Ezra Nawi, Ta’ayush, and 30 seconds of video

Ezra

Ezra Nawi, May 31, 2014

“Just as they film, so we film as well”

How powerful is a photographic medium? In Israel, thirty seconds of it is enough to arrest a man and keep him incommunicado for days without access to his lawyer. Enough to prompt from the Prime Minister a vicious condemnation of those who would hide behind the hypocrisy of “caring for human rights,” and, from the Defense Minister and the Education Minister, even more extreme attacks against human rights organizations. At best, there are calls for the “moral left” to repudiate the man who is under arrest, to condemn him without a trial, as well as “to thank the two journalists for their courageous, professional work.” You can read this piece by Ari Shavit here. The officials posted their remarks on their respective Facebook pages.

So: how powerful is a photographic medium? The question has occupied me for a few decades. Most recently, on-and-off over the last year and a half, I have been using my own camera to investigate how human rights groups in Israel use their cameras. One especially has absorbed my attention, the group Ta’ayush (the name is Arabic for “living together”), a rather small all-volunteer organization that works through legal channels to win back land stolen from Palestinians in South Hebron and prevent further robberies and demolitions. On Saturdays members accompany Palestinians to their lands to protect them from settler violence while they plow, graze their sheep, plant and harvest crops. Their cameras are always in action. You can see some of my results and a few of my anxieties in past posts on this blog. Their work is heartbreaking but still manages to inspire hope. To me the group means far more than an academic exercise.

But my epigraph is not from my own research. It is a translation of some of the first spoken words in an incriminating half hour video that appeared on January 7 on Uvda, a major Israeli investigative news program. Author of the report is Omri Assenheim, an award-winning journalist. The report is about two members of the far right organization Ad Kan (meaning literally “up to here” and figuratively “enough is enough”), who “infiltrated” Ta’ayush, filmed its activities, and zeroed in on its most loud-mouthed member. The two, a young man and his girlfriend, eventually succeeded in goading him into saying something outrageous. He said that he hands over “them” (we eventually find out that “them” means Palestinians who sell land to Israelis) to the Palestinian Authority. The infiltrator asks him what happens to the people after that, and he answers that the Authority kills them, after first subjecting them to beatings. There are many problems with the “facts” that the video claims to document, and some good commentary on the film points them out.  In English I recommend David Shulman’s report here. You might also read the report in Haaretz by Amira Hass here. I will add only that I know Ezra Nawi through Ta’ayush and while he might say anything at all, he would never knowingly send anyone to his/her death. Indeed this case is no exception.

Here I want to concentrate on the video itself. When I first saw it I found it hard to imagine that anyone could take it seriously; it has all the hallmarks of a hack job, a video tabloid. Clips taken on different days are bunched together randomly and accompanied by scare music and voice-over narration that romanticizes the investigators. Images of Ad Kan members setting up their cameras are interspersed with those of scary-looking Ta’ayush volunteers. It is possible that one of those alarming “lefties” hiding behind a camera could be this writer, an aging, but not-very fearsome scholar like several other members of Ta’ayush. The founder of Ad Kan says he was horrified to hear a few such people make demeaning remarks, right in front of a young soldier, about his failure to remember the values he must have been taught in high school. The identities of the moles are hidden. The young woman’s face is blacked out in an interview, but not before we are treated to a tantalizing silhouette of her slim body in profile as she tosses back her long silky hair. I have seen many similar videos, some, for example, from anti-abortion groups in the United States seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood. The word “heavily edited” was on everyone’s lips concerning these videos, but other methods are often used to enhance such editing. Shooting so as to conceal the lips of the speaker for example, can hide the cuts that leave out words central to the speaker’s intentions.* Most of the planned-parenthood videos are far more subdued than this sensationalized video by Uvda, however. While watching it eyes roll. At least they should.

The crux of the video from Uvda centers on Nawi. There is a good deal of discussion of a putative land sale by a Palestinian who, we are given to understand, Nawi wishes to lead into a trap. But perhaps the decisive moment takes place in a car, in footage made with a hidden camera and first aired two minutes into the program. There, in less than 30 seconds, Nawi makes the above-mentioned incriminating remarks. The visuals are terrible. It is impossible to see him as he talks. Lights flash twice in the middle, blotting out everything.

But this is just a teaser toward the beginning of the program. The same conversation reappears twenty minutes later in the course of a longer discussion of the deal with the Palestinian selling land.

