It is especially early in this day of winter. We’re hoping to pass before the auhtorities arrive. Last week Taayush activists have been stopped, driven slow and madly backwards, with a one-of-a-kind warrant of ideological profiling, prohibiting activists from reaching the South Hebron Hills. They tried crossing the checkpoint by foot. The ever-dope Amira Hass wrote about it last Sunday. Ezra was let through, though. He almost crashed the car into the military barricade and was stopped not a moment too soon due to Luana’s sharp harmonious scream – “Ezra-a-a-a!!!” She said he’s so used to not being stopped on the way out into the West Bank that he just kept on driving. Everyone laughed hysterically, and the approaching gunmen were obfuscated. “They’re my four wives, don’t worry,” Ezra cried signaling at the laughing passengers and then driving off. The rest were stopped but they found their ways through uncanny roads, to meet closed military zones in every accompaniment spot.

A week later, we drive down, and the road is still snowy on the terraces. Not in the deep South Hebron Hills, though, which are turning slight green, minutely adorned with small pink colchicum, or lahlaah in Arabic or sitvanit in Hebrew. “Autumn saffron” or even “naked lady,” confused by the strange weather our region is now facing. The weird south has seen twenty centimeters of snow, as Mahdi will tell me. In this, I bet, Mr Peabody’s unprotected facetious affair with Coal has played a role. Are we in a stage in which only a universal climate disaster will lead to a global political response? Perhaps a methane catastrophe in an ice-free Arctic? Sam, my Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee comrade, wrote about indigenous resistance in Black Mesa. These are the places from which, I hope, that global response will emerge.

A police car stops the transit. The cop approaches asking if we’re anarchists. “We’re here to identify anarchists, and return them back!” He explains. He asks for IDs or passports. G refuses, saying, basically, that there’s a court rule against arbitrary controls that forces police to conduct a search only with a provable suspicion. The cop threatens to detain him if he doesn’t identify himself. Uriel jumps in and presents his ID.

“Mr. V, are you anarchists?” The cop asks.

“Am I an anarchist?!” Uriel exclaims, and shuffling through his wallet, says: “Do you see an anarchist ID in here?”

The group is then released. This possibly immortal scene was captured in a hilarious video [Update: now with English subtitles!]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXv0na7ojZg

The cops must have sat in the car comparing pictures of Emma Goldman and Tolstoy. Policeman approaches dark-clad person carrying sack full of treasure as an alarm reverberates through an alleyway. “Are you the burglar?” “The burglar? No, why do you ask?” “You’re not in a position to ask questions. Show me an ID. … Are you sure you’re not the burglar?” “Sure I’m sure.”

We meet Mahdi from Maghair al-‘Abid, a village on the outpost strip of the firing zone. David Shulman used slightly different names talking about it in this typically beautiful piece of writing. In close vicinity to Havat Ma’on, Mahdi and his family face daily harassment from the ultra-violent settlers. His mother was shot in her thigh. Over seventy, she goes in and out of surgery. His son is hospitalized with a mouth disease. He gives us bread. Three of us join him to carry the petrol for the plowing truck. We accompany him close to Havat Maon outpost, fast-paced, headed in a slithering line to his valley underneath the hill of the previous Havat Ma’on, two hundred meters east of their current location. Two others join us with sacks full of grain on the truck. Mahdi tells us to spread around the valley, so that if the settlers attack they won’t be able to assault all cameras at once.

The old truck noisily plows the soil in circular paths. I take a mental photo when it makes the letter Q. The work is completed successfully, undisturbed. Ezra manifests himself and picks us up. He has a new automobile, bought with some readers’ generous donations (thank you!). He says he indulged a cop that questioned him earlier. They talked about the problems of the Hebron police station. The cop told him a high-ranking officer said that no logistical changes are planned because in two years the settlements will be evicted anyway. Is the beginning near?

Our next stop is the land of the Shamasti family close to Susiya. Everyone is quickly shooed off the land with a Closed Military Zone order. Settlers come down but stay away. A strange all-adult coexistence dialogue normalization group on tour stops by. Border Police, Civil Administration, international solidarity activists from Germany and Italy, and us anarcha-anarchist folks all find ourselves together on a desolate hill with the multi-generational Shamasti family. The co-existence group had a camp or something of the kind in Germany. Israeli and Palestinian folks engaging in dialogue in a so-called neutral context. In my experience, these dialogues are often set within the occupier’s discourse, assuming a kind of symmetry between conflicting sides that simply have a misunderstanding, assuming good intentions on the part of the State, thus normalizing the reality of occupation. Tami says that people often get entrenched in their expected views and fail to communicate. Reub asks one of the Palestinian members of the co-existence group how she relates to the Israelis. She responds: “I can’t talk to them. I’ve been doing these projects since I was ten years old. They’re all Europeans. They should go where they came from.”

In the chapter “Dilemmas of Privilege” in the book Anarchists Against the Wall, Kobi Snitz writes that “normalization” means that “any interaction that Palestinians carry out with Israelis, be it for the most positive purpose, while the conditions are such that Israel occupies Palestine, contains with it a degree of adjustment to these conditions.” (2013 55-56) In this light it is obvious that if we believe that a joint struggle has potential for change, normalizing the situation cannot be entirely avoided. This creates a lot of the weirdness that we encounter daily in our activism. When are we normalizing apartheid and when are we acting in solidarity within a joint struggle?

Having the language and privilege and a curious willingness to do so, the Israeli members of the coexistence group talk to the soldiers that stand on the edge of the military zone and try to convert them to a more lefty position. I guess we do it as well sometimes, changing our language in order to make it comprehensible, placing ourselves in a slightly dishonest position. Sometimes Israeli activists find themselves negotiating “concessions” with commanders on behalf of their Palestinian comrades, in order to allow farmers to access a particular patch of land for a limited amount of time and under specific behavioral conditions, or in demonstrations. This in turn may warrant more brutality if the agreement is “breached,” or create a situation in which some protesters police the others in the name of their self-appointed negotiation. Policing forces, of course, will always try to impose their control with use of martials from the protesters themselves, in exchange for minor privileges like the ability to walk outside of pens. This is why, as David Graeber writes in The Democracy Project, folks at Occupy Wall Street in NYC decided not to have a police liaison. Interaction with authority is all different, I believe, when a clown nose is placed on the other side of the gun’s barrel.

I chat with Abdullah on the side. We’re asking ourselves what the hell is going on. One enlightened and post-military-looking fellow from the coexistence group commences interaction with us in basic Arabic. We’re not particularly welcoming to him. GH tells me off for it afterwards. He’s already made the first step, he tells me, and that’s big. “I never manage to bring people down here.” He’s right. I often complain that the movement is not welcoming and not inclusive enough. Every fit-looking man that approaches is treated as a potential douchebag (or in its new Hebrew blogosphere term – hel’an). Maybe I’m just projecting what I secretly feel about myself. I’d rather be kind next time.

Protest in Nabi Samuel. Friday December 27. Photo: Amir Bitan

Protest in Nabi Samuel. Friday December 27. Photo: Amir Bitan

The Sabbath ritual of Umm al-Arayes went accordingly, we’re told. With a Closed Military Zone and the pushing and so on. Sumoud.

