at some distance from the home, and all that while she never ceased: please, please come again. Please don’t forget us. It is so helpful when you listen and I can cry like this. There’s nothing else I can do. My life is very simple. I’ve always lived in this village, cleaning, cooking, working in the field, raising children, raising grandchildren, and everything under such harsh conditions. And this occupation, too? She said this, and repeated it, and I contained and contained and almost broke into tears as well, but just then we got to the car and parted with a warm hug, and I  promised we’d come again soon. Luckily, inside our car my dear friends contained me…

There was not too much time to contain each other and stay for a moment with what we had experienced so far. Only the time it took us to drive from Jinba to Susya. We already knew about the Susya events, but then again – ‘zoom in’ is another matter.

10-year old Ahmad, son of Nasser and Hiam, 11-year old Zahara and 14-year old Hamudi – children of Mahmud and Ula, and 15-year old Diana, daughter of Jihad and Samiha – all experienced trauma on Monday coming home from  school.

Nasser told me about this that very day. When we arrived on Thursday Ahmad was already waiting for me. We sat aside and Ahmad, to my request, told me about the event in detail. Then I asked him to write it all down (all in order to release some pressure from his frightened mind). And so he wrote: “I was walking home from school with my friends after our day at school. I passed a covered sign and took off the cover. 6 people saw what I did and followed me.  When I noticed them I ran home and one of them chased me and said: ‘Stop or I kill you!’ I ran fast and when I got home I got into the kitchen and hid behind my mother. I told her: its’ a settler, a settler! This man entered right after me and pushed my mother hard and she fell on the ground and he grabbed me from her hand. I was very scared. Scared to death.”

This is what Ahmad wrote. Word for word. There were many more details he mentioned as he spoke, but his writing expresses the essential fear that took hold of him. Zahara, Hamudi and Diana hid among the neighbor’s sheep. Then Hamudi and Diana sneaked off home, while Zahara escaped into Ahmad’s home and when she realized the chaser was in the kitchen, she hid under the bed. From there she watched the goings-on.

Then I carefully listened to Hiam (Ahmad’s mother). Her story begins with Ahmad’s frightened entry into the kitchen immediately followed by the chaser, whom Ahmad thought was a settler. When the man entered the kitchen Hiam told him very assertively to get out of her home. The man said he was a policeman (although not in uniform). Hiam asked to see an ID. She showed her. Yes, he was an Israeli policeman, a Druze whose mother-tongue is Arabic.  He demanded the child. Hiam kept her son behind her back. Very violently the policeman pushed her down to the floor and grabbed Ahmad by the hand.  Hiam managed to get up despite her pains from the blow and the fall, and grabbed her son’s other hand, held out to her with a look of horror that she could hardly describe.  Ahmad was hanging between the policeman and his mother, crying and screaming. When Ula entered, Zahara’s mother, she too was pushed away violently. Ahmad’s screaming summoned the neighbors. They called out for more neighbors and then international volunteers on site arrived also and everyone had their smartphones with them. At this point Ahmad was held by the policeman. When all of the people present in Susya arrived and suddenly there was documentation, the policeman changed his violent behavior and conducted himself as someone who just had a minor issue to settle. Hiam told me that this was the worst for her – that when no witnesses were there he was so utterly violent, and when others arrived – completely changed his demeanor.

Then Ahmad’s father arrived, who hadn’t been in the village all that time. The incident ended as the policeman made it clear to Nasser that his son had vandalized public property.

This incident included more specifics, but I directed my ‘zoom in’ gaze to what Ahmad, Zahara and Hiam told me and described. I wanted to enable each of them to remain with their trauma in order to confront it once more and release it rather than staying trapped between the fortified walls of repression, withdrawal, denial and all the other mechanisms triggered by fear and pain. That is why, in addition to the actual telling of what happened, I asked each of them what had been the worst part of their experience.