Or rather, the same audio reappears, but the video is different. This new video, also in the car, has a different time stamp about 15 minutes later than the first one. Or perhaps it was taken on a different day altogether, since there is only a time stamp and no date stamp on the first video. The camera angle is different. A paper in the foreground on the first run-through has mysteriously vanished and there are no blinding flashes. Only in the later video does Nawi wear sunglasses. In the middle of this new video, after Nawi says that he turns people over to the Palestinian Authority, but before he is asked what happens to such people next, there is a cut, and suddenly the time stamp registers a six-minute long gap. Were there two – or three – hidden cameras? I doubt it. Did Nawi repeat the same words with exactly the same inflection after fifteen minutes, then after another six minutes, or on other occasions altogether? I doubt that as well. Only the speaker, whose mouth is invisible in both versions, connects the visuals. At the end of the new 30-second clip you can finally glimpse his mouth and it is smiling. Is Ezra’s “vicious smile” (in the words of the Jewish Press) the reason that the conversation was attached to these visuals and not to others?

Why does the altered video matter? Am I acting like an academic book reviewer who discredits someone’s hard-won argument because of a misplaced comma or a typo? I don’t think so. At best the discrepancy reveals sloppiness in the television producers and at least one place where the video takes words out of context. We should consider the possibility that there may well be more. The incriminating words could have been spliced into the program at nearly any point. Perhaps this thirty seconds is indicative of the false premises on which the entire thirty minutes were constructed.

On this basis, a man has been subjected to death threats and then arrested. Worse, all human rights groups and especially Ta’ayush are immediately drawn in and subject to wholesale condemnation although there is no suggestion that they had anything to do with the land deal. And this at a moment when the government is in the midst of a campaign against them. As I write, Ezra Nawi is about to come before a judge. His guilt or innocence or whether he is charged at all will presumably be decided without the help of this doctored video. I hope he is released unharmed and soon, but whatever happens, it should not affect the work of Israeli human rights organizations. Any Jerusalem resident reading this might consider accompanying Ta’ayush to South Hebron one Saturday.

Epilogue: Soon after I posted this, two more arrests were made; two more dedicated activists were held behind bars with no access to lawyers, without formal charges, their names under a gag order. They were released after about a week. The cases, however, were kept open.

*On March 28, 2017, the two moles who infiltrated Planned Parenthood were indicted in California on 15 criminal counts of illegal recording and conspiracy and a warrant was issued for their arrest. I am not informed that any members of Ad Kan have been subjected to anything similar.

Thanks to Yagil Eliraz for assistance with Hebrew.

 

Text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015Project20140531_0532-crp2

 

 

 

 

Photographic Aggression, Trust, Shame: Susiya, Sheikh Jarrah, June 5, 26, 2015

20150626-IMG_6883lvlcrvYou won’t see the touching photograph I took at a memorial wall in New York after September 11, 2001, when a woman’s smile gave way to tears as my shutter clicked. It amounted to inadvertent aggression. Some regard all “street photography” categorically as aggressive and unethical. But I think photographic aggression needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, even when that can be difficult. Such moments arise frequently during and between my intermittent visits to Palestine this past year, where I have been thinking about and documenting photographic practices while engaging in them. As a foreigner I learn local customs slowly. In my effort to do no harm, I navigate photography’s interrelations and worry about breaking photographic taboos.

For my last post (here) I emailed a photograph to a subject who had not wanted me to take her picture. I planned to add it to an urgent report by David Shulman about the immanent demolition of the Palestinian village Susiya in area “C” in the South Hebron Hills. David has been sharing and following the travails of these families for years, but I am only beginning to know them. It might make sense to illustrate his post with pictures of ragged tents and sad-eyed children. But those images could feed into a patronizing justification for the demolitions, according to which villagers, and especially women (“to improve the(ir) status” in the words of the Civil Authority) would be better off further straining the resources of an already over-crowded, under-served town elsewhere. I prefer to visualize the villagers’ determination to make their tents and temporary structures into a livable town in the face of settler harassment and Civil Administration obstructionism, and even under the shadow of immanent demolition. Fatma’s picture could help me add a hint of this subtext with the face of a strong woman. She granted permission almost immediately; to me the photographic exchange signified trust.  You may learn more about Fatma’s organization, The Rural Woman’s Association, here.

The rest of this post is the one I dropped last week in order to concentrate on Susiya. It also concerns street photography and photographic interaction around it, but on a real street, in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. While my own worries remain with Susiya, still in grave danger, Sheikh Jarrah is worth a detour if only because it involves patterns of appropriation similar to those of Susiya, patterns that involve refusals to issue construction permits to Palestinians, eviction on the basis of missing permits, court cases that drag on for years, and settlers who are welcome in the meantime to stay and build on the “vacant” property and live in the “abandoned” homes, with or without permits. I won’t, however, discuss the details, readily available on the internet, for example, here.

Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, June 26, 2015

20150626-IMG_6889crpcrv2Local residents are waiting for me on a sidewalk on Othman Ibn-Affan street in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. They are members of three families who were evicted in recent years from homes behind us and across the street.

