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

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. Aziza, clearly concerned, kept feeling Walaa’s forehead and eventually sent her home.

20180519-BC5A4000crplvlcrv2.jpgThat first weekend of Ramadan was exceptionally hot, over 30 degrees in the shade. The children were limp.

20180519-BC5A3997crplvlcrvMembers of the activist group Ta’ayush travel from Jerusalem to South Hebron every week on Shabbat, answering requests from Palestinian shepherds and farmers to accompany them and their flocks to their lands which are close to Israeli settlements. On Ramadan it is not always obvious why we make the trip. In fact, there are fewer volunteers than at other times, and we don’t see many Palestinians either. Here, in Umm al-Amad, without so much as water to sustain them on a hot day, shepherds rarely venture down from the hills near home with their flocks into the more intense heat of the valleys close to the settlements.

After sending Walaa home, Aziza remained safely uphill with the sheep. Come earlier next time she says and we do. Today, beginning with Umm al-Amad, I try to comprehend why we are here. As it turns out, soldiers and settlers make the task easier.

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We arrive by seven, and it is cooler than last week. From under her canopy, we hear Aziza explain that she will stay home today anyway with both children. We follow Seff and the sheep through the morning fog past orchards where walls of tires protect the new trees from the goats. From there we descend into the wadi.

20180602-BC5A4434crvWhen the fog lifts, we are joined by soldiers. One of us overhears their report: “There are four anarchists here.” The soldiers’ task is to keep the shepherd and the flock away from the settlement by drawing an imaginary line and preventing them from crossing it.

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These are city boys from Tel Aviv, loaded down with weaponry, but determined to enjoy a day in the country.

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They pose for pictures and baa at the sheep,

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It’s a poor substitute for the sound of the shepherd, who controls his flock through virtuoso cries and high-pitched whines as well as strategically aimed stones.

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Eventually we all settle down to the game of watching: Seff watches the sheep; the soldiers watch Seff and the anarchists; and the anarchists (Guy, Pepe, Caron and me) watch everyone, including each other.

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Once Seff crosses another imaginary line, safely beyond the boundary of the settlement, the soldiers drive away. Is it an empty exercise? The shepherds say no. They ask us to come because when they arrive without “anarchists” they have reason to be afraid.

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2. Bi’r al-Id

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With little we can do to help, we use Ramadan to do tasks on our own. One of them is to labor on the impassable road from Bi’r al-‘Id.  Someday it will lead, as it once must have, to Jinba.

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Our hands encased in hot plastic work gloves, we collect rocks from the slopes and bring them to the road in buckets. Then as though assembling a jigsaw puzzle, we artfully arrange the rocks in the gaps: little rocks go here, bigger rocks go there, and the biggest rocks go in the deepest holes.

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If only we could import heavy equipment and truckloads of materials the work would have ended long ago. At this rate only the youngest among us might live to see it finished. We have written about this absurd process before: here and here. But at least on a hot day like today we will not stay long and I have never known settlers to disturb this work.

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Until today. “How about ten more buckets of rocks?” Amiel says, “and then we’ll leave.” At this moment, the two grown sons of the deceased owner of nearby Nof Nesher (population 4) arrive with a friend. They bring with them police, with whom they have lodged numerous complaints about us, and soldiers. We are picking wild Zatar, a protected plant; the land on which we are working is theirs; a nine-year-old Palestinian girl has tried to stab them. As it happens, zatar does not grow along this road (The zatar ban is a story in itself: you can read about it here); their settlement is illegal even according to Israeli law, and no map places the road on their farm; the story about the child is nonsense.

Documents in hand, the police check our IDs or passports, draw some of us, and some of the settlers aside, and begin nearly endless discussions.

20180602-BC5A4690lvlctr.jpgAll this time volunteers are hurriedly continuing the work. Bucket after bucket of rocks pour out onto the road and punctuate the conversations of the bored girlfriend, the shouting of the loudmouth brother in the green hat and the sullen responses of the one in the white tee shirt. Most of the conversation is out of earshot but occasionally a shouted phrase comes through like “Eretz Yisrael!”; “All this is ours!” Did I hear one of them yell “Misrahi!” at the soldier with the Arabic accent?

The soldiers and the police are not fond of these two who constantly bring complaints, but they are not fond of us either. Their lives would be easier if we would only stay in Jerusalem minding our own business.

