Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Shocking Story of Harun From a-Rakeez

4\1\2021

The way to al-Ahali hospital in Hebron passes blocked and chaotic streets somewhat reminiscent of southern Tel Aviv. Inside – a hospital like any in the world, long corridors and many people worried and waiting, waiting worried.

Harun’s father and uncle are waiting tool. They both have bright blue eyes like Harun’s, who is lying ventilated in an Intensive Care Unit since an Israeli soldier shot him in the neck without any reason, last Friday.

For fear of Covid-19 we were not allowed to approach him, and only watched him – connected to machines and tubes – from the doorway. He seemed asleep, until he suddenly opened a pair of huge eyes and stared for a long time at the ceiling. That’s the only place he can look at. The bullet severed his spinal cord between vertebrae C6 and C7. He cannot turn his head or look anywhere else. But his clear gaze told us he will live. And that he knows.

Before our visit, we sat with Harun’s family and neighbors and heard more details about the crime that took place there on January 1, a New Year’s present by the Jewish settler-colonists, the Israeli army and Civil Administration to the villagers of a-Rakeez. We heard about what happened prior to the shooting, and even more horrific – what happened afterwards.

Last Sunday, Ashraf – Harun’s neighbor on the opposite hill – heard that the Israeli court had declared a moratorium on the demolitions in the area. Ashraf thought this would be an opportunity to expand his sheep pen, brought along plates and metal pipes, and on Tuesday the sheep pen was standing.

Friday morning, settler-colonists of nearby Havat Ma’on came and photographed the sheep pen. Let us remember that Havat Ma’on itself – an illegal outpost like all of the outposts erected on every hilltop – is metastasizing like a violent cancer without any construction permits, but on the Planet of Occupation there are different laws for the superior race.

The Civil Administration and Israeli army acted immediately. At 2 p.m. an army jeep and pickup truck of the Civil Administration stopped by Ashraf’s house. The soldiers entered. What are you looking for? asked Ashraf. The soldiers had no warrant and did not even bother to explain to Ashraf what they were doing in his home. “Shut up”, the soldier said and pushed him. “Shut up and stand aside”.

As we know, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have no human right whatsoever: not to dignity, not to privacy, not to fair trial. Their home is not immune to nightly incursions and demolitions, their property exposed to arbitrary confiscation, their life and limb trampled by any soldier who happens to feel like it.

The soldiers did whatever they pleased in Ashraf’s home, in view of his wife and little son. They discovered an electric cable to which Ashraf had connected a disk-saw, followed it and found the generator, that generator made famous by the video, worth some hundreds of shekels. With no reason or explanation, they took it and placed it in the Civil Administration pickup truck. Why? Shut up!

Ashraf was not willing to take it. He tried to take the generator back and the soldiers beat him up. Rasmi, Harun’s father who works in Israel and came home for the weekend, saw the hubbub and came to help. The soldiers beat him up too. Harun saw his father being beaten up and ran to his help. They were joined by another boy or two, while Ashraf’s wife stood aside, shouting, and their 2-year old son. And that’s it.

The unnecessary fight breaking out between armed Israeli soldiers and 4-5 Palestinians was named by the Israeli army spokesperson “a violent riot of 150 Palestinians that included massive stone-throwing”. Yes. Seriously. On the Planet of Occupation, truth is not an option.

And then the shot rang out, and Harun fell, and the soldiers and Civil Administration representative ran to their secured vehicles, and Ashraf and Rasmi loaded bleeding Harun on to Ashraf’s jalopy and tried to take him to the hospital. But the army jeep blocked their way and would not let them through.

Ashraf drove off the road and tried to bypass the soldiers. And then they shot his tires. Yes. Israeli soldiers shot the tires of the car that was taking to hospital the young man they had shot in the neck not over a minute ago. Yes. What is there left to say.

Somehow, they managed to get to the neighboring village of a-Tuwani, and passed Harun onto the vehicle of Muohammad Rab’i. When they were on the main road again, the soldiers were waiting for them again. And stopped them again. And again Muhammad had to escape them with the bleeding Harun on the back seat. And shots rang out again in their direction. Yes. Yes.

In the next village, the ambulance was already waiting and they drove on to Yatta. The doctor says that another ten minutes delay and Harun would not be alive any longer. He stopped the bleeding and sent Harun to Hebron, where he received primary care and was sedated for two days until his condition stabilized. That’s where we saw him today.