We visit Umm al-Kheir. The outdoors oven is still getting attention from the settlers of Karmel. Two days ago they came with water buckets to put it out and sabotage it. Settlers wreck it regularly, they dislike the smoke.

On the way back north, Abdullah takes us to see houses facing new demolition orders in Beit Ummar. Buildings not yet completed. Ezra says the idea is to block the village’s expansion northward.

Around four o’clock, when we get back home, settlers from Havat Maon attack Twaneh. With slingshots and covered faces, they throw stones and hit Hafez in the head. He is taken for treatment in a hospital in Yatta.

Abdallah stares for a second, like a chess player that has already picked a move but is now imagining the board after the move has been played, as a final precaution.

“This hat – why do you put it on your head?” He points at me.

Tagging along, I respond, “Weapon against the sun.”

“Weapon against the sun. Would you put sunscreen on your head?”

“No,” amused, I imagine his hair white and greasy with sunscreen.

“Exactly, you can’t replace one weapon for another. I am a photographer, my weapon is the camera. Fair enough. So, if you say that your demonstration is peaceful, what is your weapon?”

Yoav brings up the point Eishton wrote about (Hebrew, quoting Black Panther George Jackson). “The protesters think,” Eishton asserts, “that they alone determine the nature of the protest, not very different from the way a man thinks he can decide if it’s sex or rape. In practice, a protest is peaceful only if both sides agree that it’s so.”

“The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one’s adversary. When this adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative.” (-Black Panther George Jackson on nonviolence)

*

Work in Bir al-‘Id

It is early in the morning and the air is fresh from a night of rest. The big sphered sun has finally passed the hilled line of the horizon with its entirety, and the sky is blue and clear. We’re at Bir al-‘Id, the place with the nicest view in the Wild South, in my opinion. One can lose one’s inner eye beyond the firing zones beyond the city of Arad and between the mountains of Moav.

This beaten dirt road we’re working on today has been blocked twice recently by settlers from the nearby illegal outpost called Mitzpe Yair. The military has given its quiet consent, and soldiers have been documented shaking hands with the outlaws. We’re working quietly. The military follows us from the moment we arrive in the Wild South. Four or five jeeps quickly gather around on the asphalt road leading to the settlement nearby.

We’re quite efficient in our work on the dirt roads. We worked last Tuesday in Safa, which suffers frequently from the outpost of Bat Ayin, among the rest. The road we’re working on this Saturday is an important one, a major pathway into the area that has been deemed “firing zone 918” (more on this below). One person reveals the edges of a rock with a pickaxe, one sticks a heavy pole underneath the rock and lifts it up, others roll the rock out of its place, and finally, the remaining hole is filled with use of a shovel. We work a bit and just begin to sweat when the military approaches us.

Activists repairing the road in Bir al-'Id. Photo: Guy

Activists repairing the road in Bir al-’Id. Photo: Guy

The Civil Administration demands we stop working or they’ll present us a Closed Military Zone order. It has already been issued, and it contains the area of Umm al-Ara’is as well, before the grazing has even begun over there. They present us the warrant, and the soldiers swarm around to shoo us off.

Our point has been made – the military Civil Administration doesn’t allow voluntary repair work for roads that have been blocked by settlers. They quietly endorse destruction, and cruelly remove restoration. We head out, but an overly-enthusiastic commander wickedly decides that we must exit from the other way, not the way we entered, but over there, into the desert. We protest, “he declares the area is militarily-closed and then doesn’t allow us to exit it.” The Civil Administration commander whispers to him for a short while and we start heading off in our way. The army then moves to heckle our Palestinian comrades, saying that the road we’re going to is restricted for Palestinian movement. But there has been a court sentence on this particular road with this particular issue and after a couple of phone calls to certain authorities, we are all let out of the area.

*

Weddings in the Weird South

It’s wedding season in the South Hebron Hills. Now that Ramadan is over, the weddings flood the hills. Umm al-Kheir is festive. Murad, that I got arrested with a month ago, is getting married today, and excitement fills the air. The army thought the gathering is a demonstration, and there was large military presence behind the fence on the side of the settlement Carmel.

Yatta is filled with weddings as well. Saleh from Umm al-‘Amad is getting married in the city. Shepherd accompaniment in both Umm al-‘Amad and Umm al-Kheir went along with no noteworthy instances, and our group splits to congratulate both families.

I go to the wedding in Yatta. It’s my first Palestinian wedding, and it ticks like a clock. Hundreds of people show up. We’re passed through stations. We’re taken to eat at long tables. Strangers sit on the other side and urge us to eat. The sheep that we accompany in the mornings are presented to us from the insides today, on top of big plates with yellow rice and peanuts. I stick to the rice. Cans of cheap soda are brought to us. Soon enough, the paper table-cloth is wrapped up and we stand to make way for the next group. On the next station, we receive a small cup of coffee from a young man in costume wearing a large Arabic coffee pot on his back and a blade on his belt. I see my friend Fares from Umm al-‘Amad and cordially congratulate him for the wedding of his cousin. The next station is sitting-down-time with strangers and cigarettes. A young man in a suit looks at me with suspicion in his eyes. An older man approaches Ezra and kisses him. He says Ezra picked him up from a checkpoint once. Or maybe it had something to do with prison. I’m not sure, and Ezra isn’t, either. He’s done deeds of generosity and bravery, big and small, with hordes of people, and he can’t remember many of them. The man leaves, Ezra says he couldn’t remember him, but at least now he can blame it on age, he smiles, the perfect excuse.

Next, and final, station – kissing the groom. Saleh stands in the heat in his suit, another very young man stands next to him in an identical suit (turns out there are two weddings in the price of one), and we join the line of kissers. Two kisses on each sweaty cheek and off we go.

*

Abdallah’s Prison Stories

“There’s order in prison,” Alla’ says. “But not in every prison. There’s sijn madani and sijn amani. The madani is horrible, prisoners kill each other. But my brother and I, we were in the amani, because we were sentenced for stone throwing. That’s the prison to which all of the political organizers go to, so there’s order. When you arrive, you have to choose your section – Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. You have to choose, but it’s good for you. So you choose one of them, no matter what, and they take care of you. And you take care of them. You respect the elderly, and they respect you in return. Fih niTham fi-sijn. These people, that hate each other outside of prison, or at least that’s what we’re told, work with each other and respect each other on the inside. If you’re ill or injured, it is forbidden for you to work, mamnu’a! And if you’re over thirty or under eighteen, also, work is forbidden for you. There are public services organized. There’s prisoner solidarity networks, how do you think they get hundreds of prisoners in different sections and different prisons to hunger strike together?! There’s education. There are old professors, old teachers that give free classes. You can learn anything in prison – engineering, nursing, religion.”

Did you learn some Hebrew?

“Just enough to heckle the guards. Shomer, ani rotze essshhh (guard, I want a lighter)!

“I’m telling you, in the prison, there’re no differences, you’re all just Palestinians. There’s no Khalili or Nabulsi there’s just Falastini. “

This conversation, that seems hectic, like one long monologue, was held over many minutes, many fractions of hours, on the course of many views of stones and rubble on a workday in Safa. The written word is captured on a screen but reality, conversation, imagination, is adrift. The spoken word, said on a spur of a moment, is but a vague representation of a different universe, the universe of a Palestinian inmate. Can it ever transport the experience of incarceration? Transfigured, the moment moves from present to memory to imagination to emotion to spoken to memory to imagination to feeling to thought to written to history. Transfigured like an iridescent soap bubble gliding on the wind.