Ahmad said that the worst moment for him was when the pursuer held his gun “to my head and said: stop or I kill you!”. Zahara said: “the worst part for me was being under the bed and seeing it all and having nowhere to run away.” Hiam said: “the worst part for me was when the policeman tore Ahmad from my grip.”

For a moment my mind reeled with the personal trauma stories of some of my clients who survived the Holocaust in World War II. I breathed slowly until I could see again that I was here in Susya in 2018. I didn’t know whether I was breathing into weeping or feeling released. I could only hug them, very lovingly.

I got back home and took a look at the paper. How wonderful to be able to rest a bit, in the arms of ‘zoom out’ – Iran, Syria, Gaza, refugees, expellees…

 

 

Certain Uncertainty

February 5, 2018

When a house is demolished, a part of its owner’s soul is demolished along with it.

When one expects the demolition of a house that one knows for certain will be demolished, just not when exactly – its owner’s soul is demolished even before the house is.

Indeed, the certainty we possess in life is made up of moments of illusion. But these are a must in order for us to live in a reality that by its very nature is anything but certain.
Life under occupation drains the occupied person of such necessary moments of illusion. One can no longer plan even the most banal things in life.

Life in Area C (Palestinian areas under total Israeli control) reduces such certainty even further, so that one has hardly any more control left over one’s life. It means living for years under an injunction, living in the meantime, until Occupation Empire will rule on the matter – this is an uncertainty that the human spirit can hardly contain. Life under certain uncertainty brings the human spirit to the very limits of its capacity.

The threat of demolitions hovering over Susya residents for quite some time now is an uncertain certainty, whose certainty is gradually tightening around their soul.
Last Thursday, Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that out of humanitarian considerations, seven structures will be demolished – for the time being – of the twenty structures which the State has instructed to demolish. Since that day, certainty is certain to such an extent that even those destined to be demolished later want to have this behind them already. Now begins the real torment, the hours of grace of the ‘enlightened’ occupier. The ultimate control over the victim – no one knows precisely what will be demolished and when.

Now Susya runs its everyday life with the presence of human rights organizations all day and night, planning how to face impending doom, with a heavy cloud of pressure threatening to burst one’s heart.

On Friday, the demolition bulldozers did not arrive, and on Saturday Jews refrain from demolitions on account of the holiness of the Blessed Sabbath… So we are all prepared for Sunday at dawn.

On Saturday night we came, Nadav and I, ready to spend the night with Abu Sadam and his wife Najah, whose home is on the list of houses to be demolished en masse (one must arrive in the evening beforehand, for if demolition takes place in the morning, the village will be out of bounds, the army closes all entrances). We visit these people on our regular weekly rounds, and they have become dear friends.

Abu Sadam is a handsome, sturdy man, dignified and very ill. Cancer has taken over his face. He has tasted the bitter taste of chemotherapy only under pressure of his children, and decided this was not for him. “I’ll live until I die, but without this suffering,” he told them. His wife Najah, smiling and goodhearted, is a model wife.

We reached them in the evening, dined with them in their tidy tent, and together we watched the news on television, including a respectable item on Susya. Najah was one of the interviewees, and she smiled her gentle, modest smile when seeing herself on the television screen.

In 2011 their home was demolished and they rebuilt it. In 2012 their home was demolished again, and yet again they put it up, and now it will be demolished and they will come back and rebuild. “Where shall we go?” they say. “And what will become of our herd, and the chickens, and our calf?” In the morning we rose before them. Even on nights without certain demolition, Abu Sadam does not sleep soundly because of his illness, so he is not an early riser.

