Take our picture! Umm Al-‘Ara’is, October, 2022

“Why are these children so wild?” the soldier asked me.

“Could it be because their father has just been arrested?” I answer.

“And do you know why he was arrested? Because he was in a closed military zone.”

“But he was on his own land.”

“You are making me laugh.”

“So who’s land is it?”

“Have you never heard of Abraham? When he was here thousands of years ago, there weren’t any … Palestinians.” The pause before the word “Palestinian” seemed to express a certain distaste.

I am with the `Awad family again. I wanted to visit beautiful Umm al-Amad, but Guy told me that Sa’id’s worsening situation needs documenting. He was right.

Since soldiers can make it hard to reach Sa’id’s fields, we split up.  Zeev, Pepe and I, an unintimidating gray-haired trio, take the more public route. We loiter in the deserted sheds and animal pens of the Palestinian village of Simri, whose inhabitants couldn’t take it anymore and left.

The others enter by a back way. Military vehicles arrive as expected.

The soldiers spot us and prevent us from entering a “closed military zone.”

Waving his cellphone, the officer shows us the line that we are not allowed to cross. On his phone is a map of the whole area.

The closed zone is marked somewhere but the officer has a hard time making me understand where it is. He keeps asking me to move back a few steps, or forward, never quite in the same place.

Our friends are already below, watching Sa’id argue with other soldiers who try to prevent him from entering the closed military zone. Doubtless he is explaining that even a CMZ order cannot legally keep him from his own land.

Finally, the impatient soldiers detain Sa’id.

They take him away to meet the police, the only ones who can make an actual arrest.

And they direct Sa’id’s wife Rima and the children up the hill where we can’t see them.

At the top, the line of soldiers keeps the children out of sight.

There is an altercation. The soldiers want us to leave; Zeev insists that we have to see the children and ensure their safety; the soldiers refuse to grant the request. One volunteer is detained.

The children’s father can’t be up to any good, the soldiers charge, because he didn’t bring implements to work the land. Zeev counters that the soldiers have forbidden Sa’id from bringing any tools to his land. Then they want to know why and how the activists duped an innocent woman (me) into coming with them. Eventually, the decision is made that I, and only I, will allowed to see the children, from a distance, accompanied by a soldier. I may take exactly one picture. No one explains the consequences should I take more than one.

So I end up surrounded by five soldiers, dripping with weapons, who ask me leading questions like why children run around and act wild. A searching religious discussion ensues. Trying to determine whether I am as Jewish as I claim to be, they asked taunting “ah hah!” questions like “What is a lulav?” This frond must have been on their mind since it was currently the holiday of Sukkot, where one dines outside in a hut called a Sukkah and shakes a frond from a date palm, called a “lulav,” together with a citron called an “etrog.” Knowledge of such details is what distinguishes a true Jew.

The soldiers press me into service taking pictures of them. One gives me his email address to send him the pictures. But look: another one refuses to participate. There is always one. At least we hope there is one.

In turn I ask them questions. Do they know they are part of an occupying army? (they aren’t; “remember Abraham? Boy are you dense”). Is there a such thing as a democracy that denies whole groups of people the right to vote? “You must be some kind of comedian.” But they let me take my one picture.

Of course we do not leave, but entertain ourselves in the abandoned village while soldiers keep watch.

The children reappear. Kamar confronts the soldiers,

but after I give her the photographs I have printed from this past August, she sits quietly tending the envelope.

The other wild children crowd around me: “Take our picture! Take our picture!”

Sa’id and the volunteer are released after some three hours of detention. No charges. We can go home. Another day in the South Hebron Hills. Hard to say why it is so good to be back.

text and photographs Margaret Olin © 2022

9 thoughts on “Take our picture! Umm Al-‘Ara’is, October, 2022

  1. Pingback: Random Stopping: A Day in the South Hebron Hills | Touching Photographs

  2. Such hard going to be there as a civic witness in a situation that incrementally changes for the worse and yet your presence by sharing this unjust and lamentable situation to the outside world gives hope, reminds the Israeli state that it isn’t going away. I salute your courage and persistence.

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