*

High Court Sends 918 Firing Zone to Mediation

It felt like a wedding in the High Court. A big reunion. Mingling people wearing their fanciest clothes. There’s great natural light in the Israeli Supreme Court, lighting the halls and the corridors with the power of the sun alone, and no photovoltaic mediation. A light that sheds bureaucratic darkness on the very stark reality of apartheid. At the end of long hours of technical discussion between people in costumes, the Israeli State and the Palestinians of the South Hebron Hills were sent to mediation. The State has a month to agree to this, the villagers’ representation agreed on the spot. Sent to counseling with Yitzhak Zamir, the mediator, a former Supreme Court judge, and, few know this, a crucial historical supporter of the Begin administration in the 80’s and of massive settlement construction on private Palestinian land (Hebrew). The 918 Firing Zone. Wedded to the State, mediated by the State, kept in an atrocious status-quo with the State, and finally, possibly, evicted by the State.

The case of the 918 Firing Zone is no case for counseling, but for a divorce. State matrimony is prison. Life in a firing zone is prison. Mediation may take a couple of years, during which things will be quite the same. With little to no access to water, night raids, vehicle confiscation, no livelihood, no education, no doctors, no social services whatsoever, and constant intimidation. What can be mediated in this case of utter asymmetry? The shepherds will be allowed to take the herds to graze between 6-8 AM to enable the army to train between 9 and 5 the next day?

“This is a special case,” said Court President Judge Grunis, “that requires a creative solution.” Beware of the word “solution” when uttered by state necromancers. The “two-state solution,” or the “Prawer Plan – a solution for the Bedouins in the South,” elaborate plans designed by those in power to keep the Palestinian access to influence as it is, forever dismembered, in silence. A million square kilometers of land in the West Bank have been declared as firing zones. It has been the most effective means of ethnic displacement since 1967, evicting hundreds of thousands from the Jordan Valley alone. It’s always been a war crime under international law. What makes the case of 918 “special,” in the High Court’s mind? Perhaps the fact that there’s an international struggle against it.

The halls were filled with activists, diplomats, and journalists, as well as the villagers themselves (the few that did receive permits to attend the discussion on their own future, of course). Authors, including Noble laureates, have signed a petition against the firing zone. Major Israeli jurists have signed a letter of their own. The Facebook campaign that we initiated less than two weeks before court had an outreach of tens of thousands. This desolate corner of the West Bank is where the firing zone method of ethnic displacement will come to an end. The struggle to cancel the 918 Firing Zone will continue for a while. Plug in.

"Move it grandma, on the truck, the boys need to practice." One of the memes that flooded Facebook last week. Photo: Activestills

“Move it grandma, on the truck, the boys need to practice.” One of the memes that flooded Facebook last week. Photo: Activestills

The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Guerrilla of Qaddum’s children is running to and fro with stones and sometimes slingshots, making funny sounds at the soldiers that are lying bored overloaded with weapons and riot gear in the sun on the hill.

Kids have secret worlds of wandering imagination and play. I would roam around empty building sites and fields, parks and barren streets, and the space would become only partial to the world of imagination flying in my mind. Street signs, stray cats, rubbish, thorns, empty beer cans and bungs and needles on the ground were sometimes present as props in the play, but they were mostly just regular constituents of the Jerusalem scenery, fading in and out of my kids-play consciousness. Likewise, in Kufr Qaddum, kids play around fields filled with used teargas canisters, rubber coated steel bullets, shells of live ammo, and burned patches of ground. My Kosovar and Bosnian friends would tell me of their uncanny childhoods. They were playing at war, like spies or commando units or pirates, wandering between ruins, while bombings and shootings and sometimes massacres were happening around them during the grown-ups’ actual war. In the Palestinian village of Kufr Qaddum the kids take the make-believe of children’s play to a whole other level.

“3ah ‘Aah, ghri ghrri,” the kids cry at the soldiers, like the calls shepherds make to summon their herds. “Awawa 3a wah 3aaaaahhh!”

A child at Kufr Qaddum collecting used gas canisters.

A child at Kufr Qaddum collecting used gas canisters. Big credit to Steve Hynd

Some older Palestinian folks are there as well. “You’re not a commander,” one of them taunts the officer from a distance. “You’re just a municipality contractor in Kufr Qaddum. Look at you, the dog is your leader; our leader is this child over here.” The military released an assault dog on protesters in Kufr Qaddum last year.

The children roam about with zest, wearing shirts in all colours of the rainbow. The demo hasn’t even officially started yet. There is a powerful sense of the joy of resistance. There is an air of hope, of a struggle that persists with determination, with growth and openness. This is a pleasant surprise for me. From fellow activists’ recollections, the struggle in Qaddum seemed dark and dangerous in my mind, filled with violence and cultural tensions.

The joint weekly demonstrations in Kufr Qaddum started two years ago in July 2011. This village, in the north of the West Bank, suffered from land thefts and settler brutality by the nearby settlement of Kdumim. In 2003 the main road to the city of Nablus was shut down, leaving the village isolated with little access to resources, extremely high unemployment, and abject poverty. This is the road towards which the marches lead now on a weekly basis, and the protesters call for its reopening on the top of their lungs. These are now the most well-attended weekly protests. People from all over the village go out and risk arrest and injury, and they do it with style, I must add.

A certain felt tension, however, is the lack of feminine presence. Other than activists that come from the outside, there is no woman to be seen at the demo. There are always noteworthy exceptions, though, such as Suriah Mahmood, that stars in this award-winning photo:

Suriah mahmood in a photo that won a photography contest in Qatar. Credit: Alaa Badasreh

Suriah mahmood in a photo that won a photography competition in Qatar. Credit: Alaa Badasreh

“I think to myself, who takes part in the demonstrations?  The shabab are our brothers and sons from Kafr Qaddum. I think it is my duty to go out to make trouble for the soldiers to make them busy so they are unable to continue to chase the shabab. I again feel something internal in my heart. Sometimes I throw stones or block in front of the soldiers. I shout to make the soldiers nervous and crazy and can’t control my emotions because I think it’s the role of Palestinian women to stand with our brothers against occupation.” (Suriah Mahmood, from an interview with ISM activists)

Like in Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, Ni’ilin and other villages throughout Palestine, demonstrations are brutally repressed by the military. Skulls fractured by teargas canisters. Rubber coated steel bullets. Skunk. Shooting gas into houses. Suffocation. Injuries. Night raids. Child arrests. Administrative detention and long prison sentences. The village got some international attention with the dog assault mentioned above, and more recently, at a bizarre case of psychological warfare when the military put up posters with pictures of four minors and the statement “We are the army, watch yourselves, we’ll catch you should we see you, or we’ll come to your house.” In a night raid earlier this week, one of the minors, age 17, was kidnapped with two other folks ages 21 and 22.

People treat all this dread with humour. It’s a world in which megalomaniac underpaid municipal contractors participate in children’s make-believe war games. Murad, one of the main organizers of the demos and a real fantastic orator, introduces me to a four year old boy that the military tried to arrest a year ago on a stone throwing charge. The threat engulfed in a smile of a child.