20150626-IMG_6877distcrvSix years ago, Israeli Jews took over the houses, aided by an NGO that seeks to turn East Jerusalem into a Jewish neighborhood. They set off a complex series of legal proceedings as well as Friday afternoon protests at a nearby intersection. A few years ago, these protests were large and boisterous, and attacked by an equally loud and boisterous police force. They were “a scene,” I am told. The court cases and the protests continue and the families remain locked out of their homes, but the land grabs have slowed. The demonstrations, now smaller, are thought to have had an effect. 20150605-IMG_5803crvA few Fridays ago, on June 5, the anniversary of the occupation attracted a larger crowd of peacefully chanting protesters.

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A panicky police force arrived and set off a stun grenade

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There were three arrests.

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Saleh, a Palestinian activist, promised to tell me about Sheik Jarrah over coffee after the rally but he was arrested. Although no charges were filed, no one was released until after midnight. I did not manage to return for three weeks, but finally I am back and Saleh still remembers. Now it is Ramadan, so we have our discussion without coffee – but with, and about, photographs. He flips through a bundle of well thumbed pictures at a breakneck speed that makes them as hard to focus on as the confused action they depict. They are faded and crinkled, but with them Saleh relives moments in the story and he pulls each one out like a trump card. They show evictions. 20150626-IMG_6882crvOr they show settlers on the same sidewalks where we are now, with police or soldiers or Palestinians

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“The photographs are proof.”

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“That’s this yard right here. Can you believe what he’s doing?”

I would photograph the settlers now living in Palestinian homes across the street,

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but they are leaving for Shabbos.

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“These people have other places to go. They don’t even live here on the weekend.”

Eventually a settler parks a motorcycle on our side of the street.

“Please photograph him,” requests Nabeel al-Kurd. “He lives in my house.” The settler turns around as I raise my camera. The other settlers are Americans, but apparently not this one. In labored English, asks me not to take pictures:

“They forget something. The house it is not Jewish, but isn’t the land Jewish? I know, I know. These houses are Palestinian. But anyway I do not want to live here. This is uncomfortable. It is too hot. I want to move. I have only lived here six months.”

He is pleading now.

“Do not take my photograph. It is my private self. I am really no more than just a visitor. It is not my fight. I do not want it. We are friends, right?”

He addresses all this to me. He says nothing to Mr. al-Kurd. After he leaves Nabeel says, “He knows what he is doing is wrong.” He fears that his picture could be used, like the one in Salah’s pack, as photographic ammunition. Any photograph is like an assault, a small thrown stone, and the man with the motorcycle does not want one aimed at him.

But sometimes photographic aggression is warranted. “My camera is my weapon. No one should go into the field without a camera,” I am told by Guy, who works with the human rights organization Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights. What weapons should they use instead? No one would argue that it is unfair to film or photograph a crime in progress. In the United States, film and now videos have played an important role in the opposition to police brutality. Maybe they will help to reduce it some day. Even an aggressive, hostile look deserves an aggressive, hostile look back through the eye of a camera.

Is photographic aggression called for today in Sheik Jarrah or is this settler’s near admission of wrongdoing, his awareness of the complexity of the situation he has waded into, enough to justify deleting the photograph? Will he move out soon? When he does, will the al-Kurd family get its home back? If I show it, will my photograph follow him wherever he goes and cause him harm? And why is the prospect of the photograph so frightening? After all, unlike Saleh’s photographs, mine can show nothing but a man parking a motorcycle on a city street. The only explanation we can come up with is that he does not want to face his own shame.

“May I take your picture?” I ask Mr. al-Kurd.

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text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

 

 

 

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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Obstructed Vision 1: Hebron

20150606-IMG_6071crvlvlcrpThreshing is difficult work.

20150606-IMG_6134lvlcrvcrpWe cannot see what we are doing.

20150606-IMG_6120lvlcrpWe cannot see each other or the people we came to help.

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20150606-IMG_6119lvlcrp We may wonder why they need help. The whole family is working with us. 20150606-IMG_6082crv

20150606-IMG_6104-lvlunless we turn from our work and take a moment to study the background

20150606-IMG_6106lvlcrvcrpThe field sits on the edge of the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba, one of the oldest settlements, founded in 1968. If the wheat is not harvested, threshed and stored quickly, residents of the settlement  are likely to come and burn it as they have done before. The anxiety about the settlers made   the harvesting of the grain the most strenuous part of the process. Some of the volunteers for Ta’ayush harvested last week and this morning, carrying the wheat to the upper field where settlers are less likely to molest it. Others came for the threshing, which is bad enough. I make a mental note to bring work gloves and a mask.

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20150606-IMG_6113-crpWe feed the machine that separates the wheat from the chaff.

