חיילים תמיד מתאמנים לאחת המלחמות״
“Soldiers are always training for one war or another,” says Yehuda Amichai in one of his poems. For the Bedouins of the Abu al-Kibash clans in the northern Jordan Valley, several times each year, the Army’s training exercises on their lands means forced evacuation. The arbitrary declaration of military “firing zones” in the Valley is an instrument for mass expulsion of Palestinian Bedouins. A large percentage of all the lands of the Jordan Valley belong to this category. There is no attempt to hide the final goal.
This year the training exercises are scheduled to go on for close to a month, from May 12th to June 5th, and it’s not just any month. It’s Ramadan.
These exercises in Firing Zone 903, which includes Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta, “Lower Humsa,” have a baffling schedule; here is the paper the army handed out, marking the times when the Bedouin families had to leave their homes.
The timings shift from day to day. The first day, May 12th, they were forced to move whatever they could take with them at 2:00 PM and to stay away until 10:00 the following morning. They were fasting since before dawn, and both the meagre (uncooked) evening iftar meal and the pre-fast suhur the next morning were eaten in their temporary encampment on a desolate rock-and-sand hillock they call Humsa al-Foqa, “Upper Humsa.” Some slept outside under the stars. It’s no small matter to move your home, including sheep and goats, your tractor (if you have one), also your tools, beds, and foodstuff, in 40-degree Centigrade heat after half a day of fasting, including no water. As Amira Hass writes in Haaretz, some families had to leave behind their new-born kids and their mothers [with premium access you can find the article here. Accessible version here]
“It’s not just a headache,” Ahmad says. He’s 20, still unmarried. “We’ve never experienced such a massive displacement, and never in Ramadan (except once, for a single day). These are holy days. It’s cruel. You can only call it a crime (jarime).”
We sit with him and Yasir in a dusty tent open to the fields. They bring us tea. Guy tells them that on Sunday the Supreme Court will sit in judgment on their appeal to shorten the exile because of Ramadan. The appeal, presented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in the name of the Bedouin, states that “the removal of these families contradicts the most basic duties of the army commander in occupied territory under international law. The policy of the army is one of forcible expulsion in order to use the land resources of occupied territory, including private property taken over for this purpose.” (International law is here embodied in the Hague Rules of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention; but the fundamental principles of Israeli public law also apply to the same effect.) This would be a good moment for those of you who want to help, to send an email or fax to any Israeli Embassy or Consulate, or to your own government, protesting the eviction of the Bedouins of Khirbet Humsa during Ramadan.
Ahmad has 400 sheep who have gone into exile with him. The other fourteen families have even more. In the distance, a herd is hurrying back toward the encampment in a swirl of dust. It’s midday; hot. Dull echoes of gunshots. There’s another dimension to this business. Firing live ammunition in the hot season often sparks wildfires in the grazing grounds and fields. Last week there were six in a single day, and a large area was reduced to charred barrenness. The shepherds called us in desperation. There was reason to fear that the fires would reach the sheep-pens and the baby lambs left behind. It’s not clear if the army has fire-trucks and hoses near the shooting spaces.
But worst of all is the insult. The army’s legal department issued a statement claiming, against all existing evidence, that the Abu Al-Kibash Bedouins are “illegal aliens” who arrived in Area 903 after it had already been declared a fire zone. Who is calling whom an illegal alien?
The holiday marking the end of the fast, ‘Id al-Fitr, will take place on June 4th-5th this year. For part of both days, the Bedouin families will be out in the open with no possibility of preparing the festive meal, let alone hosting the family visits that are an intrinsic part of this celebration. Readers who know about Ramadan, its surpassing beauty and haunting prayers, will understand what this exile means. They call it ikhla: “emptying, voiding, draining, evacuation.” We hear the word over and over again today.
Soldiers train for the unthinkable fate that awaits them, and Palestinian shepherds practice for the day they’ll be loaded onto trucks and dumped across an immovable line drawn in the sand by a colonial bureaucrat. It’s happened before. Meanwhile, the Israeli settlement of Hemdat sits happily with its grassy lawns deep inside the firing zone.
Today’s sorrow is, in theory, transient. Also, not in theory, cumulative. Ramadan will end, the Abu Al-Kibash shepherds will return to their homes until the next time the officer comes waving a paper with the schedule. Eventually a moment arrives—or perhaps we are already there– when inflicting cruelty is a pleasure to be savored.
text: david shulman © 2019