“Everyone in Kufr Qaddum has a story,” Murad says and signals at the child with a grin. “Here’s a small grown up man.”

The demonstration starts after the prayer, but the military entered the village early today and threw stun grenades and fired tear gas at houses. I am told that a boy suffocated from the gas and lost consciousness for twenty minutes. Murad just sent an email saying that he’s okay now.

It’s all quite baffling. The soldiers are lying among the trees of the village up on the hills around the mosque, frying in the sun with their heavy battle gear and ceramic armors. The shabab (youth, in Arabic) throw rocks in their general direction, but the soldiers are well out of reach. They respond with a stray tear gas canister every once in a while. People say that their idea is to keep the demo on a low flame and then charge suddenly and attack the protesters from several directions at once. This video of an attack on journalists shows what happens to those that stay behind in these charges.

The call to prayer starts and the random teargas shelling persists. Older folks give tips to the kids, telling them when to run off and where to go. Others observe the scene from rooftops and call out warnings in case soldiers charge from different directions. Activists say that over the past two years, the protesters got better at maneuvering the terrain, taking care of each other, avoiding arrests during demonstrations, and leaving each demo with a weird sense of victory. There’s a joy to this struggle, a freshness embodied in the image of laughing men as they step out of the mosque and clap to the beat of the chants. A heyday is foreshadowed in these images, a peak of creative and uncompromising protest.

The demo sort of officially starts. Murad gives a poetic speech about persistence and resistance and lack of fear. People chant and walk up the road towards more soldiers. Then I hear that horrible buzz of the canisters and a white blur of teargas. Pain in the sinuses. Lungs clogging up. I instinctively reach to the onion in my pocket. I break it and breathe deeply through it, and the symptoms ease, and I can see stone throwing and soldiers and suddenly the soldiers charge us and everyone runs and I run after some kids into a house.

I am given tea. I sit and have tea for a few brief seconds to the war sounds of the outside. My host is kind. He’s not attending the demos. I avoid asking too many questions, sensing a certain tension around my presence as an outsider. This is a pearl of a moment nonetheless, I think to myself. I gulp down the tea and thank my host and head back out. Teargas is shot all around the house right afterwards, penetrating the windows and diffusing upstairs in the children’s rooms. How come the kids go out to throw stones? It’s a question of inhaling the gas inside in submission or outside in defiance.

“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.” (Gandhi quote – weird phrasing, worthy message)

Murad says this is a peaceful protest. Indeed, completely unarmed, the protesters pose little to no threat to the soldiers. Perhaps it is seen differently from their side, but the soldiers stand lazily and disregard the stone throwers in front of them. If they just seemingly start charging, the flock of protesters runs off. If the side at which supposed violence is directed perceives no threat, is supposed violence real? In the media, and sometimes in our minds, the occupier is the one to define violence. Occupier – occupied. Why is violence even a question? Treat the next paragraph or two as a footnote.

The question of violence is still a big one. Before it was popularized by Gandhi and King, nonviolence was a non-issue when it came to imbalanced battles against oppression. It may be useful as a tactic. But adamant ideology is often a little jarring. Some left wing organizations revel in the image of an ex-Israeli soldier putting a hand on the shoulder of a youth about to throw stones telling him “this is the wrong way.” Often, the discourse of pacifism, imposing and condescending, is very violent. Sometimes it extends beyond discourse. The classical example is that of the WTO actions in Seattle 1999, when adamant pacifists physically assaulted black bloc folks and turned them over to the police.

Obviously, there’s no symmetry and no comparison between a pack of kids with slingshots and the fifth largest nuclear superpower in the world, in the same sense that there’s no symmetry between a group of anarchists smashing windows compared to multinational corporations with armies of police, politicians, lawyers, and TV channels. And does the debate on violence have any relevance to Kufr Qaddum, to the brief effervescence of imagined victory when the soldiers finally leave the village and the people clap and sing, not at gun-point, for a mere second?

Most successful insurrections over the past 15 years have been peaceful in the sense that the rebels used no guns and bombs to target individuals. There have been plenty of window-smashing, stone-throwing, tiers burning, and other acts of symbolic violence, particularly against property. Some struggles practically transformed according to strategic need. My favourite example is that of the Zapatistas in the Chiapas of Mexico. Their indigenous insurrection started at 1994 as a classical Latin American armed guerrilla revolution, but then metamorphosed into something completely unique, nonviolent in the sense that they said they would hold guns but not use them, and reaching out for international solidarity and public pressure on the Mexican government to let them have autonomy. Perhaps the Palestinian struggle bears signs of such metamorphoses as well. I propose we approach the question of violence like clowns – with different noses for different occasions.

But again, treat the two or three paragraphs above as an inflated footnote. Let the debate not overshadow the point. That it is criminal to isolate Kufr Qaddum. That the road to Nablus must be accessible. That children (indeed all peoples) deserve to live a childhood devoid of arrests, brutality, trauma.

Despite, or in spite, of the fires, squill grows tall in the fields of Qaddum. Sabres decorates the gardens. A boy is standing on a wall in front of the soldiers. Shabab throw rocks fearlessly. The soldiers languidly direct their teargas canons. It is a strange feeling, to be a target. I raise the lousy camera of my mobile phone in front of my face. Little do.

And yet I felt cordially welcomed. Outsiders are not expected to join in with the stone throwing. Criticism is valid, there may be a certain lack of solidarity in light of Che’s statement that “solidarity means running the same risk,” but running the same risk is mostly not possible anyway and there are still plenty of ways to support. Question mark? Hundreds of people attend, but only few of them are not from the village. The international, Palestinian, and Israeli activists that join in do important work around medical support, media attention, and legal and jail support (Israeli ID holders have particularly privileged access to the latter). There were some parts of the demo, certain roamings in alleyways, at which I was a little worried by the lack of cameras. Outside presence also forces the army to behave in a slightly less brutal way and even obey certain shooting regulations (they don’t obey them all – for instance, they shoot teargas directly at people and from a short distance, a practice that brought about horrible injuries and too many deaths throughout Palestine). The organizers are now reaching out for more companions.

“We want all people to know of our sufferings, to see our life, and support our struggle,” Murad says.

There’s something infectious about the joy of the struggle in Kufr Qaddum. Perhaps it is blooming. It’s an exciting moment to join in. What is often perceived as dark and desolate is in my eyes a unique and colorful display of resistance. Clowns and musicians are welcome as well. Heed the call.

[This piece was also published on Palestine News Network and +972 Magazine]

Not every day does one get to meet a spy. Spies are curious creatures. In an emotional universe of suspicion and secrecy, confrontation with common decency may strike them unprepared.

Saturday the 27th of July. Arrival in Umm al-‘Amad. Ezra says we should hurry down for they say settlers are coming. I run down the hill, adrenaline is diffusing in my veins and the rocks quickly shift under my feet. Past the familiar olive trees and up towards the settlement of ‘Otniel. I stop and grab the cam-corder to film a funny sight. A complete stranger is lying on the ground next to our uneasy hosts.