20150606-IMG_6135lvlcrvWe fill bags with the grain

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20150606-IMG_6202crvlvlcollect the bags and move them to a safe place.

20150606-IMG_6216crvWhile we thresh, the settlement hides beneath a screen of flying wheat.

20150606-IMG_6145lvlBut wheat is tiny and so is the field where it is threshed.

20150606-IMG_6211lvlThe settlement looms over the field. When we are done threshing we eat  sun-drenched food on a terrace. While we eat, the settlement emerges from hiding and dominates the view. There are no terraces in the settlement, as someone points out. We wonder what the people there see from their windows.

20150606-IMG_6057-crvlvltext and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

on Ta’ayush, see http://www.taayush.org

 

 

you must photograph, asfar, 30 may, 2015

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Question: How many Palestinian farmers does it take to plant an olive tree?

Answer: Just one. But only if ten volunteers will watch

This is not a joke. And in fact the farmer had several members of his family at his side. But the farmer and his family can only plant if non-Palestinian activists accompany them. When they plant alone settlers from the illegal settlement above the orchard drive them off. The settlement stands on land belonging to the same group of Palestinian farmers.

20150530-IMG_5592crvlvlfltThe farmers here are planting olive trees for the fourth time this season. Settlers uprooted the previous three plantings; some seven hundred trees were destroyed.

This week Ta’ayush, a partnership of Israelis and Palestinians, sent ten of us here to show the settlers and the Civil Administration that the farmers are not giving up. Three other volunteers were on their own for a long day of backbreaking work in another part of Hebron; a few more accompanied shepherds, and we watched the farmers. Some of us helped out a little, but mainly we watched.

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We enjoyed the view, we explored caves, now deserted, where the farmers used to live or store their grain

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and the former sheepfold

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We watched the farmer drawing water from an almost dry well.

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We talked.

We almost forgot that we, the watchers, were intended as the show. At first our audience was small, only one soldier. In the game of watching we led ten to one.

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There did not seem to be much to do, so I set my camera down and asked a farmer what I could do to help with the work.

The answer was “you just make photographs,” and I assumed it meant something like ‘nothing. Go play.’ But as I turned to do just that, he motioned and called me back.

“No. I mean look. There. There are more soldiers. You must photograph.”

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To me my photography seemed fruitless. But the farmer had a vision of what could be accomplished with my camera. I do not know whether he had photographs in mind as an end product. But he understood better than I that the practice of photography is a form of extended, intensified watching. Photographic watching can be terrifying to those on the far side of the lens. They imagine that the camera sees farther than the human eye and that its image will live to testify about what it saw.  Meanwhile those on the side of the watchers acquire courage.  This happened today. Another farmer, who owns land nearby that he has neglected for years came to ask Ta’ayush volunteers to help him reclaim it.

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He fears for his life, he said, if he tries to work it alone. His visit drew more watchers.

20150530-IMG_5721crvlvlcrp2fltWith this extra, neglected land, there will be real farm work when Taayush returns, as well as more watching and more photographing

and probably more uprooted olive trees.

20150530-IMG_5734lvlcrvcrpQuestion: How many times must you plant an olive tree before it can grow?

Answer: As many times as it takes.20150530-IMG_5595lvlcrpflttext and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

 

Susya Demolition Order: Please read and share

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Some of you may recognize Susya (also spelled Susiya) as the name of the tiny village I mentioned in my last post, where two of us visited Nasser, a Palestinian activist, at his home. This town is now threatened with demolition – again. Please read and circulate David Shulman’s letter, which I received early this morning, April 1, 2015

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Mass peace demonstration after the announcement of an earlier demolition attempt. Photograph Courtesy David Shulman

Dear Friends
Most of you will remember the long and tortuous story of Susya, the tiny encampment– all tents and shacks– where few hundred people are still hanging on to what is left of their ancestral lands in the face of continuous harassment by the State and settlers, and in the wake of many earlier expulsions. You may also remember that many of their simple homes have had demolition orders issued against them by the Civil Administration, which clearly aims at destroying the entire village and expelling its inhabitants for good. The Civil Administration claims that the Susya shacks were built without permits and without an accepted, official plan for the village; in fact the villagers have submitted such a plan, and, as everyone knows, it is impossible for Palestinians living in Area C to get a permit to build anywhere on their own land
The Villages Group and Taayush has been involved together with the Rabbis for Human Rights and other organizations, for the last several years in the legal struggle over the fate of Susya; the courts have sometimes accepted our arguments for a stay of execution, but they have also at times ruled in favor of the Civil Administration bureaucrats and the soldiers.
About a year ago I reported on a truly astonishing document prepared by the Civil Administration in which they argue, in classic colonial style, that the impoverished Palestinians of Susya do not know what is good for them and that their opportunities will increase if only they are moved to the city of Yata– in other words, if they are forced to relinquish forever their homes, grazing grounds, and fields: read the report here.
Last week the government gave notice that it will ask the courts to remove the last impediments to carrying out the demolition orders. These links to the website of the Rabbis for Human Rights and to the Haaretz article describe the legal situation in detail.
We don’t yet know if the court will accept the arguments of the government lawyers, but we can say for sure that what we are witnessing today is an unmistakable move on the part of the government and the Occupation authority to dispossess the entire population of Palestinian Susya and to drive them off the land once and for all. Perhaps the results of the recent election have emboldened the settlers and their supporters; perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a much wider, shameless campaign of mass expulsion, which is, one should remember, the true, indeed the only, raison d’etre of the Occupation.
We have known the Susya Palestinians for some 15 years; they are our friends. We cannot stand by and watch the destruction of their village and their way of life. Those of you who can exert influence of any kind– on your representatives in government, in public office, on the public media, or through any other channel–  might be able to help at this possibly fateful moment.
Yours, David Shulman