We sat outside in their beautiful fruit tree grove. We listened to the sounds of the morning and watched the sunrise, that daily event that occurs with certain certainty.
Susya rises to its daily tasks. Even Abu Sadam and Najah. They immediately put on their boots and took their flock out of the pen and into a broad yard which Abu Sadam has fenced with old tires. “The sheep must eat”, he said with the simplicity of a veteran farmer. “20 lambs died on us from the cold two weeks ago” he said, taking out the two lambs that survived the storm. Another two lambs were born five days ago, and their mother has no milk. So they carry the lambs to the teats of another sheep. After the sheep were fed, we ate, as if this were a regular morning. Last night, while thinking (they and we) how we face the demolishers if they arrive in the morning, we thought we’d invite them to join us for breakfast. Now, outside, we’re enjoying this delicious breakfast prepared by Najah, watching the road, and Abu Sadam says: “So why aren’t they here? We wanted to invite them for breakfast…” Humor is the highest spiritual level man can reach, says Abraham Maslow…

We look at Anu Sadam’s and his wife’s possessions – one tent for cooking and hosting, another tent for sleeping, a sheep pen, feed storage for the livestock, a lavatory, and a water tank donated by the European Union, and their beautiful yard. So what will be demolished of all of these? Unclear as yet. When exactly? Unclear. It could happen at any moment.

This is a gap on the border of containment, a rift between the idyll of the dawning morning and the tension rising inside one’s mind. Najah says: “I’m doing everything like an automat today. The living want to live. We, the animals. But I keep thinking about this demolition.”

Later, when we’ll sit in the yard of Azam and Wadha, his wife, dear friends of ours, also targeted for demolition, together with Abu Sadam and Najah and Nasser (who is like a son to me), he will steal a moment from the meetings and think-tanks in order to sit with us for a little while. He will quote lines from Byalik’s famous poem – “The sun shines, the mimosa blooms, and the butcher slaughters”. After we translate these paralyzing verses written about the pogroms that victimized Jews many years ago, we will say to each other that the difference is not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between those whose heart refuses to hate and those whose heart is shut and have lost all touch of compassion and love.

Then Abu Sadam will tell jokes, and in between he will say to me: “The worst pressure for me is that I must accept this.”

I repeat the sentence to check with him whether I understood him right. He shakes my hand with the warmth of those who know.

And the encounter with helplessness continues.
And the accumulating pain. Where will they take it?
And the protest, the resentment,
When the master destines you to doom??

Erella (on behalf of the Villages Group)

 

Beyond the Walls – A Visit to the Music Center in Salem

November 15, 2017

Thick walls of four occupation fortresses must be scaled by the children of the Salem Music Center, in order to free a little liberation song out of their restless souls – the family fortress, the village/society fortress, the cultural/religious fortress, and the Israeli occupation.

Adults must carve their way through an added, fifth fortress – the hardest of them all: our own patterns which we have empowered to safeguard us from pain and suffering, and they produce the cruelest of occupiers. We, the adults who accompany the children of the music center – the center teachers, directors, supporters – thus yield to our own fatigue, frustration, despair and depression. For seven years we have tried to enable this center to maintain itself, flow on and take wing. And for seven years we have barely managed to have it breathe, and even that has taken enormous effort, a struggle even, to break through the various fortress walls on our way.

We arrived at the point where our strength ran out. We could no longer raise the financial resources to operate the center. In early spring, after it almost sighed its last, the center had a sort of blossoming. It received lodging (not really appropriate but better than its predecessor), the instructor team continued working voluntarily, and new children came to sing and play music.

Keyboards, violins, guitars, the oud, percussion instruments that had been purchased with time and labor resounded again with the little fingers that played them, and hearts jumped for joy.

In the summer the children of the music center were invited to sing and play at a ceremony held in the village in honor of the successful matriculations. The children stood on stage, thrilled, and sang proudly, free to express their moving spirits.

Two days later someone broke into the Local Council building, into the music center space, and cruelly, heartlessly shattered all its musical instruments. Not a single instrument remained intact.

The center’s director reported to us about this event and sent photos of the devastation. “It’s someone from inside”, he said. “Someone from the village itself.” (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3EvpcaVvKo&feature=youtu.be)

Ehud and I were so stunned we could hardly embrace the pain felt by the director, the teacher, and the children. And we thought that this time the center would not be able to rise above the goings-on.