20180602-BC5A4758crvNow the brothers carry out a clever plan. They start to pick up stones we have fitted into the road and toss them back onto the slopes. As one glances in my direction I recognize a grimace I used to see frequently in my middle school days.

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20180602-BC5A4762lvlcrv.jpgWhen they tire of throwing stones they start to build piles of them like little toy roadblocks.

20180602-BC5A4743crpcrv.jpg“I have at least as much right to move rocks around the road as they have.” Finally, one policeman loses his patience.

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A soldier declares the zone closed and everyone leaves. First the brothers leave, and then we pick up our tools and leave, too. We leave hurriedly, because suddenly we are under pressure: we have five minutes to gather our people, gather our things and leave.

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Aggravated, I complain as we walk back toward the beginning of the road. But Amiel, who sees possibilities in nearly every situation, reminds me that thanks to the brothers, we worked longer and accomplished more than we would have otherwise. They were, after all, the only reason we stayed. Did I notice any soldier who may be motivated to rethink the occupation by what happened this afternoon?

I don’t know.

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But what about the rocks that the settlers threw off the road?

Trivial.

 

3. Highway 356, between Hebron and Bani Na’im.

20180602-BC5A4778crvOn the way back to Jerusalem we pass a ruined vineyard, like one we passed on highway 60 last week. This time, its owners are standing by the side of the road.

20180602-BC5A4818crvWe stop and let Mohammed and Abu Abdella show us how the dead vines, cut near the base by settlers, still hang from the top of the structure built to support them.

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20180602-BC5A4805crvlvlThey show us a cellphone picture of the same graffiti we saw last week at a burnt wheat field at Ad Deirat: “Enough agricultural terror. We will spread everywhere.”

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They invite us in, but there is no way to serve us anything. After all, it is Ramadan.

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Suddenly my throat feels parched, even though I have been drinking water all day.

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text and photographs margaret olin © 2018

2018-06-02 11.48.29

From Bi’r al-‘Id, about Susya (David Shulman)

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View of Susya June, 2015

David Shulman’s prose is vivid enough. But I hope my photographs will help convince any doubters that Susya (also spelled Susiya) is neither a theoretical nor a literary entity. Click on any photograph to enlarge it, and share this post, especially with anyone who can help.

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A previous Ramadan Saturday at Bi’r al-‘Id. 8:00 AM

July 11, 2015   Bi’r al-‘Id

From early morning, when the air is still almost cool, until noon, when the sky is aflame, we work on the rock-and-dirt path to Bi’r al-‘Id. First you gather the medium-size rocks from the side of the road and the hill and arrange them in even rows; then you gather many bucketfuls of gravel and sand, scraped with rakes and picks from the caked surface of the soil, and pour this over the rocks; then you cover it all with earth carried in buckets from wherever you can find it. You split open the biggest boulders on the path with a pick-ax or heavy hammer. It took us three and a half hours to even out 15 meters or so of the path. It’s good work. As Yair says with a smile, it has a Zen-like quality, this endless filling of buckets and carrying them over the thorns and stones uphill. Besides, it’s something good to do during Ramadan, when everyone is fasting and there’s little activity of the shepherds and almost no agricultural work to be done.

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The same day, 1:00 PM

It’s a long path to Bi’r al-‘Id, just barely passable today by vehicles except for the patches that we’ve upgraded like this over the last years. We calculate that if we work like this for another two hundred days or so, the whole length will be finished. By then, I say in gloomy jest, the Occupation will surely be over. Meanwhile, Bi’r al-‘Id exists, a miracle, a source of pride, for here, at this tiny point overlooking the desert under the shadow of the settlement of Mitzpeh Yair, we helped not only to stop the remorseless movement of expulsion but even to reverse it, for now.

As I work, fried by sunlight, I think mostly of Susya, not far away. We know for sure that very soon, probably between the ‘Id festival at the end of Ramadan and the sitting of the Supreme Court on August 3rd with Susya on its agenda, the State of Israel will demolish at least some of the Susya homes. They have what they must consider a window of opportunity; the bulldozers are already sitting nearby. For years this demolition-cum-expulsion has been threatening to happen, for years we’ve managed to stall it by a fierce campaign with effective international pressure, but now, under the new government, we’ve reached the point of destruction, unless some of you can mobilize someone out there. We don’t yet know how many homes they will liquidate in the first round. Perhaps “only” a few. I am confident that Susya will somehow survive, but first there will be sorrow and horror, and the Israeli settlers in the settlement they, too, call Susya, stealing not only the land but also the name, will rub their hands in glee.