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Keep off the Grass – Umm al-Arais, South Hebron Hills, March 21, 2015

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Volunteers with Ta’ayush, along with an international organization, fan out to various pastures in South Hebron. 20150321-IMG_5490-lvlflt We are by the Israeli settlement Mitzpe Yair. Its settlers have disputed a strip of land in the valley below the settlement, as I understand it a strategy to extend their ownership. The civil administration keeps the sheep from grazing there while the land is in dispute. In a nearby pasture last week, similar soldiers declared a similar patch to be an “closed military zone,” suggesting that it served some sort of strategic purpose. In both places the sheep must graze on higher rockier ground. Should the military leave, settlers will drive the shepherds off of this grazing land, too. 20150321-IMG_5449-lvl-crp-crv I struggle not to be just a bystander, but looking and watching are the activities of the day. Watching sheep can mean different things to different people.

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left to right: soldiers, shepherds, activist

Watchers watch one another.     Volunteers watch soldiers.      Soldiers watch shepherds

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Some without 20150321-IMG_5390crvlvlcrpflt

New recruits are bored

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I have seen this officer before. I wonder how he feels20150321-IMG_5349-crplvlcrvflt

Here he is last May. You may read about the tractor here Project20140531_0534-crvflt

All day, military vehicles follow volunteers wherever they go.  20150321-IMG_5506-lvlcrvCrp1flt

Nasser, a Palestinian who has been a witness with B’tselem and Ta’ayush for years, invites us to lunch at his home in Susya, the tent community (no building allowed there) that long ago replaced the destroyed village and its successors.

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At the end of the day we wait on the road for the last few volunteers to return from a pasture. Three jeeps and at least a dozen soldiers wait along side us. 20150321-IMG_5532-crv

They ask multiple questions 20150321-IMG_5543-crv

and scan the valley for our protection.20150321-IMG_5538-crvflt When our backpack-bedecked, scruffy crew is complete, we leave without interference and the soldiers leave, too. How much has the supervision of our pastoral day in the country cost Israeli taxpayers? I wonder, but not for long. Some still say that photography conveys truth. But not even unmediated looking with the naked eye conveys truth. As we are leaving, Nasser finds us again and tells us what has happened without anyone to witness and prevent it. I wish that my bucolic photographs could somehow conjure the scene of settlers attacking and injuring a six-year old girl with stones. Perhaps the visual immensity of the surveillance that keeps shepherds and their sheep off the small patch of grass suggests why no protectors were available for a small child gathering food for her family’s livestock with an older child just outside the settlement of Ma’on.

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I photograph only volunteers watching the police explain that the child will be treated in the van, taken to the station with Italian volunteers, allowed to deliver her report with her family and returned to her home. 20150321-img_5555-crp.jpgNo one expects any more than this from the authorities. No arrests will be made. Even if I could see inside the van, it would probably be unkind to photograph a child who has had enough for one day. Photographs of the visible wounds of the invisible girl can be found here. Instead I post a snapshot that I could not resist taking over lunch earlier in the day.

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text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015  About Ta’ayush: http://www.taayush.org/

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March 14, 2015: Zanuta and Rahwah – Guest Post by David Shulman (photographs: Margaret Olin)

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Four happy months in India, and today I’m back in south Hebron. Before leaving I asked my friends to finish off the Occupation before I returned, but somehow they haven’t managed this. Yesterday I meet my neighbor Rama in the street, and she asks how it is to be home. It’s good, I say, at first I was even high, but little by little despair seeps in. “That’s right,” she says, “here everything is really fine except for the despair.”

It torments me all the way down to south Hebron, a dark and acrid journey. Why why why? I remember this: when you’ve been away and you come back, at first you find the reality of Palestine unreal. Unthinkable. A kind of lunacy. The colonial project, the horrific crime at the heart of it—it all looks mad, and beyond fixing. Nothing we do can change it. Nothing we say matters.