In early fall we came to visit. In spite of the olive harvest, 20 children surprised us at the music center (of the 45 studying there) and sang for us. If there are no musical instruments, they can sing – said the teacher and the director, both filled with faith, and we stood there thrilled with the children. They sang with such power and grace, yielding to the music breaking out of their innermost feelings and into the room – as though declaring to the world: we are here! We want to sing! I wanted to embrace them, tell them how exciting they were, and that this melody cannot be stopped. But I didn’t want to interrupt, so only the salty, abundant tears that streamed down my cheeks held out to them.

Later, after they finished, with them around us, I asked: What brings you here?
And they answered, each in turn.
I wished to translate every word but the camera card was faulty and there’s no way of extricating the videos taken so lovingly by Danny.

So here is the gist of it:

Some said: I want to learn to play music and sing.
Some said: I want to nurture my musical talent.
Some said: I come here because I love ‘Amid (the music teacher)

No less than their words, the way the children expressed themselves thrilled us: their body language, their intonation, and above all else – their passion.
Their words echoed like a thousand strings and keys and drums.
These children are attached to life and their heartstrings cannot be broken.
As with a magic wand they broke down the fortresses of my own fatigue that protect me from further frustration. They really connected me to my source. To my life-giving source.

Thank you children,
Thank you Jubeir and ‘Amid,

Very lovingly,

Erella
(in the name of Ehud, Tamar and Danny and the Villages Group)

 

Help the People of Susya in Their Struggle Against the Demolition of Their Village

Dear friends,
 
The village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills is again under imminent threat of demolition affecting most of its homes, with a High Court decision, likely to be final, expected in mid-November next month. Some 300 adults and children live in the village, which the Israeli courts accepted is situated on private Palestinian land. Many of you will recall the campaign of 2015-16 to stop the house demolitions, which included the intervention of Senator Diane Feinstein, and led to the suspension of the demolition plans. The matter has reached a critical point and we are asking all supporters to contact their MPs and any others who could assist, to ask that they do all they can to influence the Israeli authorities to abandon the demolition plans under which the villagers have lived for years. In particular, UK MPs should be asked to contact Alistair Burt, MP, Minister of State for International Development and Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who visited Susya this summer and is well acquainted with the situation.
 
– – – – – – – – – – –
 
Sample letter or email (in Britain):
 
Dear X
 
I am writing to you as your constituent to ask that you contact Alistair Burt, MP, Minister of State for International Development and Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Please ask him to do all he can to impress on the Israeli authorities the need to lift the demolition orders affecting most of the residents of Susya, and to agree to a master plan that would allow them to obtain planning permissions. The villagers, numbering some 300 adults and children, are sustained primarily by subsistence farming; they have already been displaced more than once, and the Israeli courts have recognized that they live on private Palestinian land. The Israeli High Court decision on the demolitions of their homes is due in mid-November and the residents’ situation is desperate.
 
I very much hope that you could assist and I look forward to hearing from you.

The Villages Group Gathering in London – A Report by Nancy and Erella

From the edges of Britain and Ireland, 35 special people were drawn to the heart of London to gather together into a community with two connected and common denominators: a deep friendship with the members of The Villages Group and a commitment to bearing witness, in one form or another, to the occupied people of Palestine, particularly those forgotten people of the South Hebron Hills.

The gathering room in the Quaker Meeting House buzzed with delight as these friends met over coffee, sometimes for the first time, asking each other the questions, “When or where did you first meet Hamed or Erella?” Erella and Hamed introduced the morning session, both expressing deep gratitude for the friends gathered and the commitment shown to the shared common cause: the imperative to continue building trusting relationships between even a small group of people of Israelis and Palestinians in the midst of an Occupation that seemed to have an imperative to divide. What followed, over those next six hours was testimony to the value each person present placed on being willing to enter into that vulnerable space of trust in the ‘not yet known’ in order to experience relationship at a deeper level.