Fares knows he’s a spy from the very first moment. He came from the settlement, greeted the folks in fluent Arabic – salaam aleykum, Ramadan karim! – and started asking weird questions. What are you doing here? Why do you come here every Saturday? Why do you bring the leftists to make trouble? Why are you filming me?

When I approached and started asking my own questions he gave me the bizarre sensation that he’s afraid of me, that I have some kind of authority over his presence there. In an amusing mix of Arabic and Hebrew, we conversed. I asked him where’s he from, he said the north.

“Oh, so you’re Druze.”

“No, not Druze.”

“Tayyeb, where exactly in the north? Are you Palestinian?”

He hesitated for a brief second. “Arab. Uh, yes.”

Those nationalists, I thought to myself, can’t hold a lie that they’re Palestinian. I was put in a strange position. Knowing that almost everything that is being said is false, but not wanting to be discourteous. His presence was dreadful, but his anxiety was very human to me.

We moved to Hebrew. He told me he’s a journalist for an Arab website. He refused to give me a business card, though. He said he was let into the settlement with an Israeli driver.

“Alright,” I say. “I think we know what’s the deal here.”

“You think so?”

“Yes.”

He becomes very defensive. It’s as if words and attitude can physically shoo him off. He mills about a little longer, tries to speak a little bit with the shepherds, fails, says farewell, and goes into the settlement. There’s a foreboding atmosphere. We’re not sure whether he’s from the Shin Bet, the army or the police. Some kind of Mukhabarat. Fares is tense and worried, saying that the spy was recording him with the phone in his pocket to get his voice and pass it on.

An early-rising spy. Rising to accompany shepherds at 6:30 AM in a desolate place between olive trees and barren barley and an oak here and there in the distance. Over the hill, closer to the settlement, there is a land of a different family from a-Samu’a that didn’t choose Sumud, didn’t persist, and let their land grow wild. Our hosts don’t blame them, they have every reason to be afraid. “Spy” is the wrong word to use in this context. It brings up Hollywood connotations. Double O’ seven and the rest. The spy in Syria Eli Cohen that became a minister and was hanged in Damascus. They call Vanunu “the atomic spy,” the technician that leaked information about Israel’s atomic research. Word is he likes playing volleyball in East Jerusalem. More relevant connotations are these – the case that hit the media about the Arabic speaking strangers that went as demonstrators to Bil’in and threw stones at the soldiers to escalate the demo. The Israelis, so they say of themselves, “don’t do Gandhi very well,” so one solution was to send rioters to sabotage nonviolent actions. A funny story that hit the media happened in the South Hebron Hills and appears in Nissim Mossek’s film Wild South Hebron – cops dressed as Palestinian shepherds walk up a hill with a donkey and get attacked by settlers with covered faces and scream “we’re cops, we’re cops, you motherfuckers, we’re gonna arrest you all!”

Our own amateur spy, as it was later revealed on Facebook, was probably a low profile journalist writing for random local settler websites. He happens to speak Arabic and felt particularly adventurous that weekend. A disappointing outcome, we started feeling important. He managed to create some damage in terms of the sense of insecurity and trust in Umm al ‘Amad.

With the air of uncertainty, our hosts stay back, and keep the herds at a considerable distance from the settlement and the security road. The foreboding atmosphere left behind the spy disappeared at once, however, as Ahmad roamed in with his herd, singing loudly (David Shulman wrote about his singing talent here), and carrying with him everyone else, close to the military jeep that watched us from the dirt road, to just slightly more affluent barley. His energetic spirit rejuvenated us all. We warmly embraced and Fares told him about the spy, the Mukhabarat guy. He improvised a song about the victory of Bassam, the smiling one, over the Mukhabarat, the secret agent.

I stay back with Fares and we talk for a couple of hours. He tells me he got a permit to go to Jerusalem for the holiday and went to eat Iftar (the meal to break the Ramadan fast) in Al Aqsa mosque. It’s magnificent, absolutely gorgeous, he says. He’d never been to Al Aqsa before. He plays the flute that Luana gave him, and I listen. It’s a flute with a deep low sound but he improvises with the high tones. Finds some notes he’s comfortable with and plays around them. He teaches me names of different wild herbs. And the hours go by languidly, nicely, until the sheep and goats eat their fill of dust and thorns and huddle around in the heat.

Fares and the flute.

Fares and the flute

We cordially part from our friends in Umm al-‘Amad and head up north. There’s a protest action in Al Ma’asara. The villages Umm Salamona, Al Masasara and Khalat Haddad didn’t have running water for 70 days and have to buy their water in big black tanks. 300 shekels per tank. They decided to erect a protest tent at the entrance of the nearby settlement Migdal Oz. It appears the authorities knew there was going to be some action but they didn’t know exactly what and where. The action was carried out well. The protest tent was set in 20 seconds, well before the military arrived. And an improvised press conference was held with speeches against occupation exploitation segregation etcetera. The soldiers swarmed in with their usual riot gear and we sat under the tent and chanted for an hour and a half until the closed military zone was issued. The spy from the morning came over with a friend to take photos and behave rudely. As the soldiers broke down the tent and pushed us off into the road with their funny plastic shields (some of the shields had anti-occupation slogans graffitied on them), I put on my red nose and the protesters sang with uncanny joy, “wu-nzelna a-shaware’a – and we went down to the streets…”

The protest tent

The protest tent

At this time two years ago tent cities were sprouting like mushrooms after the rain in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and elsewhere – Jaffa, Hulon, Be’er Sheva – in protest for social justice. They lasted for a month or two and brought half a million people to mass demonstrations in the streets. But you know the story all too well. The tent of the cry of thirst of Al Ma’asara lasted for just over an hour and a half, and even that was unlikely. No Palestinian protest is legal in the West Bank.

The soldiers escorted us as we made our way to the cars and didn’t miss a chance to hit us with their shields. They spared no red-nosed clown dancing on a sidewalk.

Soldiers with shields breaking down the protest tent

Soldiers with shields tearing down the protest tent

On the way back, Ezra’s truck was stopped for a check by the police. They said it’s a casual test, but the whole brigade of soldiers stopped with them and surrounded the vehicle. The truck passed a test two weeks ago, but the cops declared the car is dysfunctional and needs repair. They gave Ezra ten points, a 1500 shekel fine, and said the car has to pass another test before it hits the road again. Clownishly, we brought to the cops’ attention that one of their front parking lights was not working.

At the mechanic two days later, Ezra was told there’s no need for repair. Thus goes the rule of law. And the signs on the way down south say, in both Hebrew and Arabic, “thou shalt not murder,” “on the road everyone is equal,” and “making peace on the road.” One day someone will ad-bust ‘em and erase “on the road.” Until then and afterwards, still yours truly, rmc.

[רשומה זו פורסמה גם ב"העוקץ"]

האינתיפאדה הראשונה הבטיחה סופה שנושאת עמה ארבעה עשורים של פחד, השפלה ואי-נראות. היא נחתה כבריזה עדינה, צוהר לאלימות מחד והתארגנויות עממיות מסוג חדש מאידך. במפגן הסולידאריות הפלסטינית המרהיב שנערך כאן בשבוע האחרון – הקריאות נגד מתווה פראוור נשמעו בהפגנות בכפר קדום, רמאללה, חיפה יפו ומקומות רבים נוספים – נראו אדוותיה. אדוות עשויות להפוך לגלים.