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Fatma in Susya’s embroidery shop

There can be no doubt that we are awaiting a crime, a crime against humanity, a crime that undermines the integrity, if that is the right word, of this state, a crime against the conscience of every Israeli, whether they know it or not, whether they have a conscience or not. Here is what Vladimir Jankélévitch (a new hero of mine) has to say about that: “The moral conscience is not a particular thing in the mind like the color blue, the association of ideas, or the love of women. The moral conscience does not exist. But we discover our conscience proper on the day when certain actions that are legal or indifferent or permitted by the police inspire in us an insuperable disgust” (The Bad Conscience: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 35).Conscience, apparently, is mostly a potential capable of being activated, if we are lucky, under special, or maybe even ordinary, conditions—thus capable of becoming real.

20150606-IMG_5986lvl-2crv2crplvlBut for me, today, thinking of Susya, this goes well beyond disgust. My moral conscience, such as it is, seems to inhabit the pores of my skin and my ability to love. It comes from a site where the word “moral” has not yet been born, and only from that dark place does it reach toward my mind. I know next to nothing about morality, but like all other persons, I know about pain. As for the action in question, it is not merely permitted by the police but initiated and actively pursued by the government and abetted by the courts

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Comet-Me, an Israeli NGO, supplies energy systems, and the training to install and maintain them, to communities that are not connected to the electricity grid because of political reasons. A resident of Susya volunteers to show me theirs.

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Susya is not some theoretical entity somewhere on a map that is itself an abstraction. Susya is the home of Nasser and his family, including his baby daughter; of the large Nawaja’ clan, many of whom we know well from years of visits and protests and summer camps and meals and celebrations and nights in the desert; of the wind turbines that Noam and Eldad put up years ago, and of the wells we have cleaned of their ancient silt; of several friendly and idiosyncratic donkeys and dogs, and of the olive trees we have harvested together with our friends; home to the winter winds and the summer sun and the special smell of the rocks and the thorns. Suppose the soldiers throw Nasser and his wife and children, including the baby, out of their home and mow it down with the bulldozer. The Nawaja’ family will live, they will of course rebuild, as they have before, but I, for one, I promise you, will never forgive.

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Members of the Nawaja family, above and right

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States, I suppose, are routinely cruel to their citizens. In the case of Israel, the Jews are routinely cruel to Palestinians. For nearly five decades, the Occupation has poisoned us all with its lunatic bureaucracy, its violent settlers and soldiers, its delight in stealing land, its innate racism, its pervasive rule of terror. All this we know, it is nothing new. What is new is the scale of what they want to do to Susya, and after that—who knows to whom? It is hard to think about wickedness inflicted on millions, but it is not hard at all to imagine wickedness directed at a family I know and love.

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Two young residents of Susya, Manar and Qamal, correct a photographer’s spelling of their names.

So for me, waiting for the crime to happen, waiting to see the state torment and injure and violate my friends, driving them from their homes and their ancestors’ lands, driving them out with guns and patronizing words about what the state thinks is good for them, for me there is a question about what a decent human being can or must do in such a time and place, and what a decent person can and must say in words, because words matter, too. Perhaps some of you, my readers, know the answer.

20150613-IMG_6326-2lvlcrvcrpsat2text: David Shulman   Photographs and captions: Margaret Olin

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Obstructed Vision 2: Filling Holes in a Road June 13, 20, 2015

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In South Hebron, vision is obstructed in ways that are clearly visible.

20150613-IMG_6358crv“All That’s Left: A Diaspora Collective Against the Occupation” has been planning for weeks a show of support for Susiya, a village threatened with immanent demolition that has appeared more than once on this site. The idea was to converge on Susiya on Friday, June 12 for an overnight visit, learn about it and support it

 

20150613-IMG_6343crpby working on significant projects.

20150613-IMG_6360crpSome 70 young women and men participated, joined on Saturday by Israelis from activist organizations like Ta’ayush. Because of the demolition threat, Susiya has become a symbol of anti-occupation work and supporters of the boycott against Israeli products made in settlements. A few weeks ago Susiya hosted representatives of the European Union in the same tent where All That’s Left is meeting this week.

