Wonderpeople of the Wild South

Ezra called me the night before and asked whether I can give a speech at Mfaqara for the annual South Hebron nonviolent resistance conference. He said they really want us to speak and it would be good if someone young could give the speech in Arabic. Dammit, I need to learn to say no. I tried to pass the duty on to Ada who gave the two-minute speech last year in Twaneh, but it was no use. I tried Li and she refused. Images cross my mind of standing all alone in the face of throngs of eager listeners, unable to utter a single Arabic word. I felt like Sayed Kashua’ before his social justice speech. I’m isolated at the gates of doom. Amiel tells me to say sumud pertaining to the importance of resisting and clinging to land in times of colonialist robberies. Ezra says I should finish with the ‘ali ‘alam a-thawra ‘ali – raise the flag of the revolution slogans I do. Terrific. I’d almost prefer a suicidal protest action on a settler outpost.

Speaking of which, we did end up storming Avigail outpost (remember The Beating?) with kids and red noses and colorful balloons screaming happily about the redemption of Palestine. Bi-ruh, bi-balonat nefdik, ya falastin – with spirit, with balloons we shall redeem you, oh Palestine. As Abbie Hoffman said of Yippie!, “Energy – fun – fierceness – exclamation point!” The next day (Sunday) a photo of that vibrant action with a smiling radicalmonkeyclown at the front appeared on the first page of Al Quds newspaper. The picture is titled “Palestinians and foreigners (ajanib) protesting against house demolitions in Susiya.” I rub my armpit. Don’t trust newspapers. Trust me, I’m anarchist!

5:10 AM July 14th, 2012 and I wake up unwilling to go to the South Hebron Hills for the first time according to what my memory can muster. The past memories of angry lawless settlers and the future expectations of yet more violence and humiliation haunt me. I tell myself I’ll be careful today and try to have a good time and shove away the thoughts about the dreaded speech. The air is nice and cool so early in the morning. During my entire adolescence I’d oversleep the first hours of school. I’m generally a horrible sleeper. My eyes carry black bags of sleeplessness since the age of 12. But that has changed quite phenomenally when I started committing to Taayush. I suddenly started waking up before the alarm clock, jump out of bed and rush off in the pleasant air of dawn to wild south adventures. There’s so much to write about. Every time I begin writing about Taayush escapades I fear the only proper way to finish is with a Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisevitch type of novel. Back on track, mind.

I was glad to see many people showed up at 6 AM at Gan Hapa’amon parking lot. It seems that many have answered our calls for more activists. Even without our four suspended activists, we still had a kickass group of interesting people. Noticeably, there were much more women than men. I think that gender issues – jamming the traditional Islamic polygamic wild South with powerful women – are some of the most important aspects of our work in the ethos of ta’ayush. Gender justice is problematic in our context. Generally, social movements tend to copy hierarchical societal structures. There’s a lot more to figure out in that respect. (If you’re interested in a more competent freelance exploration of gender dynamics in the Israeli-Palestinian context, read Lilith Laughed).

Two transits were sent last Saturday. I was part of a group of 10 activists off to Umm al-‘Amad. A suburb of Yatta, the people of Umm al-Amad lost their private lands to the settlement of Otniel. Soldiers tour around their houses at nighttime. I personally have escorted herders there only once before. Nonetheless, our hosts have conquered my heart.

Zaid is a 12 year old wonderboy. Now, during summer break, he herds the family goats every day facing verbal and physical violence from soldiers and settlers alike. His arm is broken and a dirty-white cast stretches from his elbow down to his fingers. He wants to become a doctor. Alla, our multilingual librarian, brings him books in Arabic and English. Dani, our token mathematician, shares with him his endless sets of mathematical brainteasers. This reminds me that I can’t remember if I solved that riddle which Dani thwarted my mind with a couple of weeks ago in al-Rihiyya which I can’t remember exactly but think had something to do with people and their coats or hats or with unknown distributions which you can assume to be normal and that’s the way to solve it or maybe I’m confusing two riddles and this is where I say dot. Zaid told me the last time I was there, “ana bahibak, Amital – I love you, Amital.” And I told him that I love him too I really do without correcting him. Many Arabic ears hear my name with an ‘L’ instead of an ‘I’ maybe a linguist friend will know why. Linguist friend(s), please come to Taayush next Saturday.

