Balagan in Twaneh, July 15, 2023. Text and Photographs, Margaret Olin


I read that modern Hebrew borrowed the word balagan from Russian or Polish. In all three languages, balagan means utter chaos. But chaos came later in the town of Twaneh. This hot day began quietly in Wadi Jhesch, where we were the only disruption. A man who had been asleep in the back of his truck awoke at our approach and chatted with us in his excellent English.

We went on to meet shepherds, observing them with their flock from a high perch. From there we would see any settlers who approached, and perhaps more importantly, they would see us.

No settlers materialized, and after a while, we received an emergency call about the balagan in Twaneh. Soon after, one of the shepherds climbed up to water his flock at the well, signaling the end of his grazing. So we left.

It was a good start.


And then there was the balagan.

video by Youth of Sumud

If the elderly farmer was doing anything more sinister than returning home to Twaneh in his tractor, no one seemed to know what it could have been. The soldiers offered no explanation for stopping the tractor and demanding the keys. When the farmer, Fadi, understandably asked them why, they ignored the question and yelled at him to get out. He stayed seated there until they dragged him out violently. That’s how it started, although not why it started.

The villagers tried to give him water, to convince the soldiers to let them help him to a seat on a low stone wall instead of the ground where they had left him. When I caught a glimpse of him he was lying down on the low wall. Hovering over him were villagers who had gathered and activists who had converged. Police appeared; and more soldiers.

The tractor that the soldiers had worked so hard to confiscate loitered among the onlookers, forgotten, while the soldiers focused their attention on the most important task: the show of control.

Military and police vehicles arrived in puffs of dust and smoke. They formed barriers that split the almost vertical main road through town in two.

It was as though everyone was meant to stay in place. The vehicles blocked those who were above from descending.

More vehicles and soldiers met those of us who were trying to ascend from below.

In theory, anyway. Because there are plenty of ways to get from one place to another and many opportunities to perch to see the action

or accost soldiers.

Meanwhile, soldiers flung about their toy-like drones and caught them deftly in one hand.

Children made the occasion into a game, too. They sang at the police aggressively.

Soldiers posed for their picture as if they were proud of their work. But they knew that their secrets were safe. And they refused to divulge their identities or answer any questions about their work.

The police and soldiers entered and searched houses chosen for unknown reasons. They grabbed people, including a middle-aged volunteer who broke away from them but later followed them on one of the searches.

“We recognize you,” they said. “And we remember arresting you.” Not receiving the response they wanted, they escalated their taunt: “And we are going to arrest you again.” Since he failed to react to the increased provocation, they tried a more direct method, using fists and, perhaps accidentally, a rifle butt. “The occupation keeps me young,” the scratched and bruised volunteer later quipped.

But Fadi, the farmer, left in an ambulance. That is, once the soldiers finally granted entry to one.

They blockaded the entrances to the town.

A resident who tried to drive home with his child in his black jeep was turned back. “He lives here,” Guy repeated, over and over to the soldiers, to no avail.

video by Guy Butavia

The man explained that he had to come home because he was afraid to go back out. “There are settlers waiting outside the town.” “Don’t worry,” the soldiers told him. “Settlers wouldn’t harm you. they are good people.”

Of course, the masked soldiers have their own inscrutable conception of “good.”

photographs and text Margaret Olin © 2023 – Thanks to Guy Butavia and to Youth of Sumud for permission to include their videos.

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