Although many of the names on our name tags were known to each other, our faces were not! And this was the purpose of The Gathering: to meet – face to face – all of those special people whom we had heard about through Erella, Hamed and Ehud, and whose names we had seen in emails or on Facebook, but with whom we were not yet acquainted. Everyone engaged with a few exercised designed to enable us to meet the people behind the names, and then to explore even more deeply beyond that…

We quickly learned who came from where and how many times each of us had visited the area of Israel/Palestine, and then moved on to how we dealt with conflict at the personal and then the socio-political levels. Then we were encouraged to gather into small groups based on the contemplative practices we use to ground ourselves daily, which in turn, enable us to turn outwards to engage actively with our local communities or those further afield in Israel/Palestine.

We explored briefly what the words HOPE, GRATITUDE, and RECONCILIATION meant to each of us. You will see from the photos of this exercise that there was a broad spectrum of voices and perspectives but each was graciously heard and respectfully noted — without comment or analysis or question.

We then entered into a session of gracious listening as we sat in two concentric circles facing each other, then in pairs, asked of the other: “what question would you like to ask me?” With only a few minutes for each to answer, there was an unspoken understanding that to remain on the superficial would mean missing a golden opportunity to let another know us more deeply in the hope that our vulnerability and trust would be reciprocated…. and it was… in huge measure! Each encounter became a gift that was given and received as we moved one seat to the right again and again. By the end of the morning, we agreed that what had happened over those two short hours before lunch was a breadth of inter-connectedness and depth of understanding that surprised and delighted us all.

People continued to share stories and memories over lunch before gathering again to share the gifts of song, poetry, story and image that they had brought with them, as requested in the invitation. The offerings were astounding: some brought awe, others laughter and many brought tears. All were deeply deeply moving and spoke of the generosity of spirit evoked by the work of the Village Group and the respect for the people in the communities and villages they are in relationship with. And as Erella reminded us towards the end of the day, it was the people of the Villages that were at the heart of our day together; it is about their stories and their resilience and their willingness to be friends in spite of the occupation, that we honour. So, to end the session on ‘gifts’, as an extra special gift to each of us, David showed us a video he had done within the previous days of an interview with a young woman doctor from one of the villages, who spoke with a remarkably deep wisdom about her work and the people amongst whom she lives and moves. We knew that her story, if we ever needed a reason, is what will keep each of us in touch with each other and involved, in smaller or larger ways, with the work and life and spirit of The Villages Group.

The day was wrapped up by Hamed and Erella, noting once again, with gratitude, what the day meant to them. We were then asked what we might take away with us, in one word, and it was summed up on the chart you see in the photo. But the words did not convey the deep sense of interconnectedness that we were feeling by that time, and when the day was declared ‘ended’… no one moved! We sat in a delicious silence for a moment or two before the room exploded with people wanting to exchange names and email addresses to keep in touch. Hugs were given and photos taken. And the conversations continued… and continued… until we were thrown out of the room!

Many returned home but there were still a few that found their way to a restaurant across the street and continued the conversation for another hour or two before parting at the end of a most extraordinary day!

THE REPORT IN PDF FORMAT (INCLUDING MARVELLOUS PHOTOS):

London Gathering

Our Visit to Wadi Jheish

When we get to Wadi Jheish (the southern part of Palestinian Susya) I leap at Tamam. Our hug embodies all the tenderness in the world. Today it is also enveloped by the soft breezes and fragrances of autumn. Even on the news, their soft part, we were told that at noon first rains would fall. So the soft colors of the morning wrap the tenderness of our embrace, as does the caressing smile of Haj Khaleel, heading towards us from the hill. How the heart longs to surrender to this softness, even as it knows how fragile it is in these areas.

