25 August 2011
We left Arlozerov at 9am and waited for half an hour at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem before boarding the bullet-proof settler bus to Hebron. Having weaved its way through a number of settlements en route, the bus arrived, not at Hebron but rather Kiryat Arba (K4, as I like to call it). I used the gents in a convenience store there, then asked for directions to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. We headed off in the assigned direction having been strenuously advised that we needed to take a lift.
Out of the settlement, then left down the hill. Almost without noticing the environment had changed: the men at the garage were Arab, the children were Arab, even the donkey seemed Arab. From speaking Hebrew we switched to English, from our Hebrew names to English pseudonyms: Edi and Ian. I got confused on the way down and took a wrong turn – I’m more familiar with the other route. I asked directions from a young Palestinian man, who insisted on taking us (through the scenic route) all the way to the Tomb. Kids came to ask us for, “shekel, shekel”, and he told them to go away. We were into narrow alleyways now, like the Old City of Jerusalem, but calmer. Round another corner then the scene opened up and we were in front of the Tomb. There the man stopped. He, as a Palestinian, could not continue through the square in front of the Tomb. But we could, and would, to meet Stefan, my friend’s colleague and our host/contact for the day. We thanked our spontaneous guide and ventured towards the Tomb.
First thing was first: we stood with the CPTers at the check point between the suq (market) of the Old City and entrance to the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Muslim part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Men went in. We introduced ourselves, chatted, met a hand-full of intrepid tourists. Men came out. All went smoothly.
Next part of the plan: we joined CPT for their tour of some of the central check-points, taking us a little to the south, to an area I’d not been to before. At one check-point a group of men stood, waiting in a small patch of shade. They were teachers from a nearby school with which CPT work. I’d visited that school a couple of years ago. They looked timid, one stood in white shirt and large black tie, with glasses – professorial but sheepish. They had been there for half an hour or so. They could only be held for twenty minutes without being arrested. Leyla, The permanent and local CPTer, who had lived for 26 years in Arsenal territory in North London, strode over to the teenaged soldiers who held the teachers’ green IDs (Israeli IDs are blue). She reminded them of the time. A minute later the teachers were released to continue with their day, and we too continued on our way.
All was fine at the other check-points. Back in the suq we were taken to buy a little falafel and drink, and some baqlawa (Arab sweets), a must to bring back for my missus. The narrow market, it was pointed out, is now covered with a netting to catch the detritus thrown from settlers living in the adjacent settlement a few meters up the hill. We sat in the market shop of a friend of the CPT folk, leaning to the side to eat and drink subtly. It’s Ramadan and we didn’t wish to upset anyone, but it’s not our fast and we were hungry and parched. The shop belonged to a women’s collective, the only such in the area. Women in villages in the South Hebron Hills made small bags and cushion covers, which were sold to the few tourists who came by in Hebron. I eventually relented and bought a gorgeous blue, white and back cover, which goes well with a similar red and black cover I got from my grandmother a few years ago.
We sat there and chatted, as much as we could to the shop-keeper, whose English was limited. Also to Canadian girl – Pakistani family, born in Saudi, brought up in Canada, intent on living in the West Bank – who had been with CPT. Time passed. We’d been parked there while CPT had a meeting with EAPPI, another Christian organization active in the Territories. Eventually we broke. I took Ian out of the Suq towards the Tomb. He was a little nervous, clutching his South African passport. I too had my UK passport ready. But we went straight though the check-point. White faces and western clothes/style go a long way. Then up in the tomb.
The inside of the Jewish part of the tomb looks more like a chaotic cathedral (think, Church of the Holy Sepulcher) than any synagogue I’ve ever been in. You enter, first into a room, then a corridor. Then there’s the main area: a few small rooms set around a not very large central space. In each services are condulted, in differing speeds and following different traditions. These rooms are each connected to old Sheikhs’ tombs with classic Arabic script emblazoned on the walls. Soldiers and police stand about. Settlers pray, guns rested against chairs. I wanted to show Ian around and pray a bit. But he wanted to get out of there ASAP.
Back in the Suq we me with the Internationals. Babysitting duties for the two Israelis were passed to the EAPPI and together we started up the hill towards Tel-Rumeida. On the walk we passed the old Jewish part of Hebron, which had existed until the massacre of 1929, now a settlement. A large colourful muriel told the story of Jewish Hebron: from ancient city to destruction, to massacre to return to, it seemed, the Messiah. We were approached by three American girls, wannabe settlers, dressed in the long colourful skirts popular among settler girls. They wanted to tell us not to listen to the CPTers and complained about how hard life was, how the Arabs can walk in their neighbourhoods, but they couldn’t safely walk in theirs. I said that I would chat to them about it if we meet on the beach in Tel-Aviv.