We left the father and uncle with Harun and went back to a-Rakeez. We met his mother, Farsi, shaken between hope and unknowing, his brother Muhammad (16) and his sister Hanan (14) who are going berserk, and little Doha who does not yet understand. We also met Harun’s fiancée, Du’a. She seemed frozen and in shock, and wouldn’t say a word. They were supposed to be married two months from now.

The mother was especially worried about Muhammad. He and Harun were so close, she said, always together, planning the new house they would build, speaking about the large wedding that Harun dreamt of. What will he do with all the anger, the pain, the helplessness, the sense of horrific injustice?

We sat with Ashraf. One could see how guilty he felt as if somehow everything had happened because of him. On the other hand, who would have thought that a person would be shot over a generator? He cannot get over the lies distributed by the army spokesperson, and repeated them again and again: 150 people? Why invent such a lie?

[At the village outskirts, on our way back, we met a camera crew of Al-Jazeera. The Israeli police stopped them at the entrance to the village and fined the car’s passengers 5000 shekels each for not wearing masks. Yes. Yes. It never ends.]

What now? In Israel Harun could get much better medical care, certainly when his rehabilitation begins. But since Trump declared annexation, the Palestinian Authority does not enable the transfer of patients to Israel nor finance the cost of their care and hospitalization in Israel. Annexation evaporated like a bad dream, but the decision still stands.

In a normal world, Israel would accept responsibility and care for Harun. But words such as “normal” or “responsibility” are not recognized by the occupation lexicon. We are trying to find a way to take Harun to an Israeli hospital. We shall update.

In the meantime, Harun lies there staring at the ceiling. Alone.

 Yair (and Erella) on behalf of the Villages Group

Last Week’s Demolitions in South Mt. Hebron – A Report by Erella

November 30, 2020

Dear friends,

For sixteen years I have walked at Nasser’s side. He was 20-years old when we first met. His youthful dream was to become a vet. Luckily that didn’t work out, otherwise – how could he have grown to become the one to document as a researcher of B’Tselem of the everyday injustices incurred in his area, and still manage to remain connected to himself?

Early last week we had our usual “how are you?” phone call. Nasser told me that he had had a week filled with demolitions at various locations within his charge. After a moment’s silence he said: “The most frightening thing about it is to become used to it”. We arrange to meet at his Susya home on Wednesday, at 9 a.m. (hoping there will be no demolitions then), in order to think together about experiencing ongoing injustice and not “getting used to it”.

7:50 a.m. – we’re on our way. A voice message from Nasser arrives: “There are 3 bulldozers near Umm Al-Kheir and I’m on my way there”. Now we already know there will be a demolition today, we just don’t know exactly where. Nerves are on edge – who will be the victim of this Russian Roulette today, the lords-of-the-land’s favorite game.  The memory of former demolitions is revived and the area’s villagers are going out of their minds.

The fatal choice fell on Khirbet A-Rakiz – a beautiful village of cave dwellers on a hillside, overlooking a fertile valley. The villagers labor there ever since the Israeli army cut the irrigation pipes that reached it from A-Tawani village.

We arrive. We are already really close. All I want is to run to the people, to the dazed women and children, and hug them. Tell them that we’re with them, that we won’t let anyone tear them away from their land… But two soldiers, covered from head to foot in all sorts of shields, do not allow Ehud, Yair and myself to approach.

I said something to the young soldier who ordered me to stop. Trying to control myself, I don’t remember the exact words but I do recall his answer: “It’s not my decision. I only follow orders.” These words sound familiar. When I hear them, the blood freezes in my veins. There are certain things that Jews are not allowed to utter.

At close range we see how the monstrous bulldozers – that have a driver who only follows orders, and commanders and subordinates in and out of uniform (Civil Administration) who only follow orders – shatter lives. I want to throw up, but there is no time for trivia.

The demolition ends rape-style – finish and leave. I run the slope to the people, the women and children who yelled and then cried, and then their hands dropped, and now they sit still and silent.

We are met by Muhammad Muhammad. We don’t know him. His blue eyes are blazing in anger and he says to us in Hebrew: “You are another peace organization that does nothing but talk. You don’t do anything. Can’t you influence your government?” We keep silent. Try not to take it personally. Muhammad keeps taking his anger out on us. So much pain comes out. When things quiet down a bit, I asked Muhammad if he can influence his government. He says they cannot, but that in our case things are different. “They’re no longer different” I said, and my breathing contracted a bit more.