Into all this tenderness, a Civil Administration off-road vehicle bursts from the ravine. Tamam and I tighten our hug and sense its softness tensing up. Haj Khaleel and Nadav tense up as well. Nothing special will happen now. No blows, no bloodshed, no one will be arrested, no heads will fall. But the soul is to be beheaded. A chronicle foretold of Civil Administration presence.

An official disembarks. Climbs a few meters up the hill towards one of the structures and photographs it. Tamam, Khaleel, Ghaliya (wife of their son Hisham) and we – are all dust at his feet. No. Not even that. Insects. Not even. Simply nonexistent. Transparent. It is an incredible sight. The second official disembarks. In an unusual act he mutters “Hello”. (When Nadav says to them in a moment, “But we can talk, can’t we?” he will say, “What, didn’t I say hello?”).

The first walks over to a new caravan, built with the help of an international organization for Hisham and Ghaliya whose dwelling was demolished by the Civil Administration in June, at the beginning of the Ramadan month of fasting.

https://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/demolitions-in-wadi-jheish-southern-susiya/).

He produces a form ordering them to halt all work (the precursor of demolition) and has Haj Khaleel sign it. I try to prevent the Haj from signing without knowing precisely what he signs, but he does, experienced and familiar with the process. In a few moments, when the Civil Administration officials will leave the place, the details of the familiar form will be rather strange. But we are not there yet.

The tenderness stood on its hind legs facing the stiffness of those who are right – a tight stiffness, flawless, dripping contempt and hatred. Tenderness – born of love – does not wish to give up its essence, the right to proper respect of all God’s creatures, including those of the species called human. So I stand there with my tenderness that will not cease and softly, tenderly putter towards the first official: “Monster!”

Nothing happens to him for, as I said, I am transparent for him. But it helps me contain the borders of the wound I allow their right stiffness to leave in me.

They leave. We enter the caravan that as of today is destined for demolition, with the right to appeal with will surely be rejected (a fictive procedure of the stiffs in order to protect themselves. From Whom?)

We go over the form that is named “halting all work” and notice essential details that are not true. (Perhaps this will serve their attorney in the ridiculous game whose rules are set only by the master).

We see how the soft expression of our beloved friends is mixed with the familiar shade of helplessness – a tremendous pain that has no outlet and becomes anger that has no outlet and reaches the dangerous junction where it might turn into unlimited aggression.

And I tell them how I said “monster” and invite them now, sitting inside the home, to shriek “monster!” (in Arabic: ghula). They eagerly comply and everyone let out their ghoula. Rather polite, but still freeing some of the inner suffocation that paralyzes the soul.

I asked (a question I have already posed in the past and still emerges authentically):

Where do you get this power to experience all of this over and over again without going numb and becoming aggressive? The Haj said: what can we do? Tamam and Ghaliya said this was from God. Ibrahim (a neighbor and Khaleel’s nephew who has come to support them) said: When the settlers beat me up four years ago next to my own home at 6 a.m., I felt how I was being filled with a power that came to me from the outside”. Perhaps this was what the women had meant when they said: from God. Some cosmic power that watches over good souls not to lose their godliness. And they do not. They do not become aggressive, but nor do they lose their godliness into the victim apparatus. When I expressed my revulsion of the Civil Administration official, and said: “”He was so callous and stiff that even his eye didn’t move”, Haj Khaleel added: “But when he wrote some words on the form, still his hand trembled”…

What a tremendous heart this man has, how much independent dignity, what persistent trust. 

Thank you, my teachers, yet again.

And to our dear readers, I apologize that our letters repeat themselves, and contain no refreshing news. 

Such is the reality that inspires them. These stories need to emerge from us in order for us to remain sane. So I thank you too for your cooperation.

Yours, 

Erella (and Nadav and Ehud)

 

Living Archive- Life in South Hebron Hills, Palestine

It is with great pleasure that we are now able to share with you the first stage of our initiative: a Living Archive of life in the South Hebron Hills, Palestine.