Dot new paragraph. We split into two groups of 4 and 6 and go to two groups of herders from two sides of the hill. We cross old wise olive trees on the way through the valley. The wunderkind greets us “Amital, Eeden, ahala’ wa-sahala’!” remembering all names from single encounters. Seif and Ibrahim are two older cousins of Zaid herding their goats with him. The goats mingle about, transgressing their genetic differences and ownership statuses like only goats can. We say that after we’ll end the occupation we’ll come and free the goats of South Hebron. When the boys separated the goats at the end of the day Zaid told me he recognizes them from their faces. A pretty down-to-earth profiling method of the separation policy, eh? One goat aggressively pushes another goat to get to a certain patch of shrubbery. “Lesh bil-‘unf? – Why with violence?” I exclaim. The boys laugh. They tell us the soldiers came down on Tuesday and Thursday to force them out of the land. They show us a video filmed with a beaten cellphone of how young men with big oversized guns and silly uniforms curse the boys – “cus emmak, ruh min hun, bney zonot!” – scatter the goats and push Seif. They said they broke Nasser’s camera and a cellphone a couple of weeks ago. Soldiers. I feel the rage coming up like the rage of a helpless hungry monkey in a cage.

The boys ask where’s Li. She has been here many times before and the herders have lots of respect for her. Li is a creator woman, puppeteer and plastic artist. She used to go Shuhada, the sterile apartheid street of Hebron, alone. To absorb the reality of the absurd. I tell the boys she’s with Fadel on the other side of the hill. Suddenly she calls and says the soldiers seem to organize to come down to them. I decide to go there so that we’ll be evenly divided to five and five with each herd. Fadel greets me when I arrive. He says they had been kicked out of the land, from this exact spot, at Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

After the ’67 occupation, many Palestinians started going into the ’48 borders for work. From the late 80s and onwards Israel has increasingly tightened freedom of movement. With the construction of the Wall it’s just getting worse and worse and worse. Many men I talk to had been working in construction in Jerusalem close to my home. Common familiar places and the way the city is transforming is a good way to initiate conversation. Some of them manage somehow to get a permit once a year to come to Al Aqsa for Ramadan. Others haven’t been here for years. My friend Mahmoud from Tqua’ got a permit to visit me last fall. It has been ten years since he set foot in the city. Many workers cross the so-called borders illegally and are caught by Border Police and Border Police Boy Scouts and may get imprisoned for several days the first time and for months and months and months the next time(s). The rest, like Fadel and others we work with in the wild south, went back to scratch a living off traditional agriculture. That too is becoming impossible with growing settlements.

We see settlers organizing on the hill of Otniel. I was really hoping to have a quiet time in Umm al-Amad and sit back on a rock and chat with Zaid about goats and Arabic proverbs. I had enough settler-violence for one week. Soldiers are in a jeep nearby, I crack my voice shouting for them to come and stop the two settlers that are storming down the hill towards us. The soldiers reach the settlers and walk up with them. I call the police and do the usual we-are-being-attacked-by-settlers spiel. Things start moving in fast-forward again as heartbeat rises. We demand the soldiers to send the settlers away. One of them tells me not to give him orders. In the meantime the settlers begin to scatter the goats and scare them backwards with “hrrr!” sounds. Li stands between the settlers and the herd. She looks at the commander, a low-ranked officer, and tells him he’s obliged by Israeli law to protect us. As she puts her body on line to protect the herd, a settler pushes against her. I have a personal cellphone number of a policeman from the Hebron station. I call him and say loudly so everyone can hear: “Sergei, we’re attacked by settlers south-east to Otniel can you send a police car over immediately?” I use military jargon to explain our location – shabam for special security area and gizra for road. Things seem to calm down. I pull out the document with the High Court for Justice (or something of the kind) demands for IDF commanders pertaining to the access of farmers to their lands. I tell the officer to read the fifth clause saying that in violent interactions the IDF is obliged to act against the aggressor including closing zones for Israelis and making arrests. The officer says that this is not a violent interaction. I cite Uri Gordon’s definition of violence from Anarchism and Political Theory and make sure not to cite sources. Open source for the win. A settler asks me if I study law. I tell him he has a sharp eye.

Why would the kids with guns know the law, the unequal-wrong-obsolete law that they are representing. Li reproaches the soldiers for not letting people scratch a living. She speaks calmly straight from the heart. I accuse them of perpetuating war crimes. Spontaneously, she plays the good-cop and I play the bad-cop. Good cop bad cop black cop white cop green cop blue cop one cop two cop. The settlers sit on the side and try to provoke us. We ignore them. The commander, the lowest ranked officer who thus suffers from the ego-trip disease Yaniv taught me is called sagemet, demands I tell him what I did in the military. I say I’m not going to give him any personal information thank you very much.