ביום שלישי, מוקדם יותר השבוע, הייתה בשער שכם בירושלים הפגנה מפעימה נגד מתווה פראוור – נגד גירושם של עשרות אלפים והריסת עשרות ישובים בדואים וניסיון מתמשך להכחדת מרקם החברה הבדואית. האימרה המרכזית היא “לא לנכבה שנייה.” הרבה מפגינות ומפגינים. שבאב הצטרפו מהרחוב. הפגנת ערב, אחרי האיפטאר, עם הרבה אנרגיות. כל הססמאות היו בערבית, ללא מגפון, כך שהייתה חלופה מרעננת של הנהגת קריאות. הרבה דגלי פלסטין. קריאות להפסקת הכיבוש מאל קודס לנקב (מירושלים עד הנגב). בחורה עיוורת נתמכת על ידי חבריה ומנהיגה ססמאות במיומנות וביצירתיות. המוני מג”בניקים חמושים מכף רגל ועד ראש עם ציוד לפיזור הפגנות. שוטרים, סוסים, בתי כלא על גלגלים. השוטרים התחילו לסגור על ההפגנה ממספר כיוונים. קצין משטרה אמר שההפגנה בלתי חוקית וציווה על מג”ב לדחוף את ההפגנה במורד המדרגות לכיוון שער שכם. דוברי העברית שבינינו באו אליו בהפצרות, “אין מגפון, אין צעדה, אין עצרת – זו הפגנה חוקית לחלוטין.” אך זו הפגנה פלסטינית, והפגנה פלסטינית לעולם אינה הפגנה, היא “עימותים עם שוטרי מג”ב.”

“אין להפגנה רישיון,” הוא ענה לנו. “תעצרו אותו ראשון,” אמר לפקודיו והצביע על אחד הפלסטינים שניסה לדבר אל ליבו.

סוסים משטרתיים דהרו לתוך הקהל, והשוטרים שעליהם הצליפו במפגינים עם שוטים. מג”ב הלמו בנשים ונוער. העניינים התחילו להסתבך. עוברי אורח מהרחוב הצטרפו למהומה בקריאות מהאינתיפאדה על שחרור אל אקצה. בהוראת קצין משטרה, המג”בניקים החלו לתקוף בעלי באסטות, חובשים ופרמדיקים.

הסרטון הבא, ששודר גם בערוץ 10, הביא לתשובה מצד המשטרה שהעניין ייבדק במח”ש:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=koHT8Qf71wM

“תהפכו את הבאסטות, תעשו פה שטח סטרילי, שלא יהיה פה אף אחד באזור,” צעק קצין המשטרה.

מג”ב רצו לתוך דרך נאבלוס וחזרו עם נער מבוהל בן 14. “זוז לי מהדרך או שאני מעיף לך את המצלמה,” צעק עלי מג”בניק. הנער הוכנס באזיקי מתכת אל תוך הסוואנה של המשטרה.

חולית מג”ב רצה לתחנת האוטובוס הפלסטינית והתחילה להלום באנשים שעמדו בתור. “תיכנסו יותר מהר לאוטובוס!” הם קראו. צעקתי עליהם שהם התחלקו מהפסים ותוקפים אנשים מבוגרים וילדים, והם עברו גם אלי. “אתה לא תיצור חוצץ ביני ובינם!” הטיח בי המפקד.

צלם פלסטיני שאל אותי אם אני ממרצ. לא, אמרתי לו, אני אנרכיסט. “אה, אנרכי, פאוודאווי, לא-סולטאווי – אחסן נאס! אני מאווי, מאו טסה-טונג יעני, קומוניסט, נעים מאוד.” לחצנו ידיים בחום בלב הבלגן. בעל באסטת צעצועים ומחזיקי מפתחות הציע לי קפה, אבל שנינו גורשנו מהאזור בטרם עת.

שמונה מפגינים נעצרו בסך הכול. אני ראיתי במו עיני שלושה פצועים, מהם ילד שטופל על באסטה. באסטות ושמשיות שוברו. האזור נסגר לתנועת פלסטינים. מה שהם קוראים לו “ציר סטרילי,” נקי ומולבן, שטח ליהודים בלבד. לקראת חצות עברה צעדה עם דגלי ישראל בדרך לכותל. ערב ט’ באב.

היו הפגנות נוספות נגד מתווה פראוור בכל רחבי הארץ. עצורים ופצועים רבים. בסח’נין נורה גז מדמיע ומפגינים הוכו בעת מעצר. בבאר שבע מפגינה הותקפה על ידי חבורת מג”בניקיות, נעצרה, והואשמה ששרטה שוטרת בפניה ותקפה שוטר נוסף. בתקשורת נכתב ששני שוטרים נפצעו בעימותים אלימים בדרום.

“נכבה שנייה,” נאמר. מאות אלפים אז, עשרות אלפים בקרוב. האם הנכונות המדהימה הזאת, בסולידאריות עם מיעוט בדואי שידע דיכוי לאורך מאות שנים, להתנגד למהלך העקירה האתנית שמתכננת המדינה, היא מספקת? האם אנחנו יכולות לתאר בדמיוננו טרנספר בסדר גודל כזה? נחילי בולדוזרים. העלאת קשישים וטף בכפייה אל תוך משאיות. שיירות של רכבים נושאים רבבות המונים לאן? לערי פליטים מאולתרות? למחנות? נשאל במאמר דעה בהארץ, מה הייתה תגובת התקשורת אם דפני ליף הייתה נעצרת באחת ההפגנות. באמת אייך, דפני.

הסרטון הבא מתאר מצויין את מתווה פראוור, שווה לראות ולהעביר הלאה:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uGOY3Fs4I1I#at=249

Saturday July 7th, 2013. We’re called urgently to Umm al-Kheir. When we arrive, a woman is shouting and people from the village are running down the hill. Abdallah starts running ahead of me with his big camera. He sprints incredibly quickly for this rough terrain. People and soldiers are scattered chaotically on the hill above the well of the village. A young shepherd of Umm al-Kheir, Sa’id (aliases throughout), is being howled into a military jeep. People gather around the jeep, the women scream to God in over-bearing agony. People sit in front of the vehicle and a soldier comes to stand in front of them and stop the jeep, signaling for it to go backwards in reverse. It sprints away but the crowd reaches it when it starts turning. A soldier, the same one that gave me that blow two weeks ago, pushes me off and digs his fingernails into my skin. Haj Ibrahim from Umm al-Kheir is brutally shoved off by Tarek Hussein, the Druze Border Police officer. The old Haj is thrown on the rocks on the side of the dirt road. The jeep drives off. The boy’s mother lays on the rocks in agony, another woman lays next to her. People call for water and yell “Allahu akbar” canonically. The Ta’ayush comrades reproach the soldiers, “You’re amused?! It amuses you to separate a mother from her son?!” The commander procures a closed military zone to shoo us off. The map they present us bounds an area that is some 100 meters or more from where we’re at, but the soldiers are not taught to read their own maps. Ridiculously, they push us off in the direction they actually closed. Some of us decide to insist in protest and get arrested with the shepherd. Uriel is told he’ll be the first one to get arrested. “I can’t leave the people we’re accompanying on the ground like this, I’m with them,” he responds. I sit next to the women. I give Saul the camera I have thinking he won’t get arrested.They arrest him a minute later. G is taken too. As the soldiers haul my friends off, I get ready. Amidst the chaos, I drink some water, put my things out of my pockets and into the bag, and set my glasses firmly on my nose. Peacefulness. Blow to the shoulder. Sack of potatoes.