Living Archive is part oral history, part online portal, part database. The idea is to give the Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills an online presence on their own terms. The site enables you to “enter” a village and “meet” its residents through specially collected stories, audio recordings, video footage and photographs. In addition to this new material, the site also brings together existing articles, films and reports – all ordered by village.

Living Archive is available in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Currently, the villages of Jinba, Susiya, Tuba and Umm Al-Khair are up and ready for you to explore, with more to follow soon. Living Archive is – as its title suggests – an open-ended project which will grow and develop with the material that each village chooses to add. Additionally, on the Facebook page of Living Archive you will find updates and news from residents of each of the villages.

By putting faces to the villages of the South Hebron Hills, Living Archive hopes to break the narrative of occupation and show that daily life there is about far more than simple survival; it’s about love, persistence, laughter and catastrophe as well.

Thank you for your interest and support. Please share the links so that the journey can begin!

Greetings from the Living Archive team

Demolitions in Um al Kheir, Again

24.8.16

To all our friends, where ever they are,

Scroll your mail to 9.8.16, two weeks and two days ago. Read it again, for what I can write today will be under the same title. Demolitions again. Again in Um al Kheir.

But today I cannot go there. Only a telephone call. I shall come tomorrow. But the sights are known, and the sensations of the heart no longer need to see. I will be there tomorrow with me friends of Um al Kheir in order to participate and try to embrace the grief, the contained anger, the tears.

They demolished at 6:00 am, they demolished once more the house of Zayed, Eid’s brother. A house that was demolished two weeks ago and that the people of the village have rebuilt (after all one needs a place to rest the head on). They demolished the house of grandmother Hadra (Aziz’s mother), that welcomes in her house the children of the village that many of them are her grandchildren, and they demolished the community centre that was built with the support of you, our friends, and his development continued thanks to the incredible efforts of Aziz and his friends (by gaining financial support from different organisations and by operating it for the benefit of the people of the village). And Haj Suliman the Elder? Once more he was violently taken away so he would not disturb the hoty deed.

Once more the children and the elderly people were sleeping when the bulldozers opened their mouths, and soldiers whose hearts are shut and their faces blank destroyed the modest houses. Where would they lead the astonishing surprise, the pain of loss, the helplessness, the frustration? Where would they lead the contained anger?

What poem shall I cite this time? Brecht’s poem from last time fits the present situation as well…

Tomorrow I might write again, and perhaps not because I run out of words.

But it is unthinkable to conclude such a report without some light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore I will quote a poem I wrote 13 years ago. I feel fortunate to be able to say goodbye to something in order to be able to be connected to the heart:

With murmuring consistency

my consciousness surrenders

to the humming of its depths

weeping my parting

enfolding me like a sacred canopy.

Like a Tabernacle

my mother made me when she was alive,

like the shrouds

I made her when she died.

I cut the umbilical cord of my birth,

I bid you farewell, my motherland.

Farewell plundered treasure,

farewell you who are made arrogant,

farewell you who go to the stake

of your defilers’ oblivion.

The pain of parting slashes my throat,

my living mindfulness hears

clods of earth shed upon my grave.

Tomorrow a new day will envelop me

without my motherland.

Days of mourning are hard.

Erella, The Villages Group

Demolitions, Again.

August 9, 2016

Demolition again. Another demolition. And again we were there.

A week ago, four people of Regavim (an association of Jewish settlers in the West Bank) “took a walk” in Umm Al Kheir.  They roamed around feeling very much at home and took pictures. Old Maliha, who has already stopped counting the number of times her home has been demolished, said that their “stroll” was an omen of demolition. And today it happened. Without any prior notice. Usually the state authorities give prior notice. It does not make much difference, but does provide a moment to get ready emotionally. In such a state of total helplessness and zero ability to thwart injustice, even a moment to get ready emotionally is something.

