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.
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.