October 22, 2023   Mu‘arrajat. Text by David Shulman, Photographs by David Shulman and Margaret Olin

Walls of the guest house in Mu‘arrajat. photographs: David Shulman, 2023

Very hard times. The hardest I have known. Like everyone, I’ve suffered grievous losses in my life. I buried a young, brilliant student, Liat. I’ve been to war. I’ve seen awful things happen to my friends on the West Bank. But worst of all is to watch the moral disintegration of a community, my home.

None of us here will ever recover fully from the horrors perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. Hamas has given new meaning to the word “inhuman.” You’ve seen the pictures and read the words.

Now the very survival of the state is hanging in the balance, thanks to the criminal corruption and sordid delight in destruction driving the present government in Israel and the oblivious narcissist who heads it. It’s not just about physical survival. When the war is finished—but it may take forever, or feel like forever– will we be able to re-create a community rooted in truth, decency, equality, caring?

At-Tuwane. Video: Btselem, 2023

Meanwhile, the second Nakba is proceeding apace in the occupied territories. Village after village has fallen to the marauding bands of settlers who increasingly control the West Bank. They are into shooting to kill. The soldiers stand with them and sometimes join in the violence. On October 12, in Wadi al-Siq, where I spent a night just over a month ago, settlers and soldiers arrested and beat the villagers (who were packing up to abandon their homes), threatened to kill them along with five of our activists, handcuffed three of the Palestinians, stripped them down to their underclothes, extinguished cigarettes on their bodies, pissed on them, trampled on their backs and heads, forced their faces down into muddy excrement, and tortured them for many hours. You can read about it in Hagar Shezaf’s report in Haaretz. Last week five Palestinians were shot in cold blood in the village of Qusra, near Nablus; another totally innocent man was shot in Twaneh, in the South Hebron Hills, by a settler in the presence of soldiers who stood by passively (see above). I will spare you further instances, except for one:  at the village of Mu‘arrajat, in the southern Jordan Valley, settlers from the nearby illegal outpost have been pulling Palestinians out of cars, threatening them with guns, shooting in the air, and ordering them to evacuate the village within twenty-four hours—or else. This after many months of routine settler violence and severe harassment, some of which we have witnessed.

Settlement near Mu‘arrajat. Photograph: Margaret Olin, 2023.

So last night I slept in Mu‘arrajat together with Nimrod, a fellow activist. We have our people in the village 24/7 in what we are calling “protective presence.” The Palestinians of Mu‘arrajat live in constant, unrelenting fear—like Palestinians all over the West Bank. It’s not hard to feel it once you are there.  They greeted us warmly when we arrived at dusk; fed us and cared for us like honored guests. After a week of fretting at home with a sore foot, a tooth implant, and my few remaining splinters of a heart, I couldn’t take it any longer. I can’t say I was unafraid. The settler outpost is a few hundred meters away.

Mu‘arrajat. Photograph: David Shulman, 2023

Mu‘arrajat is a large, solid village of several hundred people, many tents and some sturdier homes, scattered over a wide rocky hill and the narrow wadi at its base; there is even a Mu‘arrajat Center and a Mu‘arrajat East. We’ve accompanied the shepherds many times to their grazing ground just across the main highway. Once we had the good luck of witnessing the arrival of a newborn kid, out in those fields. By now the danger is much greater and more immediate. Last night Nimrod and I did shifts, guard duty, through the night. I had lots of time to think. It struck me that the last time I did this at night was forty-one years ago, in Lebanon. Though I was passionately against that futile war, I couldn’t have imagined then that a day would come when I would be standing, unarmed, in the dark in order to protect innocent Palestinians from fiendish Jewish settlers.

Mu‘arrajat. Photograph: Margaret Olin, 2019

The constellations whirled above me in the sky. I realized that we are now in autumn; after midnight, my old friends, the Pleiades and Orion (who is known as the Fool in the Book of Job) were in plain sight. Dogs were barking in a furious chorus, or perhaps a vibrant conversation; roosters, supposedly programmed to crow at dawn, never stopped their cock-a-doodle all night long [“Wake up! Wake up!”]. There was the faint music of the sheep bells, occasionally amplified by the donkeys practicing their scales (they need to work harder at it). After some time I noticed that a muffled high-pitched humming was coming out of the desert, never pausing, as if the sand and rocks and hills were living beings, speaking to us, seeking to assuage our pain. It worked for me. For the first time since the Hamas massacre, still heavy with sorrow and rage, I felt an alien twinge of rest, a soupçon of peace.

Mu‘arrajat. Photograph: David Shulman, 2023

At 3:30, still long before sunrise, the elegant, self-possessed ‘Aliya got up from her cot outside the room allotted to us and headed down the hill to begin her day. I heard her steps on the stones. I have never met anyone like her. Someday she will be the leader of that community. She speaks a rapid, limpid Arabic. Her brother is studying medicine, wants to become a cardiologist. As I lay there under the stars, the sweet taste of the desert in my mouth, I thought: At the end of the world, the end of time, the end of killing, it will be something like this. Somewhere a young Bedouin shepherdess will be rising before dawn to see to her family and her flock.

Mu‘arrajat, photograph: David Shulman, 2023

Driving back to Jerusalem, we passed the turn-off to Wadi a-Siq. It’s a dirt road, almost invisible unless you know it’s there. A heavy-set settler, in the usual get-up, was sitting there in his car. Smug, I suppose. Wadi a-Siq has been emptied of its people, who had become our friends. Now he and his band of thugs own the place.

Mu‘arrajat. Photograph: Margaret Olin, 2019.

text 2023 © David Shulman, photographs as credited

Mu‘arrajat, Photograph: Margaret Olin, 2019

25 thoughts on “October 22, 2023   Mu‘arrajat. Text by David Shulman, Photographs by David Shulman and Margaret Olin

    • It is chilling to see the uniformed individual (soldier?) walk off and beckon the settler to come along, leaving the seriously wounded man lying in the roadway. But neither of us took the video. It is from the human rights organization B’tselem, which makes cameras readily available and trains people to use them to film such incidents.

  1. Thank you for sharing this text overwhelming in the simplicity of the horrid truths it communicates. You have taken the only path that carries within it a redemptive possibility. Blessed are the peace makers, by your presence and your being a witness you are a peace maker.

  2. Beautiful pictures. So sorry for all the terror, the madness. For all the devastating deaths. For all the people living in fear. For your loss.

  3. You and are so brave and full of love David. Thank you for your Protective presence. My heart bleeds for all the innocent victims of hate and violence.

  4. Dear Margaret and David,

    Ever since I was following Ta’ayush in South Hebron in 2009-10, my heart is inseparably with you and your Bedouin interlocutors. Thank you for being there, for protecting the innocent people, for representing age-old Jewish humanism and universalism in these ugly times, and also for sharing your experiences with us. God bless you!


  5. Dear David, Thanks to you and Margaret both for these acts of witnessing. All adjectives fail–only hope against hope.

  6. Thanks for your sharing, Margaret! And many thanks to David. I guess what is happening now in Palestine is a turning point in our struggle. This settler-colonial system must stop now.

  7. My heart broken by Hamas and yet, knowing the reality of your work, my knowledge of this reality of the other side which has angered me for so long, your words making sense as a Jew and as witness of the brutalities of colonialism. You both are brave facing the dualities of life and war, brutal. I pray no harm comes to you both. I love you Peggy so much. My words mean nothing against your continual bravery. Blessings.

    • Nancy I love you, too, so much, and welcome your blessing. But at the moment, I am in the US while David takes all the risks, and I just go over my photographs to find ones to add to David’s, feeling bad that I am not there.

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