Zoom In, Zoom Out and Everything In Between


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…



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  • chrisrushlau  On May 25, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Normally the political equivocation of an Israeli Jew, right, left, center, upside-down, would strike me as being lamentably the norm. But in this case, I think it’s appropriate. The hope is that some encounter with the facts is taking place, that silence is being a chance to get a word in edge-wise.

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