Gavriel is the one running, the one with the flowing hair. He looks like he might be at home in a coffee shop with a guitar on his knee, passing a joint. I remember Gavriels like him from my adolescence, non-violent activists who sang of peace. As we shall see, I believe even this Gavriel may see himself as a messenger of peace.
It is a short day for most of us. When we arrive in Na’ama, Gavriel and the other settlers are already scattering flocks belonging to Beduin shepherds. Na’ama is next to Auja, in the Jordan Valley. Israel recognizes this settlement, unlike Omer’s Farm on another side of Auja. I have been to Auja several times with Ta’ayush, an all-volunteer Israeli NGO that seeks to help Palestinians and Beduins win back land taken from them by settlers in the occupied territories administered by Israel. The international community treats all the settlements as equally illegal, but even Israel’s distinction between legal and illegal settlements is lost on the authorities here. The Civil Administration and the police protect them all as a part of Israel itself. Or perhaps superior to Israel. For the settlers here feel free to use any means necessary to run Bedouin shepherds off their nearby land. Some individual policemen or officers may ask authentic questions of documents, refuse to implement out-of-date orders and maps that they regard as little more than garbage, and even prevent settlers from harassing Palestinians on the Palestinians’ own land. But these officers tend to change their minds or disappear after a few weeks, and their replacements arrest the activist who relays a complaint. That was more or less the sequence of events that happened earlier this month.
Today, settlers and activists alike enact an often-repeated ritual in which cameras take part.
And this is the crux of the matter. It is not easy to make a video whose meaning cannot be subverted. “Don’t photograph them from the back,” Amiel helpfully instructs us before we start out. “Photograph them from the side to get an unobstructed view. When they come in close and lean on you don’t let your knee touch them. They’ll try to kick their feet up, because it makes it look as though we’ve attacked them. Don’t allow it. Above all, don’t let them fall down.”
Arik adds, “Remember if they come close, call out ‘Al tiga bi!’ (Don’t touch me.) Say it loudly enough so that you can be heard on tape.” In fact, everything we were warned of happens, and volunteers and settlers end up in a heap on the ground to the sound of “don’t touch me” and the occasional blood-curdling scream.
But so far these “hippie fascists,” as Shaiya calls this genre of settler, are non-violent in their own way. They really do sit about with their guitars singing songs of peace. In contrast to the settlers who set their dogs on sheep in South Hebron last week, killing and maiming, or settlers elsewhere in the Jordan Valley who broke arms and heads last year, the mere smacking of pot lids, the goofy running about and hollering seems almost endearing, if you don’t stop and think about what they might decide to do if this strategy fails. And given that everyone has free access to the fields, aren’t they simply exercising their right to get from one side of a herd of sheep to the other in a hurry by running through it? This, at least, is one of their schoolboy-like arguments.
Once they reach the police station, the predictable war of videos begins. Each side has its own, but every video of the scuffle shows the same event and anyone can use any video to make its argument. Ta’ayush members text back and forth all evening to locate a good, clear video of the settlers trying to scatter the flocks, the impetus for the whole event. Very soon a right wing news outlet runs a story telling how anarchists attacked settlers yet again today, and furthermore lured Palestinians into dangerous territory close to Jericho. Gavriel was quoted as saying that ten of them had attacked him and wrestled him to the ground. (see article in Jewish Voice here)
A good video of the settlers dispersing the sheep is found, but in the end it does not save the day. Although the activists are released, they are banned from the region for a period of time, just as another activist was banned last week.
Some of the other settlers try to explain the situation, which clearly we do not understand. Their answers may not help us to understand the situation, but they do help us understand why we cannot explain our point of view to them. “The Jewish people,” one of them explains, “are getting stronger and growing and you don’t like it. But you must understand that God gave us this place.”
“Yes. God drew a map.”
about Ta’ayush, see https://www.taayush.org/
text and photographs © margaret olin 2018