A road used by the village is badly damaged. Initially the young activists believed that they could bring20150606-IMG_5969lvlcrv construction materials and equipment and pave the road properly. More seasoned activists from the village and from Israel were able to help them better channel their energy and enthusiasm. It is important to face the reality of the situation and abandon the assumptions you bring with you, both about tangible matters like building roads and intangible matters like how to help.

 

20150620-IMG_6555lvlA group of them are indeed working on the road. While the several truckloads of materials necessary to do the job would never make it past the checkpoint, filling holes in a road is itself a good idea for a group of twenty-somethings. This work accommodates any speed, any level of skill and any size group, by itself or with any number of other activists. The cheerful but serious sounds of their discussions give the occasion the feeling of an oppositional answer to Taglit-Birthright, free ten-day trips whose aim is to encourage young Jews to identify with Israel and later to marry other Jews. By the following week it is Ramadan, and road work is something activists can do without supervision or help. So, for a few more weeks, Ta’ayush volunteers will continue working on the road.

Here, where it is forbidden to bring in materials or machinery, it can take an infinite amount of time to quarry rocks and fill holes first with large rocks, then smaller,

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20150620-IMG_6594crvcrp2strtand collect dirt to cover the rocks.

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20150613-IMG_6447crplvllvlFeet and vehicles finish the task.

20150613-IMG_6455lvl-EditNot that there is really any danger of finishing.20150627-IMG_6909

Some of worst parts of the the road are too near a settlement even to think about working there.

So while it is certainly helpful to fill some holes and smooth out some of the deep pits in the road, the road work is really a sign – like one that members of All That’s Left are painting back in the village.

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The work is a more beautiful sign, certainly. After all, quarrying can be photogenic. For all appearances this is a group of Halutzim, Zionist pioneers, clearing the land.

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20150613-IMG_6425lvlcrpHalutzim and even Birthright trips are frequent themes in All That’s Left’s website, Facebook page, and blog where members post photographs of themselves at work, contribute accounts of their experiences as young activists and perhaps recruit more members.

Activists young and old need an imaginative vision of our work.  Our visions differ one from another, but all have in common that they help us to avoid looking at the road and the insurmountable task of fixing it. When I ask fellow volunteers where this road leads, one person answers: the road leads to hope. No, answers another, the road leads to despair.

20150620-IMG_6642lvlcrp2The road leads to Yatta, the nearest city. It is one of two roads that the inhabitants of Susiya can take to reach the city with their goods and shopping baskets. The goal is to help them get there.

The goal is also to keep them away from Yatta. The demolition order against Susiya is contested, but in May a judge on the Supreme Court refused to stay the demolition in advance of the hearing in August. Many in the government, the nearby settlement, and the Civil Administration are set on demolishing the houses and forcing the residents of Susiya to move. They hope to send them to Yatta, whose inhabitants already have to deal with overcrowding, serious problems in infrastructure and in the areas of education, employment and healthcare, as well as lack of access to their land and their crops. To add 340 residents of Susiya to this mix is unlikely to improve conditions.

20150613-IMG_6397lvlSurely when local Palestinians see us working on the road, they look past the activists and see their threatened homes, in Bi’r al-‘Id, perched below the road in “Firing Zone 918” or beyond, in Susiya.

20150606-IMG_6033lvlbalSurely the settlers also see, although to avoid their notice is important to the activists. If they do happen by, however, or look from their windows, settlers may see a slight delay in their plans to expand the settlements. They may see well-meaning do-gooders who do not understand the complexity of the situation. Some of them may see traitors and foreign agitators. Thankfully, no settlers come to disturb us today.

Some watchers have power, but while we can see them, we do not know what they see. We know only that they have not yet carried out the demolition orders.

20150620-IMG_6623-lvlFilling holes in a road, then, is a detour, though a necessary one, immediate help for people where long range help remains out of reach. It is also a medium, like photography, through which the occupation and its injustices are made visible. Photography itself offers another layer through which such actions are filtered. It can help turn the tiny village of Susya into a microcosm of the occupation, hopefully for dissemination by news and social media. 20150613-IMG_6394lvlcrp

When volunteers stop to watch themselves filling holes in the road, they see hope or despair or more likely they see both.

text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

on Ta’ayush, see http://www.taayush.org on All That’s Left see http://www.allthatsleftcollective.com/

 

 

 

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