Then he looked at us softly. He invited us to his home (a house not yet demolished) and showed us from where people had broken in, probably from one of the settler-colonist outposts nearby (Havat Ma’on, Avigail), into his home last Saturday, where they stole the generator and other pieces of equipment. Muhammad’s cousin, also named Muhammad, insisted on inviting us for coffee.

We sat at the entrance to the cave where he was born in 1967. The thieves broke in there too, and stole the battery of the solar panels. And now this demolition. I asked Muhammad Muhammad what he does with all that pain. “I cannot afford to bring up my children on hatred. So I swallow it all and get sick.”

The whole while the demolition forces kept on demolishing more houses in nearby Khirbet Sarura, then on to Khalat A-Dhaba where they demolished Jaber’s home again. They demolish and he rebuilds, and again they demolish and he rebuilds. What does he do with the pain?

We couldn’t approach so we continued to Fakhit on the main Massafer Yatta road. The demolition convoy gets close to us – 3 Civil Administration Toyotas, 2 army jeeps and 3 bulldozers. The first Toyota stops us. “This is a firing zone. Where do you think you’re going?” Ilan spits at us, head of the regional Civil Administration. Had his face not been so full of himself and of hatred, he could be considered handsome. “We’re on a trip to Arad” (an Israeli Negev town) Ehud answers, and we seem to have somehow gotten away with it. We were wrong. An hour later, on our way back from Fakhit on the same road, we meet the demolition convoy again.

I am not sure I have words to describe what my eyes saw and my heart felt in those moments.

Now, as I write this, I recall the motto that the poet Rosario Castellanos, Mexico’s ambassador to Israel in the early 1970s, wrote in her book Balún-Canán: “We shall whisper the origin. We shall whisper the story and the tale… We have fulfilled our task, and our days are done. Think of us, blot us not from your memory, consign us not to oblivion”.

They had cut the water pipes with a handsaw. The bulldozer pulls the pipe to the middle of the track, and the cutters cut away. With their own hands, they cut the life pipes of hundreds of people living in Massafer Yatta in their miserable little villages. Cutting away, and the water pours down on the track’s hard ground and will reach no one, no person, no animal, no bit of soil.

The Palestinian activists of the area are already there. We wish to join them. There are Nasser and Tareq and ‘Eid, our dear friends. Ehud parks the car at some distance, and Yair and I walk over to them. I hug Tareq and Nasser. Nasser calms me and himself and whispers into my ear: “Don’t worry, we’ll appeal to the Supreme Court. We will win eventually.” That very moment, the officer is roaring into my other ear: “Whose is the red Subaru? (He knows, we’ve already met today). If you don’t scram immediately, I’m confiscating your vehicle”. My eyes stared at the jets of water streaming out of the cut pipes, at how they irrigate the tight dirt track in this arid desert area whose annual rainfall is minimal. The officer’s threats found no place in my heart.

For a long while the cutters persisted. I felt as though my own veins were being cut. I was going out of my mind. From the abyss I recalled that earlier this morning we were on out way to Nasser, to wonder together how to experience the crisis and not letting it break you. How one experiences time and again this helplessness, and does not get used to the sights. How one meets the jets of hatred and indifference and manages not to hate in return.

At evening time, I returned to my Negev home, which the regime’s officials do not demolish and where water pipes are not cut.

Separately I wrote to Tareq, to Nasser and to Eid:

Hi my very dear friend, it has been a difficult day. For you, for me. At A-Rakiz, and at Khalat A-Dhaba I felt as though my own home was being demolished, and when the water pipes were cut I felt as though my very veins were being severed. Your persistent presence amazes me every time anew, how you manage to keep your mental stability.
Love, Erella

Tareq answered me:

Good evening, Erella, thank you. Thank you very much. This is the hard part of our lives, the fact that it has become routine. What can we do? We shall go on struggling, videoing, documenting, distributing it all to the world at large, so that one day with support of people like you, who know what integrity is, we shall manage to live a life of peace and quiet. Thank you for your presence there, and for the words you wrote me. It strengthens me and protects me. Thank you.”

