November 11, 2019: ‘Ein Rashshash. Text by David Shulman.

We are three—Guy, Nina, and me. We reach Rashshash with the dawn. Tea is served. How are things? “Settlers at our throat every day.”

Photograph: David Shulman, 2019

Ra’id is already out on the hills with his herd. We set off to join him, crossing the wadi, then climbing the steep slope. Here is a young boy on his donkey, coming home. “Good morning,” we say. “Careful,” he says, “they have been beating people up.” He’s scared.

Photograph: David Shulman, 2019

6:30. Guy calls the army “war room” that is situated not far away. He speaks to the duty officer in a new tone. These days, soldiers and police may be a little more amenable to our phone calls. “My name is Guy Hircefeld, I’m a human rights activist. We are at Rashshash with the Palestinian shepherds. Judging from the last few days, there is a real possibility of a clash with settlers from the outpost that calls itself ‘Angels of Peace.’ I suggest you send some soldiers now.”

Photograph: David Shulman, 2019

Things have changed here, a little,  since violent settlers began attacking the police—first on November 7th, when the police halted construction at an illegal outpost called Ma’oz Esther, not far from ‘Ein Rashshash; then this past weekend, when settlers in Yitzhar in the northern West Bank wounded three policemen who came to arrest a fugitive settler banned from being there. Yitzhar is one of the more violent places on the planet, as its Palestinian neighbors can tell you. I know it from the days when settler thugs drove out the entire population of the adjacent village of Yanun, and we brought the villagers back and stayed with them for weeks to keep them safe. This time, on Sunday, two hundred Yitzhar settlers fought the police with stones, bottles of paint, and whatever else came to hand.*

*Read more here

But no soldiers come to Rashshash so early, and ten minutes after that call we see three settlers from the outpost and their herd of sheep coming toward us. One of them is on horseback. He rides off to wreak havoc with another herd, closer to the Rashshash tents. The other two—they are adolescents, maybe 15 or 16, religious, twisted fringes flapping on their thighs, sun-caps instead of skull-caps, long ear-locks, cellphones—stride straight into the Palestinian herd, scattering it in all directions. They seem indifferent to their own herd, left far behind—the main thing is to terrorize the Palestinians, sheep and shepherd.** Thus: chaos.

**Settler-shepherds of the “Angels of Peace” outpost and elsewhere in theWest Bank straightforwardly assert that they herd sheep in order to grab land: read more here 

They’re making a lot of noise, screaming at the sheep, and one of them—we’ll call him Goldilocks, because he has very long blonde hair, like a hippie of yore, rather out of context—has a loudspeaker that’s blaring raucous music, and waving the loudspeaker in his hands he literally starts dancing his way through the herd, enjoying every moment, jumping, twirling, hopping, running from stone to stone. The sheep don’t like it.

Both the settler boys are also yelling at us. Ra’id and the remnants of the herd are fleeing far downslope, toward the Valley. Nina manages to catch up with them and stays close, protecting them, while violence unfurls higher up.

Guy is running after the young thugs, who are still dispersing the sheep; he moves fast, almost beyond belief, because the whole slope is nothing but hard jagged loops of rock and it’s almost impossible not to stumble and fall. I can’t keep up with him, but I’m trying. Then I see, maybe 30 meters away, how Goldilocks smashes into him, the dance now reduced to its vital core of hate. I rush toward him, trying hard not to lose my footing on the rocks, and I see Goldilocks kick Guy’s feet out from under him as he topples Guy onto a long slab of stone, and for the three or four minutes it takes me to reach them Goldilocks is pummeling Guy with his fists and kicking him without pause, and Guy is caught but not hitting back, until finally Goldilocks lets go and backs off.

I wish I had used those minutes to photograph it. It would have made a difference.

Guy gets to his feet. He is bleeding from the nose, and he has taken bad hits on his back and side. (Still from video by David Shulman)

Goldilocks is yelling loudly, something he thinks everyone, ovine and human, should know: “Guy attacked me.” He calls his friend, still busy with the sheep, and he calls Elchanan, the big guy in the outpost, with his happy news. Over and over again. “You’re the one who attacked,” I say, “I saw it all.”

“You’re a liar,” says Goldilocks.

“You’re the liar,” says I. So it goes. Guy’s phone rings. It’s his daughter. “Abba, can you pick me up today after school?” (Still from video by David Shulman)

Then, from the mouths of these not-yet-men, maybe never-to-be-men, worthy of the name, the usual curses and insults and vicious words are spit out in a steady stream. Always the same trite, repetitive, infinitely impoverished thoughts, if you can call them thoughts. After a while, disgusted, furious, I say to them: “Have you ever heard that God said, ‘Thou shalt not steal’? It’s in the text.” “Oh,” one says, “so you agree that these are the texts.” “Of course,” says I, “they are texts. I know them a little. You and I could compete to see who knows them better.” For a moment, he’s off balance. Only a moment. “But you just select whatever text you happen to like and forget all the others,” says Goldilocks. “You know,” says I, “that sentence about not stealing seems to me unequivocal. Doesn’t require a lot of commentary.” Then I can’t resist adding: “And because you are stealing the land and the livelihood and the lives of these shepherds, who are people just like us, one day—maybe sooner than you think—you won’t be living here. Remember what I told you.” Goldilocks smiles.

Still from video by Nina Clark

We climb back up over the hills, weary now, though it’s only 7:45, and coming toward us are two army jeeps and one police car. Just an hour late. We tell them what happened. They take our identity cards. They’re not hostile this time, not the soldiers, not the policemen. Elchanan, however, the arch-settler, arrives, and they all shake hands, as usual. They’re friends, sort of. One of the soldiers says to us, “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t come here this morning.” Which must, in some crooked way, be true.