Our Palestinian comrades are standing lower now with the herds. Li is there talking to them. The rest of us are up between them and the soldiers-settlers. The cops arrive. I directed the officer, Ran, on the phone earlier. He says hello to the settlers and hello to the soldiers and talks to the commander quietly so we can’t hear. I say “shalom Ran,” feeling stupid and he asks if I was the one he talked to on the phone. I affirm and tell him what happened. Alright, he didn’t ask or anything. He gives the soldiers his private cellphone number so they can call him if something happens. I memorize the number and plug it into my cellphone a couple of minutes later. You can never be too careful.

We sit with the herders 30 meters away from the now quite soldiers-settlers. The goats huddle to shelter each other from the sun. I remember the cows of Tirol huddling similarly in the cool, pouring summer rain of the Alps. It has been two years since we went off track while hiking in Bichl Bach. Al-ghanam shibe’a – the herd has eaten enough. Fadel thanks us warmly and says that we’re done for the day. He takes the herd back home. We join Zaid and the rest.

Sumud, Amiel told me and that’s exactly what Zaid and his friends were doing when the soldiers came to kick them out. Resistance, durability, immovability. One day the soldiers tell them to stay twenty meters away from the dirt road, the next day they say two hundred. Today the demand was forty, they must herd forty meters from the security road and/or the arbitrary Tihum Shabbat posts without a single caravan in eyesight and who cares that the land is provably theirs with a kushan or any type of decomposing pre-Ottoman document. Zaid and his cousins refuse to comply and stay right next to the road. They argue with the Druze Civil Administration officer. There’s no legal justification to make them stand 40 meters away.

I ask the boys if they recognize any of the soldiers. Ibrahim points on a tall European looking officer. He kicked them out and cursed them two days ago. He has two minuses on his shoulders signifying that he’s a Segen, one rank higher than the Segem. I aim the camera at him.

“Oi, you, Segen! Did you kick them out of here two days ago?”

He looks straight into the camera and doesn’t reply.

“You seem in charge of this gizra during the week,” I call. “Did you curse them and force them out?”

“What, I don’t owe you anything,” he assertively half-mumbles.

“You cannot curse them and you cannot kick them out of their land and definitely cannot break cameras, you hear? Do not force them out next week when we’re not with them!”

The kids show the Civil Administration commander the video they showed us earlier. He says there’s nothing he can do about it and they’ll have to go to Kiryat Arba to file a complaint. Right, they might as well go to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Policeman Ran shows up but he’s not willing to listen. He does, however, demand for my full name, ID number and age.

When I relive the experience as I spit it out on digital paper, I spontaneously switch to present tense. In my half-lost struggle for authenticity I choose to publish inconsistencies. If you feel like taking this piece to edit and trim it for more user-friendly sharing, go ahead.

The boys have done very well. I shake their hands one by one. They’re far too young for this. The soldiers are too young for this. I am too young for this. We all are too young and alive and human for all this dread. Before we left, Eden, our vegan neuroscientist, told the soldiers of their moral obligations with his deep, calm, radiophonic voice.

I sit on a rock with Zaid and finish sketching my 1 minute speech. I throw in a saying about air and storms that I learned from Elihai’s Speaking Arabic Level 1 and something Fadel said earlier: Ihna bidna salaam minshan el-kul – we want peace for everyone. I read the speech out loud to Zaid and ask him if there are any corrections needed. “Habibi,” He tells me. “Very nice – mia bil mia.”

We sat for chai at Fadel’s place. His beautiful baby daughter sat on her mother’s lap with us and played with a red nose of a clown. We came late to Mfaqara. Gidon said, “I thought it was going to be a boring event, but it’s a party.” Our comrades told us that similar accomplishments to ours were reaped in al-Rihiyya and Tqua’.  The shabab was dancing debka in a circle on the stage. Ta’ayush activists made a circle of women dancing debka in the crowd. Taayush means living together living the end of the occupation living it good with tiny ripples of accomplishments in a dark sea of oppression.

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2 comments
  1. Molly said:

    It’s good to know your heart has been conquered by new friends, and not by the dark sea of oppression. Thanks for writing truthfully about the ways you act and speak your truth everyday. As I am far removed, I can only imagine the gratitude felt by those you try vigorously and creatively to protect. Remember that as you keep rippling, in anger, fear, or joy, you are a wonder.

  2. I enjoy your descriptive writing sharing the unique and yet mundane atmosphere of the Ta’ayush activities. It sounds like you are growing with it, very involved and learning a lot about being Israeli and living in our crazy country.
    I miss it a lot with all the good and bad.
    and thanks for sharing Lilith Laughed!

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