The people of Umm al-Kheir protest the arrest of their son.

The people of Umm al-Kheir protest the arrest of their son.

We exchange friendly looks. “Well, looks like we’re having a long day together,” I tell Saul.

“Sheket!” a soldier yells to silence us. “You’re not allowed to speak.” We occasionally defy this order, and he’s a little too eager to remind us of it for the rest of his stay with us. Later, at the station, he will obsessively remove and reinstall the cartridge of his weapon. Disturbingly reminiscent of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

On the hill, people are still scattered. The usual green-grey turtles with helmets and killing gear among the colorful Palestinians and activists. A Palestinian ambulance arrives to take care of Sa’id’s mother that is still collapsed on a rock. There’s some pushing around and shoving. Another Palestinian shepherd, Murad, is being taken by the soldiers. We’re all put in a vehicle. That’s it. The military has kidnapped their share for the day. We’re being taken away. At the other side of Carmel, Sa’id is brought to our vehicle. He is blindfolded and his hands are tied behind his back with a single zip-tie. It’s all removed when he’s put with us. He’s somewhat shaken. Looks around quickly. Looks ahead. Winces at the electric gate of the settlement. Rarely do Palestinians see it from this side. He rubs his wrists with relief. Military regulations require three zip-ties, but only few can demand it.

Not a word. Then a Border Policeman, a loud and friendly guy, a little chubby and with a kippah, starts filling up the arrest reports. The Hebron police station was somewhat “domesticated” by Ta’ayush over the years. They still do their job as occupiers and agents of apartheid, but they do it with a smile. Some of them, settlers themselves, prefer our company to that of the ultra-violent ideological settlers they have to deal with occasionally. The officer tells us our accusations and asks if we’re injured. He asks me to translate to Arabic and I use the opportunity to talk to Sa’id and reassure him. He’s in one shape, and the energetic zest returns to his often-smiling eyes. Murad was beaten and his left leg is hurt, but he refuses medical treatment.

This video shows a lot of the shoving, shouting, and other shenanigans, as well as the weirdness of the initial arrest of Sa’id. You may want to watch it all way through:

We’re accused of entering a closed military zone. These accusations shouldn’t be more than a detention. Sa’id is accused of trespassing, although he intentionally went way around the extension of the settlement Carmel. A couple of weeks ago the Haj was similarly arrested there, alone, and ended up spending several days in prison. When I just started coming to Ta’ayush, settlers would regularly attack the shepherds there and scatter the herds. Now the army does a better job for them, they go directly for the people in a way that doesn’t allow them to return. Accordingly, Sa’id avoided it, but with no avail. Visibility is arrestable. The military sterilizes the hills, to use the term used for the apartheid streets of Hebron (perhaps it’s tragically fitting that a toilet was confiscated there two weeks ago).

The map of the Closed Military Zone. The blue line shows the area that was closed. The red line shows the area in which the military held the arrests. Photo: Amir

The map of the Closed Military Zone. The blue line shows the area that was closed. The red line shows the area in which the military held the arrests. Photo: Amir

Murad’s charge is different. Tarek, the Druze officer, says he called him a Nazi, so Murad is accused of insulting a public servant. This kind of charge happens quite frequently. Gentle egos. Ezra recently won in court for allegedly insulting a commander by saying that the unit was committing war crimes. As for Murad, I can say with certainty, and with the risk of time-traveling back to kindergarten, that he did not call Tarek a Nazi. When we reach the station, the accusations change slightly, as the previous ones were not arrest-worthy. I refuse to sign all documents presented to me.

I met Murad during the first time I went to South Hebron Hills. He looks a lot like Sa’id – kind eyes, handsome, youthful smiling energy. I was stranded in Umm al-Kheir for a couple of hours that are sealed in my mind as particularly beautiful. That’s where my addiction to the sweet chai of the south began. I didn’t speak any Arabic at the time. He asks me now if I married since then. I didn’t. He’s getting married in three weeks, God’s willing. I congratulate him cordially. He learned English since our first encounter, so now we’re doing some language-tutoring exchange.

At the station, one is exposed to the absurdity of the law enforcement the Occupation engages with on a daily basis. A Palestinian man was arrested with his three year-old son. The man is handcuffed, and the kid follows him around, completely obfuscated. I think he was caught with the wrong documents in a vehicle with the wrong license plate and all in the wrong place.

“You’re so cute!” the cops yell at the toddler and give him an old Bamba snack.

Another Palestinian man is brought in. Cuffed hands and feet. He was caught at the checkpoint as well – with the wrong license at the wrong place, and most importantly, the wrong race. A cop comes in, gives him his phone, and tells him to call his dad and tell him to bring 2000 shekels. No investigation, no nothing.

“Where will I get 2000 shekels?!” he asks and I translate.

“I don’t care,” the cop responds, “call your friends, call anybody, or wait in jail for four days until court.”

There’s little we could do for him legally, and these cases are endless. The least we could do was request for the cops to release his hands.

A picture of a clown hangs on the wall. The hours go by. The soldier that arrested us is walking back and forth and tapping on his M16. He plays with the cartridge. An ominous energy fills the room. Sometimes life looks like a Kubrick film. I tell him he’s making me feel anxious and ask him to stop playing with his weapon. He tells me he will not shoot me, unless he feels his life’s in danger. I tell him that’s exactly what scares me. He stops shortly afterwards. He’s bored and unhappy.

The investigation, when it finally comes, is a joke, and the investigator knows it. There’s no case, it’s a false arrest. We play our roles methodically.

The day goes by, evening turns to night, guards shift. The four Israelis, including myself, receive a 15 day restriction from the South Hebron Hills. Sa’id and Murad receive a 15 day restraining order from the area, which is not clearly delineated, but definitely includes the well, which is crucial for shepherdry. It’s not a problem to arrest the people of Umm al-Kheir at any time. The settlement Carmel was erected in very close vicinity to the village, practically on top of it, and so the “special security zone” (Shabam, in Hebrew) includes the entire village. The people are thus trespassers in their own homes.

Murad receives an additional penalty – a 1500 shekel deposit, which was raised collectively by the villagers. These are people that spend almost 50% of their low income on drinking water. Deposits, fines, and bails for vehicle confiscations and arrests in the firing zone and elsewhere, are a big source of income for the police. Palestinians also pay taxes to the Israeli Civil Administration despite the lack of running water, electricity, and infrastructure. In some places the sewage of the settlement on the hill pollutes the crops of the village in the valley. Such is the scatological nature of the occupation.

Nonetheless, good people that want to help are necessary everywhere. If you go to a college or a church with a big endowment, initiate or join a divestment campaign. If you decided not to buy ice cream today, spare some dimes for our legal expenses. If you’re around the area, join us. Four accompaniers are gone for the next two weeks, and there’s plenty of work to be done.

