Random Stopping: A Day in the South Hebron Hills

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Umm Al-‘Ara’is. We must see at least twenty soldiers. The first few are friendly. They say they’d been stationed in the territories for four months. When Zev asks them to describe their duties, one of them answers, “stopping people randomly from going to work.” This sets a pattern for the day.

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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.

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Photographic Empowerment. Umm Al-‘Ara’is, spring and summer, 2022

Remember Sa’id and his many children who accompany him every week to the fields? I hadn’t seen them for nearly three years, but I could recognize them at a distance from Jibrin’s pastures (if you can call a rocky patch with a few scrubby thorns a “pasture”) as they arrived for their weekly visit on the ridge far above us. Then they descended into the next wadi and disappeared.

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The Destruction of Masafer Yatta, June 7, 2022

Fakheit, Masafer Yatta, South Hebron Hills, Occupied Palestine, June, 2022.

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The laundry gets to me, its bright colors neatly arranged by size. French theorist Roland Barthes might have called it a “punctum.” That’s the heart-stopping detail in a photograph whose personal connection pierces you and holds you. And who doesn’t relate to laundry? But the “punctum” is not limited to photographs. To walk through these ruined households is to feel the same combination of dismay and recognition over and over again.

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After Ten Years at Umm Al-‘Ara’is, March 13, 2021 (texts: Margaret Olin and David Shulman)

Sa‘id in 2019

1. Why wasn’t I there? (Olin)

It can feel like you’ve been hired as an extra chaperone at a children’s party. On most Saturdays in Um Safa, Sa‘id ‘Awad packs his wife Rima and six, seven, or eight of his fourteen children into his lively SUV, all of them bumping and bouncing on the uneven roads. After a short hike to the family’s fields in Wadi Al-‘Ara’is, the soccer games begin.

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