The demolition bulldozers arrived at 6:30 a.m. Adults and children, babies and youngsters were still sleeping. Regavim activists, on the other hand, were already there with their video cameras across the fence of Carmel settlement (only 5-19 meters separate Carmel from Umm Al Kheir) to document their victory.  When Maliha told me about this she could hardly control her voice. Their gloating hurt more than the demolition itself. Five homes were demolished: three – houses put up by the European Union after the demolitions this April, and two – homes built long ago by their owners.

Lords of the bulldozers, lords of the occupation, this many-armed octopus (Israeli government, army, police force, Civil Administration, settlers, their association…): the people whose homes you demolished today have names. These people have hands and feet, heads, faces. They have hearts. A life – Zyad and his wife, who have already had two demolitions since their wedding early this year, Aadel and Aamna and their five children, Maliha who no longer counts the many demolitions she has undergone, innocent Hadra and her only daughter Rima.

As soon as the soldiers came to destroy, they  gripped Haj Sliman – Maliha’s husband and the village elder – and held him forcefully so he couldn’t move, and beat him up. As they gripped him tightly, the bulldozers crushed the measly shacks. And the children? See those sights again. Where will they take their own trauma?

Usually the process of writing helps me a bit to cope with my own trauma. Somehow the words manage to gather some of my rage and turn it into pain, and then into something like understanding that is even more painful, coming from helplessness. From realizing “there is nothing to be done”, or “What can we do?” as my friends say when their homes are demolished here and elsewhere and in answer to my question, “How do you hold on?” This time, however, this writing does not help me. Maybe Bertolt Brecht will help:

When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain (Bertolt Brecht)


Like one who brings an important letter to the counter after office

hours: the counter is already closed.

Like one who seeks to warn the city of an impending flood, but speaks

another language. They do not understand him.

Like a beggar who knocks for the fifth time at a door where he has four

times been given something: the fifth time he is hungry.

Like one whose blood flows from a wound and who awaits the doctor:

his blood goes on flowing.

 

So do we come forward and report that evil has been done us.

The first time it was reported that our friends were butchered there was a cry of horror.

Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was

no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread.

 

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

 

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become

unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

 

From: Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, ed. Carolyn Forché, Norton,1993. Trans. John Willett.

Erella, on behalf of the Villages Group

Eid al-Fitr in south Mt. Hebron – Between Occupation Encirclement and Family Joy

Last week two murders occurred in the northern part of the region that lies south of Hebron. The first victim was the girl Halel Yafa Ariel, murdered in her bed at the Kiryat Arba settlement, and the second – Michael Mark of the Otniel settlement, while he was driving with his family along road 60. Following these two murders, the army implemented the severest encirclement in years upon Yatta and other towns and villages in the area. The impact of this measure is felt most strongly in the peripheral localities lying east of Yatta (the region named Masafer Yatta). All dirt tracks leading to the area have been blocked with boulders and dirt dykes wherever they connect to road 317. This has paralyzed all life lines connecting the regional town of Yatta with its outlying localities: Mnezel and Tuwane, each of which is home to hundreds of people, as well as ten officially unrecognized cave-dweller hamlets whose populations vary between 50 and 200 people.

At the same time, these days see the holiday ending the Ramadan month fast, Eid al-Fitr. This holiday is a family event wherein the extended family members traditionally visit each other, especially those living at some distance who do not normally see each other often. In our visit on the second day of this holiday (Thursday, July 7) at two cave-dweller hamlets – Mufaqara and Tuba – we happened to experience the Palestinian sumud (holding on to the land) at its utmost. Family members living in Yatta walked miles on foot or road for hours in long, exhausting roundabout tracks in order to visit their parents and siblings who live in the encircled peripheral localities. “I’m flying with joy” said to us a widow living in Mufaqara as we visited her in her cave. The reason for this is not only the holiday but also the fact that recently, members of the Palestinian-Israeli organization Comet-Me placed solar plates next to each of the hamlet’s caves. These European-financed plates supply electricity that not only enables light in the caves but also operating washing machines, refrigerators, computers and television sets.

Ehud,  on behalf of the Villages Group