Next week we shall come again, as we do every week, to practice keeping stability in hellish conditions…

Erella

On behalf of The Villages Group

The Story of Fares from Th’ala Village

October 25, 2020

Dear friends,

It’s the end of October, I long for autumn which should have already been here with its consoling coolness, its soft breezes and intoxicating scents – but in the meantime it’s still hot and arid throughout our Negev desert, and our Palestinian friends in the South Hebron Hills have received not a single drop of consoling rain.

Even in the winter, when the hills don a green grass plumage, the sheep get to graze very sparingly in the areas that have remained open to them after their larger parts have been robbed by the area’s Jewish settler-colonists.

All the more so during this dry autumn season. When we were there last Thursday, we saw the flock consuming nothing, and their shepherds stand by helpless… The water holes too are now empty of last season’s rainwater, and the livestock has no water to drink.

And if all of this is not enough, the settler-colonists of Havat Maon have built a large sheep pen at the edge of the hill, distant from their colony, and none of them actually lives there – it overlooks the entire wadi and the hills around it, the grazing ground historically belonging to the Palestinian farmers of the neighboring villages.

A month ago, Fares of Th’ala village went out, as he is wont every morning, to graze his sheep. Carefully he ventured with his flock to a grazing ground close to his village. Soon enough, he noticed four settler-colonists rushing in his direction, and wounding his sheep with knives, as the frightened animals run in all directions.

Fares tries to collect his flock and take it back home. Then, as in a horror film, the settler-colonists free their dog at Fares. They well know that the ‘locals’ fear dogs. And indeed, Fares is afraid and rushes on, the dog following angrily, bearing its fangs. Fares throws a stone at the dog, trying to chase it away. This is the moment the planners have been waiting for. They film Fares throwing the stone as the Israeli army and Civil Administration are already on their way. They lodge a complaint and Fares is under arrest.

The fellow has been in custody for over a month now, accused of throwing stones at innocent settler-colonists out at pasture.

Last Thursday we visited his family at Th’ala village. Fares’ father gave us a warm welcome. From speaking with him, I understood that he trusts the lawyer handling the case. As we sit and inquire, I notice that the left side of his neck is very swollen. I dare ask him about it, and he answers that it is a malignant tumor, that he has already undergone surgery on the other side, and is now waiting for the left side. “Waiting for what?” I ask, and he answers that such surgery is very costly. I kept silent and thought that life under Israeli military occupation is burdened with the “extras”  of hardship, that even without occupation one has a hard time facing.

Now Fares’ father needs money to fund a lawyer in order to release his son, arrested at no fault of his own. The tumor will have to wait…

Erella

(On behalf of the Villages Group)

Incidents at At-Tuwani

June 1, 2020

Time for harvesting the grain…” (a line from a popular Zionist song we all sang here as kids) For our Palestinian friends At-Tuwani village (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-Tuwani) in the South Hebron Hills it is no old favorite, but a source of livelihood. These very days they are supposed to go out to their fields and harvest the wheat that has ripened, which will feed them the whole year round.

A single dirt track connects At-Tuwani and its fields, and normally also serves the schoolchildren of the neighboring villages (Massafer Yatta area) who walk to school. The children have been accompanied by international activists, the just of our times, who make sure the children will arrive at school safely in spite of the constant harassing by the Jewish settler-colonists from the nearby outpost of Havat Maon.

Two days ago the villagers of At-Tuwani discovered that right on the track, only 150 meters from the village houses, the settler-colonists erected a tent. Simply blocking the way. If you wonder how a track can be blocked by a tent, we should explain that the Havat Maon settler-colonists are the worst kind of pogromchiks – violent hooligans –the kind whose brutality our great-great-grandparents had known in the Diaspora.  They very often enter the village itself, go wild breaking things, destroying property and farm equipment, and make the lives of the inhabitants insufferable.  They do this while the men are away at work, and only the women and children are present, and they simply sow terror. Whoever comes close to their tent would risk his life – at gunpoint. Later we shall read in the paper that “another terrorist who was trying to murder Jewish colonists was shot and neutralized”.

The villagers complained to the Civil Administration (the army arm responsible for all Palestinian civil matters) – by means of the wonderful attorney Kamar Mashraki of the Hakel organization. As a response, a caravan was placed on the track as well… An answer has not yet come from the Civil Administration, but Israeli soldiers have already been seen sipping coffee with the settler-colonists.

