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.
A-Rakiz is perched on the sharp spine of a rocky ridge in the South Hebron hills. It would be a charming, if rugged, place to live were it not for the ruins of its houses scattered over the village lands and for the two illegal settlements of Avigail and Chavat Maon on either side. A-Rakiz has a history of house demolitions going back some years. On November 25, 2020, the army destroyed another five houses there, including that of Harun’s parents, Rasmi and Farsi, and the one Rasmi built for Harun and his bride-to-be. Since then the family has been living in one of the caves still more or less intact in the village. It’s cold in the cave during these winter months. I know, I sat there with the parents for some hours last week.
The rains have come in force, the hills are muddy, and there is food for the goats and sheep. Over morning tea in Makhul we get the weekly litany of hurts. Walid—still a boy—was out alone with the herd, and settlers came and beat him. It’s really dangerous to be alone on the hills. A large posse of settlers attacked Qadri and several others; there were two broken legs. A few days earlier, settlers killed Qadri’s uncle’s cow.
It’s a tiny dot deep in the desert, hidden in a wild sweep of hills and rock and narrow goat-tracks, brown-beige-gold. It’s the end of the world. A rough road takes you there. There’s a bigger village, Isfay, on the ridge above it; they have a health clinic and a wind turbine. Magha’ir al-‘Abid, “Caves of the Slaves,” has a few dozen souls, most of whom live in caves. Each of the caves has a carved stone façade, and inside they’re well appointed, clean, warm on this sunny mid-winter day. Outside you hear wind rippling over sand and the gentle bleating of goats and sheep.
Al-Khan al-Ahmar: still waiting. Now that Angela Merkel has come and gone, and the holiday season is over, and the court has spoken, there are no further obstacles to the coming devastation. Germany joined other EU countries in condemning the planned demolition as a war crime, and Merkel herself is clearly against it; the government politely delayed execution until after she left Israel. We had hoped she might issue a strong statement while here: hope, or desperation, conjures up hopeless dreams. Continue reading →
So there is the Big Destruction, the one everyone in Susya and in al-Khan al-Ahmar knows will happen, the one everyone fears, and there are the Little Destructions along the way, the tremors that presage what is to come, as if the army were testing the water. ‘Azzam Nawajeh, whose home is on the demolition list, says he wishes they would do the big one already; waiting day after day, for many months, in the certainty that they will come, is torture enough. This morning we thought it was happening, but in the end what we saw were two Little Destructions. They were awful. Continue reading →
She looks like a young girl from a distance, her uncovered braid floating back and forth as she sweeps, hoists broken doors, and repeatedly crosses the wide expanse with a bucket to fetch water from a cistern. But when she pauses in her chores to interact briskly and anxiously with the men and boys, I see that her face is old. I wish I could show this narrow, taut face and its look of experience and concern, but photographs of girls and all but the oldest women are banned. Yet I know I am looking at the worry of a grown woman, of a mother for her children; it is not the face of a frightened child. In spite of the uncovered hair I still wonder if somehow I could be seeing the face of a woman who failed to grow. She is off again, so I settle on the expression “diminutive person” for now. Continue reading →