Then, after an hour on the hills with the shepherds, the craziness begins to feel natural, normal, and I know what I have to do.

I’m lucky to be with Guy today. He turns out to be a hardened optimist: Maybe the elections this week will bring the beginning of the change. But even if they don’t, we’re coming closer to the point of decision: either full-blown apartheid or a peace agreement, whose details are anyway well known. If Israel opts for apartheid, the Netanyahu way, then the world will force a change. The pressure is building up. The boycott will do it. One day we will come down here to visit our Palestinian friends, we will remember these bad days, we will have coffee and laugh, we will say: “Do you remember that hot day in March when the soldiers came and arrested Hatim and Guy and Majlis Salim and Jihad Salim, when they cooked up this idiotic rule that you can’t graze the sheep in the wadi or on the slopes to the east, and they held them for hours in the jeeps and then finally let them go?” Those good days will certainly come, Guy says, it could, it should, be paradise here. In the meantime, we have to do what we do to keep things from getting worse.

There are lots of sheep—four or five herds from Zanuta, we count about 300 heads; and another four or five herds from Rahwah, to the south where the wadi takes this grand ravishing curve. Rashad is responsible for one of the herds. He has a story to tell, which goes like this, in his fierce and fluent Hebrew:

“It was years ago, this crazy settler, Avi, came with his brother and another man and they picked a fight with my brother, who was out with the sheep. They beat him badly, and another shepherd too, and they threatened to kill them. My brother called me and I came fast, walking over the hill with my shepherd’s staff. “We’re going to kill you,” they said. They made us sit down on the ground and wait. They had heavy guns. I was afraid of them, they’re bad and they’re crazy, you can tell a bad man when you meet one. There’s room for everyone here, we don’t care if they’re here, but they want only to hurt us and take the land. [Guy interjects: “We’ll kick them out of here, don’t worry.”] So we’re sitting there and waiting, and the settlers have their guns pointed at us, and luckily an army jeep came by on the road, in those days the roads weren’t so good, I ran to the jeep and stuck my arm through the window and said to the officer that he has to come with me. He didn’t have much choice. When he got to where my brother and the other shepherd were sitting, the settlers started beating them again, and they said to the soldiers, ‘Look, this one has a stick,’ meaning my staff, so the officer drew his pistol and cocked it and made sure the bullet was in the barrel and then he pressed the pistol against my forehead and said, ‘Get rid of that stick or your brains are going to be blown to heaven.’ I said I don’t need the staff and I threw it away. Still, they hit us some more, and they told us they’d come back to kill us some day, for sure, and they went away. In those days we didn’t have friends like you to help us.”

Rashad has a permit, which means he can work inside Israel; so he’s in Beersheva most days of the week and out on the hills with the sheep only on Saturday. He’s rough, good-natured, utterly and oddly innocent, as innocent as a human being can be. He thinks people have the option of being good. He laughs a lot. I like the idea that we’ll come back some day to laugh again with him.

Pastoral interlude. We lie in the sun, resting against the rocks, waiting. A delicious silence soaks the green slope—green as Ireland, after the rains. Everywhere the anemones are straggling into the sunlight, and there are daisies and dandelions and tiny nameless purple blossoms and thick green reeds as well. A partridge flutters over the stream. Happiness. Guy says it’s the silence before the storm.

Of course he’s right. Above us, across the wadi, there’s the settlement of Har Hamor, where a single settler family lives. They’ve cordoned off huge chunks of the ancient grazing grounds, and, as always, they’ve got the soldiers to guard them and do their bidding, which means driving Palestinian shepherds off Palestinian land. It’s no surprise when two drab khaki-grey jeeps turn up on the path near the tiny stream, heavy with the sewage of Kiryat Arba, at the base of the hill. Then they are upon us.

20150314-IMG_5127-SheepLooking-crpThere’s a vanguard. “Get these sheep away from here,” they order us, but of course we demand to see the signed order, and all too soon the Big Officer comes with those foolish fancy stars on his uniform and his big heavy gun and with the piece of paper signed by the Brigade Commander and the map on its inverse. It decrees—illegally, of course—that the wadi and the hill where the settlement sits and about a third of the hill where we’re standing are all now a Closed Military Zone. In itself, this wouldn’t be so bad, though it’s a crime, and cruel, and, more simply, wrong. What makes it worse today is the Oral Law, the torah sheba’al peh, that accompanies the order and that declares the whole rolling expanse of the slopes, all the way uphill to the highway a mile or two away, to be forbidden to Palestinians, since these lands, says Big Officer, are “Jewish grazing grounds.”