If we fail to remove the tent, it will become another illegal but irremovable outpost, like dozens of other metastases of the settler-colony cancer.  At-Tuwani is a village officially recognized by the occupation authorities, and the settler-colonists cannot do as they please there. So they attempt to suffocate it by blocking its access tracks.

The occupation knee is pressing on At-Tuwani’s throat, trying to choke the villagers. The international activists who volunteer there have been distanced form the area by order of the Palestinian Authority because of the Corona-virus pandemic, and Israeli human rights activists come less at this time – so who will help?

June 9, 2020

A week ago we reported another provocation of the criminal colony Havat Maon, aiming to deny the villagers of At-Tuwani access to their fields to harvest their wheat, and put simply: starve them.

Following an appeal to the Civil Administration, they were promised that the tent and caravan blocking the way would be removed. Naturally the settler-colonists are still there, barbecuing with the soldiers, and naturally the protest tent erected by the Palestinians was dismantled. This is the law in the South Hebron Hills.

But there are good news as well: on Wednesday night, Israeli army forces along with the DCO and several settler-colonists (they are intermixed – the colonists wear army uniforms and threaten with guns, what difference does it make?) in order to confiscated several tractors on false claims that even the Civil Administration has a hard time explaining, some garbage-throwing story or other. One should understand that such a confiscation, arbitrary and unfounded as it may be, might last a long time – and how are the farmers going to till their fields in the meantime?

But this time the villagers were ready. Usually oppression relies on the difficulty of villagers to organize and act together, whether because it is a family-based society, or because their villages have undergone demolition and they are forced to live on their lands at a great distance from each other.

The At-Tuwani villagers realized that only solidarity and an immediate mobilization of the entire community would save their property. Well-rehearsed, all the village men came and created a human wall around the tractors. At the end of a more than 4-hour struggle, the army retreated and the tractors were saved. For the time being.

We have no words to describe the courage of a handful of villagers equipped only with cell phones, facing soldiers armed from head to toe and escorted by violent settler-colonists.

So whoever was deeply bothered at the recent anti-annexation demonstration in the heart of Tel Aviv by Palestinian citizens of Israel singing the Palestinian anthem Biladi Biladi (My land, yours is my love, my heart) – go for it…

June 18, 2020

Two weeks ago we wrote you about the harassment by Jewish settler-colonists from the Havat Maon outpost (aided by the Israeli army, of course) of the Palestinian village of A-Tawane in the South Hebron Hills. We wrote how the colonist thugs erected a tent and placed a caravan on the track leading to the village fields in order to prevent the farmers from harvesting their crops, starve their families and make their lives unbearable – so they would finally leave their village.

The tent was unmanned for some days, and this morning attorney Kamar Mashraki of Hakel who represents the villagers informed us that the Civil Administration announced the tent would be dismantled, and indeed it was. But we knew it was too early to celebrate.

One hour after the dismantling of the tent and the caravan at the initiative of the settler-colonists themselves, Israeli soldiers showed up holding a demolition order for a structure that serves as a sheep pen in the unbearable heat of summer, and for a nearby well. The experienced villagers showed non-violent resistance, as violence would have resulted in arrests, additional destruction and beatings – but to no avail. With the aid of stun grenades, the soldiers did their job.

Once more we see how the army, the Civil Administration and the courts work together at the bidding of the settler-colonists.  They place an illegal, superfluous structure on Palestinian-owned land, “agree” to remove it – and in return, demand a heavy price paid by the Palestinians. We have already seen in the past how Palestinians fear complaining about incursions into their land, for if their complaint is taken seriously and acted upon, they will eventually pay a heavy “price tag”.

This week temperatures in the South Hebron Hills have already reached 33 degrees centigrade. The sheep will have to survive it without any shade or water. Thanks to the Israeli army and the Civil Administration.

Yair Ron, on behalf of the Villages Group

Between Corona and Occupation

Dear friends,

Two days ago I was enraged by an item I read in Haaretz newspaper, headlined:

“The police shut down a Corona clinic in Silwan…” (a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem).

I immediately wanted to write something that gives voice to an event and re-balances the writer. Instead, I shared this news by phone with some friends (this too calms one a bit, at times) and thought that this is an item that has been publicized by the media, and there is no need to publicize it further.