Elchanan, 2018 [photograph: Margaret Olin]

The shepherds in the tents welcome our return, and they are eager to hear the story. They are sad. Again and again they say, “Mit’asfin—we are sorry.” We tell them we’re OK, it’s all OK, and that if they stand firm over the coming days, things will get better, there will be some quiet. More tea and a rough breakfast of pita, olive oil, tomatoes. I can see our hosts are moved. Guy recalls the moment—April 21, 2017—when fifteen settlers attacked the Ta’ayush activists at al-‘Auja Foq, Upper ‘Auja, and many were badly hurt, head wound, broken foot, deep hits. Soon after that there was a demonstration against another new outpost in the northern Valley. At first the ‘Auja Palestinians were hesitating about coming to join us, but then they decided: “If you have lost blood for our sake, we cannot say no to you now.”

Photograph: David Shulman, 2019

We drive to the Binyamin police station to file a complaint against Goldilocks. It takes time; it’s cold in the station; we wait. Our pictures aren’t good enough, but there is one eyewitness, me,  whose testimony might count for something. The policewoman takes down Guy’s statement, then mine. Meanwhile, other guests arrive at the station to file a complaint (against Guy). It’s Goldilocks and an obese, wildly unkempt, ugly giant of a settler, maybe some terrible ersatz father? We’ve seen him before. He seems to call the shots at “Angels of Peace.” The waiting room is rife with the intimacy of enmity and struggle. But Goldilocks is looking rather deflated, slouching, sullen, awkward, like a kid lost in the world. Maybe hitting and hurting and screaming and lying don’t really suit him. Maybe it’s not such a fun dance after all, especially when it’s over.

Until the next time.

text: David Shulman ©2019

photographs: Most photographs and video stills were taken during the activities described in this post. The unidentified photographs were taken in ‘Ein Rashshash in December, 2018, by margaret olin © 2019.

Reflections of a demonstration: the woman’s march, 2017, New York City

I am trying to make the best out of an unwelcome break from the Palestinian territories with a few modest digressions. This one, from January, 2017, could also have been titled “the lonely demonstration.” I prepared it in a more innocent time, but never posted it until a thread on crowd photography, on the FlakPhoto Network, inspired me to take it out of mothballs. The third to last image is the cover of a book due out next week, Photography and Imagination, which I co-edited with Amos Morris-Reich.

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Continue reading

June 22, 2018 Al-Auja, Khan al-Ahmar. Post by David Shulman, Photos: Margaret Olin and others

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Mhammad and his flock last month. photograph: Margaret Olin

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Today the shepherds wanted to set out at dawn. In summer, here on the outskirts of Jericho, by 9 or 9:30 in the morning it’s already over 38 degrees (100 Fahrenheit)—too hot even for goats. So we leave Jerusalem at first light, and by 6:30 we find Mhammad deep in the desert, close to the fenced-off date-palm grove of the settler Omer, who calls all the shots. Mhammad greets us happily; he’s in a good mood; so far things are quiet. “Soldiers? Have you seen any soldiers?” he asks. “Not yet,” we say. Continue reading

June 2, 2018, Ramadan: Umm al-Amad and Bi’r al-Id. Post by Margaret Olin

1. Umm al-Amad

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Three weeks ago,  resourceful little Walaa was quick-witted enough to use her cell phone to film settlers flying a drone and when the settlers suspected her, to pretend convincingly to be on a call with her aunt. A week later, she leaned against Aziza’s legs, drooping and coughing. Continue reading

Demolition, Liberation: May 5, 2018, Al-Mirkez. Post by Margaret Olin

20180505-BC5A3149crvShe 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

March 23: Along the Road to Bet She’an. Post by Margaret Olin

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Gavriel is the one running, the one with the flowing hair. He looks like he might be at home in a coffee shop with a guitar on his knee, passing a joint. I remember Gavriels like him from my adolescence, non-violent activists who sang of peace. As we shall see, I believe even this Gavriel may see himself as a messenger of peace.

Apologies: The remainder of this post is temporarily removed. I hope to republish it soon.

 

February 10, 2018: Susya, Twaneh, Tuba. Post by David Shulman.

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A compound in Susya, 2015. Photograph: Margaret Olin

The hardest part was not the settlers’ attack but sitting in the home of Abu Saddam in Susya. His home—four canvas-roofed tents, an outhouse, a water tank, and a perennial lemon tree—is one of the seven scheduled for immediate demolition, with the blessing of the Supreme Court. The others belong to the Nawaja families. First in line, in the center of the village, is the compound of ‘Azzam Yusuf Jad‘a Nawaja. Almond trees are in full bloom in Susya, intermittent bursts of white amidst thin traces of green and great splashes of brown. They’re waiting for the bulldozers to arrive. It could happen any time. Continue reading

January 7, 2017: Asael, Susya, Twaneh, Umm al-Khair

text David Shulman; photographs Margaret Olin

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Asael, possibly the ugliest of all the illegal outposts in the southern West Bank—and the competition is fierce—is rapidly expanding. Yellow bulldozers, parked at the perimeter fence of the settlement, have carved out a huge swathe of intermeshed, criss-crossing gashes in the hill and valley just below. This wide, deep wound in the soil has been sliced, needless to say, through privately owned Palestinian land. We know the families. We’ve plowed here, on the edge of the outpost. There have been many bad moments with the Asael settlers, the ones we can see this Shabbat morning walking their dogs over the hill or praying to their rapacious god or swinging their children on the swings in the painted park just under their pre-fab caravans. Continue reading