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He’s made it up. There’s no legal basis to this draconian restriction. We tell him so, but it makes no difference. He’s given us 10 minutes to get the shepherds uphill before he arrests them. We Israelis, he says, can remain on the “Jewish grazing grounds” if we agree to move a few hundred meters up the slope. The 10-minute deadline applies to us too, and the clock is running.

Here’s a little mini-apartheid moment, as we firmly inform him. “You can’t make one law for Palestinians and another for Jews,” we say. It’s infuriating. I can feel the rage welling up in me, and the morning’s despair is also kicking in, along with the sick feeling of helplessness. We call Amiel, who confirms our reading of the law. Now it’s up to the shepherds to decide; we will follow their lead. I rush over to explain to them in Arabic what the soldiers are demanding; I tell them that the law is with them if they move the herd just a little ways up the slope, but that there’s a danger that the soldiers will arrest them anyway. Several shepherds immediately start moving the sheep. It’s not so easy. Sheep are notoriously slow about such things. They’ve been feeding ravenously on the rich diet of thorns and greens in the wadi and they don’t seem to feel any particular respect for Big Officer who, looking around for a potential victim, settles on us. We’ve started walking backwards, very slowly and deliberately, as he barks at us and counts the seconds left.

Is Big Officer a bad man? Let’s leave this question in abeyance. I’m not sure what it means. He seems unhappy that his order and his deadline have not been honored with alacrity. I wonder if he’s put out at having to waste a beautiful spring Shabbat morning chasing hundreds of stubborn sheep over the rocks. I also wonder if he has any inkling of how much harm he is doing to himself, to his manhood, to the subtle, hidden places of his mind, by inflicting cruelty on innocents, by humiliating them and treating them like children and by exiling them from what is theirs. These thoughts flit rapidly through my mind and vanish into the sunlight because Big Officer has lost patience and arrested Hatim Suleiman Shafiq, though he was actually trying to obey the order and get the sheep going, and Guy rushes down to try to protect him so they arrest him too.

The soldiers march their hostages to the jeeps. By now the police have also turned up, and Hatim and Guy are locked into their blue-white wagon. In the wadi, considerable chaos reigns. Oblivious, joyful, untold numbers of sheep are doing what sheep do, dotting the wadi with a furry beige. Two or three of the shepherds have managed to pry some part of their herds away from the thick foliage near the stream and to prod them some ways up the slope. They’re still far from the highway. Surprisingly, the soldiers, perhaps content with the initial arrests, seem to have forgotten all about their own arbitrary Oral Law. One contingent of them is poking with sticks through the tall grass as if they’d lost something of value there—as indeed they have.

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The Rahwah shepherds are still deep in the wadi to the south, and they seem to have found a creative solution to the soldiers’ threats: they’ve sent young kids, maybe eight or nine years old, to follow the sheep there, on the tenuous assumption that the army won’t arrest children. (It does it all the time.) I join Amir and Peg on the southern ridge. Time slows down, as if high noon had brought it to a leisurely boil. We wait. We call the lawyer who will take care of Guy and Hatim when they reach the police station. We chat with Murad and the other shepherds, who want to know why the soldiers took Hatim. “Who can say?” I answer, a non-answer, since there is no answer    20150314-IMG_5232-lvlCrvCrpFlt

Just when I come to the conclusion that the men with guns have resigned themselves to recalcitrant ovine reality and the danger has passed, they suddenly arrest two more shepherds: Majlis Salim and Jihad Salim. The arrests are swift and brutal, with much shoving and poking. We’re too far away to be of help, but I can’t bear watching this: despair again. Is it the good despair I’ve written about, the kind that makes you act and take risks and not think about results? I doubt it. It’s a black viscous feeling that goes well with the liquid gold washing over the hill.

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It may make you feel better to know that eventually all those arrested were released; that the police refused even to accept Majlis Salim and Jihad Salim at the station and sent them back to the soldiers, who had to let them go; that the other hostages who had been captured at Shweike and Umm al-Ara’is were also freed. It was a messy, foolish day, maybe because the settlers are full of hate and fear as the elections come near, and they know that this time they may lose, so they pick on their usual victims and command the soldiers to do the same. Or maybe there’s no logic to it all except for the random but systemic logic of the Occupation itself, perhaps stirring itself awake in the first real week of spring. You might also feel better if I tell you that I figure that if we keep coming back week after week, the Palestinians may eventually get their wadi back and the herds will flow past the ravishing curve and happily blanket the hungry hills. What is required of us is no heroics but a dull steadiness and perseverance. I think it will work. Speaking of happiness, Peg told me when we said goodbye that she’d felt it today, and then I knew that I, too, had tasted that unthinking, unreasonable joy, the South Hebron happiness, unlike any other I have known, the kind that comes from looking straight at wickedness and not looking away.20150314-IMG_5215Looking-lvlcrpflt

text © David Shulman 2015    photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

A Lovely Day in South Hebron: Second Story

 

 

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It turned out not to be a story, but it is and is not what it seems – a group of lethargic people on a lazy day. Technical aspects of photography come up in conversation. For a court case, someone explains, there is no need for high-resolution video. Better to use low resolution and save storage space.