I also thought that in my last letter – “Times of Corona” – the essence had already been said, that the occupation does not stop even at a time when the whole world, or so it seems, stops dead in its tracks.

Two days went by. I noticed that my intuitive space is uneasy, and called Musa’eb. Ever since this Corona isolation I have been phone-visiting friends in the South Hebron Hills and various other places in the West Bank on a daily basis. So why Musa’eb today of all days? The rational mind has no answer.

Musa’eb answers. I hear shouts in the background. He says – rapidly but steadily, as usual – that settler-colonists from Havat Maon are attacking and that we’ll talk later. I hang up in a hurry, and wait with my usual steady impatience for him to call back.

After a while (in isolation I have lost my sense of time), Musa’eb calls.

Through his delicacy and presence that needs no validation I hear his pain making its way into me.  It’s a familiar pain for whoever meets evil open-eyed – evil that is the legitimate offspring of ignorance.

“We began to reap in a ravine that has not seen harassment for some years now”, says Musa’eb. “And then”, he continues at my request to tell me the details, “several people came down from Havat Maon settler-colony-outpost, threatened 24-year old Basel and beat him up. We ran to help him and at this point they had already twisted his arm so that it could break any minute. I intervened. Soldiers were already there. One of the assailants pointed his gun at me. I lifted a stone. A soldier yelled at me to let go of the stone. I asked him why he saw only the stone, and not the gun. ‘I see only the stone’, the soldier answered. There was chaos and the soldiers yelled at us as if we were the assailants. That is nothing new. We got Basel out. The settler-colonists distanced themselves a bit at the soldiers’ bidding, and we returned to the village. The armed settler-colonists returned to the ravine. The soldiers did not prevent them from doing this. It’s their seventh attack now, since the Corona-virus has placed us in isolation. They have developed a system: they attack our farmland, and when we all run to help workers under attack, another group of theirs attacks the houses. The house under most such attacks is mine, being the last house in the village in the direction of Havat Maon.

When the settler-colonists come to the house, they throw stones and beat my wife. All this was happening before the Corona-virus, but now it’s more frequent.” Musa’eb fell silent.
So did I.

I wanted to stay silent and only look at his eyes and show my deep understanding, but the phone I was holding reminded me that we were having a phone conversation. Musa’eb broke the silence and added: “When all this happens, the settler-colonists and soldiers are so close to us, less than 2 meters. We could catch the virus if any of them are carriers. They don’t even stop at the red-light of Corona”.

“The occupation is another form of Corona” – I quote Azam to him, and we laugh.

For a report on another recent settlers attack in a-Tuwani check https://www.btselem.org/video/20190416_a_tuwani_settlers_attack_palestinian_residents

The Tent and the Light Outside

All of us are locked. We face our self, our life as we never did. Fate is good, trust too. But we need a bit of thinking and fewer anxiety. Lesser action can bring both, better thinking, more worrying. We have many reasons to worry, but at least as many reasons to find what is essential in life.

During the last two years I have been producing photos in Susya. I had time to share and think about harsh life there. I weighed what we all know : resistance in adversity structures you and brings more strength. But as you should’t call adversity to be stronger, you can learn with the people who have more burden. As I love light and nature, I had more of my usual share of it in Susya. The compelling nature of South Hebron Hills was a deep experience. Not only of beauty and peace, but of a keen relation to trees, soil and the sky. Photography always brought me to think more about what was once and disappears, and what is to come and is not yet here. Many times I thought that what happens to the people in Susya, might as well happen to anybody. Because History is moving in many unexpected ways. Now, today, I can understand better the kind of thought : we are all experiencing what the people in Susya and Palestine have lived for many years : confinement, tight control and restrictions of all sorts. And above all our future seems so unsure. So as I am cut more then ever from my friends and loved ones, and blocked in my home, I think the more on South Hebron and Susya. I feel that my actual burden is just a little slice of their experience, and I am trying to imagine how much their share has accrued. I know they are strong and resistant, and in many ways less exposed. But I know, and I can see, how humanity might get radicalized in unusual conditions. And I wonder. How far ? You never know how far. The wind can go, the light can travel, and you.

Ezra Nahmad

0017.jpg

Coronavirus Days

March 28, 2020

To our friends all,

We always say: health is most important.

These days heath is really most important, and we hope that everyone this letter reaches him is healthy physically, mentally and spiritually.