[Click here for the +972 Mag report on the event]

[This piece was also published on Mondoweiss]

The warrant was issued, we were shooed off the land. I sang an Italian song about the vanishing greens of the countryside as they were pushing us off. Clown self-diffusal mechanism , if anything. We settled, beyond the imaginary white line (every officer sees different colors – in Umm al-’Amad the imaginary colors of separation are yellow).

Like every week, the women start making tea. One of them crosses into the closed military zone for a brief second to gather thorns for fire. The Border Police commander says that if she crosses the arbitrary line one more time, he’ll arrest her. I am enraged to dizziness. I imagine myself yelling curses at him that are unworthy of print. I want to diffuse his poison, his ra’al, his over-enthusiasm, his outrageous commitment to force his authority on people doing completely harmless things.

I remember how last summer, when things escalated to the arrest of three Palestinian boys, ages 9-13, in a-Rihiyya, an Israeli former military man that joined Taayush for the day told the soldiers calmly, “just do your job – guard the settlement.” He used the settlers’ word for settlement – yeshuv. His tone was certainly more effective than my all-too-familiar calls for them to release the kids, refuse orders, drop their weapons, etc. et cetera.

“Just do your job – secure the settlement,” I thus tell the commander. “There is no risk here, just calm down and do your job.”

He doesn’t entirely listen to me and I don’t entirely listen to his response. I fail again at being that calm, heeding, collected activist I sometimes want to be. I turn and walk restlessly away from him, my heart beating from the weird performance, but with a feeling that the situation is somewhat diffused. When a seven year old kid taunts the soldiers and walks into the closed military zone, the soldiers are unprovoked. An Ethiopian soldier is sent to grab him and take him back past the line, but the cameras we’re directing at this absurd interaction keep it just informally reactionary and childish.

The words “weird” and “absurd” are significant here. You will notice they recur often in my writing, alongside “surreal,” “bizarre,” “strange,” and others. Weirdness is something difficult to put one’s finger on. It may be explained as a dissonance between the expected and the perceived in a situation. But in hindsight, I often expect things to happen precisely as they do, and they’re still weird. Occasionally, when looking at past experiences in the Wild South I recall or portray brutality as brutality, or generosity as simple generosity. These are mostly overly simplified. Weirdness is that infinitely complex spectrum between black and white on which experience actually occurs. The least I can say about it with some certainty is that it is perceived subjectively (and here I’m in agreement with my friend, the anthropologist Brian Callan, which brought the term to my awareness).

Perhaps the South Hebron Hills should be called the Weird South henceforth. Maybe weird is the default framework for the south. And mayhaps weirdness is an intrinsically human experience that happens whenever people perceive their surroundings reflectively. The point of this babble which is of particular interest to us, however, is that the experience of weirdness may “become an impetus for us to engage our powers of agency and so become a mechanism for social change.” (Callan 2013, unpublished manuscript) Anger, exhilaration, empathy, weirdness – all turn people to activism. I can speak for myself, in the least.

Strangely, I experience so much anger before, during and shortly after the interaction with that soldier, and then so abruptly feel exhilaration and joy as I talk to two children and let them write their names in my little pad (a waiter’s pad that I re-appropriated from my very short employment at Café Hillel). Stream. Frying lightly in the sun. Abdallah from Beit Ummar teaches me phrases, such as “ili bidri bidri, ili ma bidri – bagul kaf ‘adas” (“who knows knows, who doesn’t know – says a spoonful of lentils”) and then tells a folk tale that explains the saying and I make sure to nod as if I understand. An older man, Sanad, teaches me names of thorns that the goats can eat – masla is a green thorn in this season, and khamrah is that thorn with an odd flower that turns purple and which we would kick as children and sometimes today if we trod the side streets alone. He doesn’t know the name of the tiny pink flower I pick up in front of the soldiers. The dogs of the settlers walk freely in the closed zone. Little nine year-old Abeer wouldn’t tell me how she broke her right hand but she scribbles sweetly with her left. My strange joy turns to rage again as three soldiers stand and mock the women. Disrespect and poison. Some rage is better out than in, but against my better judgment I carry on with my eyes and drift into the horizon and disappear up over Arad, beyond the green line, beyond the firing zone, beyong Jenbah, beyond Mitzpe Yair and Bir al-‘Id and the unbelievably named settler farm called Lucifer. As we retreat I ask Rani about my curious feeling of rage and he says he shares it too. Nice company. We talk about the record called “as beautiful as a brick in a cop’s face.” And it’s weird to go to Mufagarah afterwards and discover this is the first time since the beginning of my relationship with the weird south that Taayush wasn’t invited to say some words like Sumud, solidarity, and struggle (in any order) in the annual nonviolent resistance conference. It seems the anti-normalizers have reached the south. And it’s weird to feel weird about it since normally we take this formality as a burden. Mahmud is very aware of this weirdness and makes sure that Rani and I receive coffee. Blessed soul. Until the next oddity.

***

I invite the readers to recall experiences that were weird to them (and please feel free to share your thoughts in my all-too-empty comments section). In this context I wanted to bring up again a passage I wrote last year in “They’ll Stone You When You’re Trying to Feed Your Sheep”:

“Waaargh!!!” the older settler roars and charges us with a rock in his palm. I am afraid, finding myself behind the camera at a settler attack once again. “We already called the cops, they’re attacking us, stop them!” I shout to the soldiers in the jeep down in the wadi. The settler runs past us to throw the stones at the shepherds and Ana makes a ninja jump, imitates the settler’s roar and starts running after him screaming at him go home, nutcase. Fruitcake. Cupcake. Ana, a brave yoga teacher turning fifty. A self-identified neo-hippie. The situation becomes ridiculous like everything else in this strange world. The image I once had of the Havat Maon guerrilla settlers that jump out of their bewitched JNF forest with covered faces and deadly slingshots is replaced by a mad yarmulke clown gone berserk. “I will butcher you!” he screams at GH and throws a big rock towards him. GH dodges the rock, thank goodness. I get it all on tape. With the rush of adrenaline I cannot help but feel a small leap of joy that we’re catching this racist vessel of death for the first time with an uncovered face. The other settler, a blond white boy of 14 seems rather confused, he tries to scatter the goats but fails, GH is standing in his way not letting him reach the herd. I use the cellphone number I collected last week and call Policeman Stan to send a police car. The terrorist continues throwing stones at the herd, pushing it further down.

Ah, a tinge of inspiration – “It’s terrorism!” I yell to the soldiers. “He’s a terrorist, you must arrest him!” The head of the three turtles (that’s how the soldiers look in their heavy gear) is a Segem (low-ranked officer) with camouflage shit sagging lazily over his helmet like some science-fiction slime. As if you could remain from being seen in the desert with a light-green sexy veil designed for American soldiers looking for anti-imperialism and prostitution in Vietnam. I think he had face paint as well. What’s clowning with no face paint? I say something like “they’re here, they know what to do” and feel stupid watching the video a day later. I tried playing the good cop, but I was never any good at it. The Segem told me the police and Civil Administration will come and sort out the land dispute while the stones were still flying. Tayeb. It didn’t last long and the settlers returned to their enchanted forest, a bunch of pine trees planted with the money of philanthropic American Jews or some other neo-Zionist or unsuspecting JNF-donating folks.

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