Feeling self-indulgent, I distract myself with my camera, set at high resolution.

The military authority gets the word,

Project_20140607_0171crpand stops by the Ta’ayush volunteers for a photo op

In the background small boys try to get into their house.

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I recall a photo from the day recorded in my first blogProject20140531_0534-crplvl-flt

The  farmer and his beads:

Throughout our time with him, the beads never ceased their steady rotation through his fingers. Were they a distraction like my camera? Or were they his way to stay calm as soldiers argue with him and around him and over his head and keep him from his field while he and his tractor stand idle?

He does not repeat this ritual every week. A farmer can devote only limited time and emotional energy to a drama of injustice and redemption, even for the sake of possibly reclaiming his land in some distant future.

And this: Is it a picnic?2014-06-07 13.31.52-bright-flt-crpsml

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No; the afternoon was always about this outpost, barely visible, with the Israeli flag:Project_20140607_0202-lvlsFlt

The one in the background. Can you see it yet?Project_20140607_0197-lvlcrv-fltSettlers built it on the edge of the settlement adjoining Palestinian property. Palestinians dare to build an outpost on their own property within sight of it. Just barely.

Or more likely they don’t dare.Project_20140607_0193-lvl-flatcrp

The photographs stand for something that cannot be seen in them:

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time

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and patience.

© 2014 Margaret Olin.

text and photographs © 2014 Margaret Olin

About Ta’ayush: http://www.taayush.org/

 

 

 

An Eruv in South Hebron

Project20140531_0587-lvlbrnfltAn eruv is a symbolic courtyard used by orthodox Jews.   For one day each week, Shabbat, it turns a group of private dwellings into one shared home for anyone who lives there and wishes to take part.  The transformation allows its inhabitants to carry things (a prayer book, a meal, a child) from their private homes into the public space and throughout the eruv, an activity otherwise forbidden on that day.  For some people, Shabbat would be a somber affair without one.  Others may never even know that this subtle border is there. Here the boundary is designated by a series of poles linked with string to stand for the posts and lintels of interconnecting gateways.

 

Project20140531_0585 The lines can be difficult to see. An inserted plastic bottle makes the eruv boundary visible.

 

20120527_0956-flatIn most of Israel, a ribbon designates the eruv line; in the United States a piece of tape usually does the job. You can see one in this blog’s masthead.

Project20140531_0586lvlFltOne Shabbat, volunteers from Ta’ayush enter a farm along the eruv boundary to address an issue that should have been settled by a telephone call between parents.  But not here.

 

Project20140531_0588-lvl-flt Teenagers from the settlement turned a small stone enclosure on the edge of a Palestinian field into their private clubhouse.  They moved in old furniture, threw trash about, and used it for drinking parties.  The parents back their children against the farmer, and so the case wends its way through the courts.

Project20140531_0589lvlfltMeanwhile the farmer has permission to clean out his enclosure, but does not dare do so without witnesses, who are also helpers.  In past weeks, settlers have come to complain to the volunteers. The land is part of Eretz Israel, they say, and hence theirs.  During the week, settler teens trash the enclosure again, so the clean-up ritual has been repeated several times.

Project20140531_0590lvlfltInevitably, soldiers arrive to check things out.

Project20140531_0594-crpThey are in time to observe the volunteers

 

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who have been given permission to pick some of the farmer’s cherries.

 

 

During the week that follows, settlers demolish the farmer’s enclosure.

An eruv cannot enclose a farm, yet it runs by one and seems to pertain to this subject after all.  Borders are at issue: the borders of the farmer’s land, his right to enclose a small part of it, the borders of the settlement, of the state of Israel. The eruv boundary does not keep settlers in, but Palestinians do not cross it. A settlement wall that would protect a farmer from vandalism remains unfinished, leaving room for the teenagers to make themselves at home on the farm.

Borders are social phenomena. Representatives of an eruv must request permission from non eruv-users whose property is within the eruv, or is used by the eruv as part of its boundary.   In large populations, permission can be granted by any official with authority to enter all homes in the eruv.
In the United States, permission has been granted by homeowners, businesses, churches, and by mayors, chiefs of police and the President.  When it works, the eruv is a model of interfaith relations. When it does not, it is said that the rabbis surely designed the eruv to encourage Jews to live apart from other peoples.  An eruv is a barometer of the social relations that surround it. What does this eruv measure in South Hebron?

All photographs and texts © 2014 Margaret Olin.