Photographs tend to personalize, not to visualize, as is the nature of microcosms. It is hard to avoid the temptation to focus a camera on the lone child standing beside one ruined house rather than on the systematic character of land appropriation as seen in borders and structures and other visual signs that articulate land through materials and shapes.
On this day the microcosm is a micro victory: The members of a Palestinian family were too afraid for years to enter their land next to the Israeli settlement Metzad (Asfar). But they realized that visual signs of neglect on the land could eventually lead to a declaration of abandonment followed by confiscation. They decided to risk returning.
With the promise of support from Israeli activists from the organization Ta’ayush who accompany them, they began to tend their land again. Last week, they made their micro victory visible. From a thicket of dense bushes they trimmed away years of neglect, first with a power hedge trimmer and then with more delicate clippers.
Watchers and learners helped make or gazed through piles of trimmed branches – – farmer’s child, volunteers, and soldiers from the civil administration
and the shape of an orchard began to emerge like a statue freed from a block of marble.
And abandoned eruv poles. An eruv is a symbolic courtyard used by orthodox Jews. You may read a previous post about eruvin here or familiarize yourself with them visually here. For one day each week, Shabbat, an eruv turns a neighborhood encompassing many private dwellings into one shared home for anyone who lives there and wishes to take part. The transformation allows its inhabitants to carry things (a prayer book, a meal, a key or handkerchief) from their private homes into the public space and throughout the eruv, an activity otherwise forbidden on that day. For some people, Shabbat would be a somber affair without an eruv. To construct one involves a complex series of rules originating in a notoriously difficult Talmudic tractate devoted to the subject. In South Hebron, as in Israel, characteristic eruv poles connected by strings or wires high above the ground usually mark the “walls” of the shared home. People who do not need an eruv may never notice it, and often something must be attached to the line to make it even faintly visible to those who do. Yet the owners of the land through which the eruv runs, whether users of the eruv or not, must give permission for the boundary markers through their own authorities.
When I first heard of the eruv I thought it beautiful, a subtle way to mark space that makes community while acknowledging others among whom one lives.
Yet when I first visited South Hebron two years ago, I immediately noticed differences in the eruvin. Eruv lines extend for miles through what appears to be wilderness, through farmland and uninhabited areas where I thought eruvin were not supposed to go.
In these settlements, or rather near them, an eruv helps create facts on the ground that can, like untended olive trees, encourage dispossession. I knew that it would be just a matter of time before I would cross an eruv line and have to show a passport. It happened sooner than I thought it would, about a year ago near the settlement Mitzpe Yair, not far from which some of these photographs were taken, as I passed under the eruv shown in the photograph below.
An eruv is a sensitive border. Its movements, in relation to utility poles that it parallels and which tower above it, to barbed wire fences along which it runs; and to the movements of shepherds and the civil administration, articulate the land.
When the land changes, the poles are abandoned.
Or they are abandoned because the symbolic walls are replaced with real ones
The new, agressive significance of the eruv is well understood. When, in a rare move, the civil administration demolished a settlement building, it also uprooted and broke the eruv poles used to claim the land around the building.
A few meters away settlers had uprooted olive trees.
The day at Asfar ended badly. Fortunately the new walls and fences, if not the defunct barbed wire and eruv poles, kept the young settlers far enough away to give us time to escape the heavy, slow moving rocks with which they celebrated Shabbat.
Later they taunted us
while police and civil authorities ignored our complaints. You can watch the incident in Guy Butavia’s video here.
We only hope that the farmers, who fled with their frightened three-year-old child, will return again.
In the long run, the most important spatial articulation involves stark juxtapositions like this one
between a neat red-roofed Israeli settlement on the hill and a poor village of tents below. The authorities, after evicting the residents of Susiya years ago from their historic village, will not issue a permit for a single permanent structure in the village that the farmers reconstituted on their lands. If villagers look up they see a settlement and beyond that the huge power lines that service it. Perhaps they see the eruv lines coursing through the valley that lies between the settlement and the village. What do the settlers see when they look down?
Here the eruv allows residents to live against, rather than with, other people, and some residents make use of its blessings to carry, and to throw, rocks.
text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2016