Much is being written in times of Corona about the Coronavirus. Opinions and visions and criticism and protest and demonstration and hope and despair and humor and anger and love and the lesson and the punishment, and so on and so forth.

If all of this were water, Corona would drown for good.

But this is not water, and some of it is even important. Unlike the usual me, I read and listen, when reason has already had its say, more necessary now than ever – now when political Corona threatens even the virus itself.

All of these postings and publications which I read and hear have not a single word to say about the o c c u p a t i o n. As if it does not exist – and never ever has.

And the occupation? Has been working after hours, as if Corona does not exist – and never has.

The occupation octopus with its eight tentacles continues to demolish homes  and cut down trees and dispossess and humiliate and intimidate and kill and expel.

Nothing is as it used to be, everyone says this in times of Corona.

But the occupation is as it has always been.

In one of my (virtual, by virtue of quarantine) visits, I spoke on the phone with Azam of Palestinian Susya. After we went through everything one says to others in times of Corona, Azam told me about an armed settler-colonist who – with his five sheep – entered his sowed field and the sheep (who had not attended the lesson about differentiating settler-colonists from Palestinians) devoured the freshly sprouted green, unhampered.

I said to Azam: “The whole world is standing still. What, can’t the occupation rest for one second?” Azam answered with his special, smart humor: “My dear, the occupation is a different type of Corona”…

I was silent for a long moment, until the bitter smile managed to get around the smarting pain, and said to Azam what psychologist Abraham Maslow said – that a sense of humor is man’s highest spiritual level.

Now Azam, too, fell silent.

Erella

On Behalf of the Villages Group

Za’atar 

Last Wednesday too, October 16, 2019, Jaber gave us his heart-warming smile – a smile that is at one and the same time open and mysterious, bitter and sweet. I felt a certain silent longing to hold on to a hidden scarlet thread and follow it into the depths of the man’s soul reflected in his smile.

We first met him three months ago, days after the home of his older brother Muhammad was demolished at the outskirts of their hamlet – Khalat a-Dabeh.

The village is situated alone atop a high mountain overlooking a long ravine, wadi. The ravine (named Massafar Yatta by the Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills and Firing Zone 918 by the Israeli occupation forces) winds its way below cave-dwellers’ hamlets of a-Tuba a-Sfayee all the way to the village of Jinba. – Khalat a-Dabeh is far from the wadi, as well as from the various Jewish settler-colonies in this area. It had never known demolitions by the occupation forces before, nor ever been engaged in some altercation with the Jewish settler-colonists.

In July, without any warning, the Israeli army demolished the home of Jaber’s brother. We came for a visit two days later. Jaber smiled. A month ago his own home was demolished. We came to see him the next day, and he smiled.

As we visited him again yesterday (October 16), there was that special smile of his once more.

It was an autumn day yesterday. The sky was gray and a light drizzle had begun. Jaber opened the tiny tent he raised after the demolition where he could sit with guests (the family has made its temporary home inside a cave) and invited us in.

For a long while Jaber spoke to us of his feelings, his wonder, his pain over the demolished home, the destroyed trees he had planted with his own bare hands. What compassion was visible as his hands caressed the pomegranates that had dried up after a month of being detached from mother earth.

We began to walk towards our car, parked on the main dirt track, trudging among the piles of demolition rubble. Suddenly Jaber stopped, bent down, pointed to the tiniest green sprout making its way among the dirt and stones, and said: “this sprout is za’atar (thyme) that insists on living”.

I looked straight into his eyes and asked to permission to pose a question.

“Ask away”, he said.

“What holds you inside, what keeps you from feeling rage and hatred?” I asked.

“I tell myself that this is how things are under occupation” he answered, smiling with the modesty of those who know…

Erella

 

רימון מיובש בח'לת א-דבע.jpeg

Summer Vacation, A Jigsaw and Demolitions (Once More)

It’s Friday. I’m home, turning on the radio (Israel’s classical music station) and facing the computer, to try again. The empty screen awaits me, and once more I cannot write what I feel. For two days I have wanted to respond to these tugs of the heart that continue to bear my Wednesday experiences, so that my own burden be lessened and the world outside be informed. And my objections leap at me as soon as I even recognize my will to do this, yelping – you’ve written more or less the same now dozens of times. You have become a bore even for yourself. This information has whizzed through the social media almost immediately – so what could you possibly tell that’s new? And anyway, your writing isn’t such a big deal. Etc. Etc. Etc. For two whole days these voices hammer away at my mind, toxic, bewitching, without forgetting even the slightest reason for not writing… And my heart doesn’t give up easily. I am tired of this struggle and sink into chaos, darkness all around.

