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.
Taybeh: the fertile wadi, Irish-green after the rains, plowed and sown with seed along with another flat stony stretch at the top of the hill—maybe 1000 dunams altogether (250 acres), enough to keep several families and their herds going for some months. The land belongs to several private Palestinian owners in the village; they rent it out to Bedouins who live there in the spring and summer, grazing their sheep and harvesting whatever is left of the crops after the settlers and their herds have gotten to them. Last year the Palestinians lost tens of thousands of shekels because of these depredations. Just yesterday one settler boy-man hit Arik hard on the head with a club, splitting in two the helmet Arik was fortunately wearing.
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.
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.
Nothing can happen in many different ways. When it does happen it is always eventful, full of tension and suspense. Sometimes nothing takes a very long time, and often a lot of work to happen. Here are three brief stories: