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.
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.
Job—Ayyub in Arabic—the most tragic figure in the Hebrew Bible, lived and suffered in Silwan, in east Jerusalem, as the Silwanis proudly say. His well, Bir Ayyub, is just down the road from the Dung Gate that leads to the Haram al-Sharif and the Western Wall. Near the top of that hill, in the Wadi Hilwe neighborhood, stands the stone house of the Sumarin family. It happens to be adjacent to the visitors’ center that the settler group El’ad has created in order to indoctrinate schoolchildren and tourists in their nationalist narrative about Silwan, which they call the City of David. They mean King David, the Psalmist. Settlers like to tell their visitors that he walked the streets of Wadi Hilwe, with their barbed-wire settler enclaves and guards carrying machine guns. I rather doubt that there was such a person, but occasionally, over the years, in the Silwan demonstrations, amidst the tear gas and the stun grenades, I’ve caught a glimpse of a heartsick poet hovering nearby, someone like Job.
I missed the pogrom at ‘Auja west, or ‘Auja Fok, last Friday, though I was just a few kilometers away with the shepherds. Some thirty armed settler thugs descended on the village at midday, wielding sticks and metal bars, creating havoc, some of which you may see here, in this video from Yaniv Junam.
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.