As I sit there, staring, I hear the radio guy describe the background for Janacek’s composing the piece about to be played: “On October 1, 1905, a non-violent demonstration by young Czechs took place, protesting the Austro-Hungarian rulers’ refusal to open a university curriculum in the Czech language. A soldier stabbed a demonstrator and killed him. Janacek, one of the demonstrators, witnessed this killing. He was inconsolable, and composed this piece”.

The hammers in my head fall silent. True, I have written similar things in the past, and will probably write them again and again because human history repeats itself at an embarrassing pace, fluctuating between its destructive urges and powers of healing, intoxicated with evil and at other times – compassionate. So here is the story:

Wednesday, July 4, 2019 – summer vacation has begun for both Palestinian and Israeli children (separately of course), and I am on my way to the South Hebron Hills with my 10-year old granddaughter. She has made friends with Palestinian children in Susya village for some years now, and visits them when vacation comes around. As always, she brings along a game that would be fun to play and serve as a language of sorts (my granddaughter does not yet speak Arabic and her Susya pals can speak neither Hebrew nor English yet).

This time we bought a puzzle to be worked on until the world map emerges.

Inside a small tent at Susya, in the South Hebron Hills, Ahmad, Miya, Zahara, Dyala and Diana looked at the world map pictured on the puzzle box, scattered its 200 pieces over a low plastic table and began to put together a world.

10 little hands worked together, busy as little ants, until they got tired and wished to take a break.

“It’s hard, building a world” I teased them. They took the hint and continued. It took them two whole hours to put together a whole world. All the continents and oceans were there. They were happy.

Ula, sitting beside us the whole time, was extremely upset. She stopped her phone conversation and reported to us that the Israeli army and Civil Administration had just uprooted 1006 olive tree seedlings at Umm al Kheir village.

The children fell quiet. 1006 tree seedlings?? I repeat the number in disbelief, and translate it into Hebrew for my granddaughter Mia.

The children faced their just-completed whole world and suddenly their own world had fallen apart into 1006 pieces of scathing pain. Not their own home this time – true – but they have already experienced demolition. And they are only 10-years old.

Wishing to bring in a bit of air into our hearts, I told them that there was once a scientist very busy with his own work, and his 7-year old son disturbed him. The father-scientist tore out a newspaper page and told his son: Do you see the picture on this page? It’s the world, answered the son. That’s right, said the father. Now I’ll tear it up in pieces and you will put back together again the world you just saw in the picture. The father was certain that the task would keep his son busy for 3-4 days, and lo and behold – after 3 hours the son stood in front of the father and presented him with a whole world. “How did you do this?” the father asked, surprised. “Simple, dad” the son answered. “Before you cut up the newspaper page with the world map I managed to see its other side. It showed a man, and I know what a man looks like, so I put together the man. When I finished fixing him, the world too was fixed.” This I told the children in Susya, and to avoid any misunderstanding I added that building the world is not always in our hands, for there’s always someone ready to destroy it. But we can build ourselves in order to be on the builders’ side.

They listened, and then ran off to the small artificial lawn donated there recently by an international organization, and asked Mia to teach them Capueira moves.

Originally we planned to visit Umm al-Kheir, but Mia seemed to have had her fill of destruction for one day so we headed back home.

The next day, my friend Ali from Tuba told me that the Israeli army had demolished 4 cisterns filled with water and uprooted trees in Dekeika desert village. Mia was next to me so I shared this with her. “Grandma”, she said, “what kind of a world is this?”

I answered her: it’s a world that enables anyone to choose where to lead his/her actions – to destroy or to build, to sow evil or compassion. “In my own bit of life, dearest Mia, all of life is reflected, and I master my choice there.”

A little bit of objection tried to remind me that I had already written this in one of my stories. I wouldn’t listen. I am proud to write it again. For the demolishers will do it again, and the builders will build again. ????? ??? ???  באום אלחיר.jpg????? ??? ???  באוםאלחיר.jpgהפאזל בסוסיא.jpg

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…