At Tel-Rumeida we went to the house run and lived in by Issa, a local activists. I’d first been there about five years ago when, with Rabbis for Human Rights and Sons of Abraham I’d helped in the massive task of clearing it so that, for once, an abandoned Palestinian house would be occupied (by agreement) by Palestinians, rather than by the settlers who’d driven the residents out. I’d also been there a couple of years ago for an abortive attempt to establish a new Israeli-Palestinian NGO.
Issa, charismatic as ever, spent some time chatting to us. One of his neighbours in the settlement is now Baruch Mazel, one of the leading lights of the settler extreme-right, known in Green Line Israel for organizing provocative marches of Jewish nationalists through Arab-Israeli towns. Issa talked about the slight conflict between his Jewish and Muslim neighbours. The irony was that one of those Muslim families had sheltered Jewish friends during the 1929 massacre, and are still in contact with the family. Issa’s house is now well fortified.
We leant on a wall, looking out on the magnificent view: the whole of the valley of ancient Hebron, with the rectangular block of the Tomb in the middle and K4 rising on the hill behind. Issa said that water was short, a cup here or there, needing to make sure that it lasts till the end of the month and the next delivery. A meter away in the settlers’ garden the new vineyard sucked water from pipes, laid out with holes in the time-honoured Israeli irrigation technique. Three or four meters away, one level above both us and the grapes, a young Ethiopian or Sudanese IDF soldier stood in his post at the corner of the settlers’ garden, keeping an eye on us. We chatted about Syria too. I mentioned how, on the massive protest march in Tel-Aviv I’d thought of them when being watched by police from the roof of a building. In Syria they’d have been snipers. Issa said that they were planning a demonstration that night in Hebron against the Assad regime. We spoke in Hebrew; the atmosphere was the calmest of the day. But time was short: I wanted to get back to Jerusalem to see my Mum before she flew back to England.
We went down the hill and sat at the bus stop, across the road from a small army base. Soldiers stood around. We waited. They waited. An enormous vehicle swept into the road. It drove at the soldiers, making them jump out of the way. It was a troop transport. A few moments later they stood in line, like a firing squad, couple of meters in front of us, facing us, almost eye-balls to eye-balls. An order was shoulder. They raised their guns. In one movement and one shout they checked their weapons: cha-chung! They turned and massed in to the belly of the vehicle. It moved off.
Soon after, we got onto our own bullet-proof transport and started our slow progress away, towards Jerusalem.
09 November 2008
Two Trips to the Masik
Having not yet been out for the masik, the olive harvest, I arranged to head out with the Rabbis last Friday. I took the train to Rosh Ha'ayin where I met up with Abu Rami and his bus, a gaggle of rabbinical students (American), and a smattering of other volunteers (English, American, and one Israeli). I'd been told by Rabbi Yehiel that recently they were alright for numbers what with a volunteer drive, the students of the conservative seminary in
We drove more or less north. Our destination was land belonging to the
We split into three groups. No settlers meant little pressure. The trees I worked were well kept, groomed and large. I climbed high into them and raked the branches with my fingers. At least as far as those trees went, this is a very good masik. As we picked I chatted to some of the Rabbinical students, talking about Judaism and Zionism, etc. One wanted to be a US Navy chaplain. I had a brief political conversation with the Palestinians which started with the words, "Barak Obama". We worked for four or five hours. I was given herbs to use in brewing tea, something to give the grandparents.
The time having come, we clambered onto the trolley behind a shiny tractor, the Jews in the trolley, the Arabs on the tractor. We got to where the others had been working and waited for Abu Rami. Finally, some coffee turned up! I got talking to the kids. They spoke no Hebrew and I practically no Arabic, so the conversation consisted of naming footballers or football clubs in England or Spain followed by the other's theatrically exaggerated response, either positive or negative. (One kid supported Real Madrid, another
On the train home I talked to another yank, this time about teaching.
Sunday (this morning)
I told Rabbi Yehiel last Friday to call me if they needed someone, (I'd felt unneeded given their glut of volunteers). Last night, as the Sabbath went out, I got that call. They were sending some experienced people, four if I would come, to Jit, next to the settlement of Havat Gilad where violence might be expected. The army and police had both been informed and given the go-ahead, but neither would be there to protect us.
7am. Back at Rosh Ha'ayin train station, waiting for the others. The four of us were
Hours passed. I saw a column of smoke not far off and pointed it out. Only dust I was told – a momentary mini tornado, or some-such-thing. We'd almost finished. The olives were packed into large bags and we set about clearing the branches of deadwood which one of the older (partly toothless) gentlemen had cropped. A white jeep started moving slowly in our direction from Havat Gilad. I mentioned this loudly. There was little to do but wait. Then we saw two policemen striding across a field toward us. One was Guy, whose number we all had on our phones. He was tall, blond, broad. He said we hadn't received permission to be there. We said that we'd been told that we had, but that we were finished and on our way. He told us that we had to move. We said that we were finished and on our way. His sidekick kept quiet. Meanwhile the Palestinians were arranging the tractor to come for the olives. Two soldiers turned up. The officer asked what was going on. Guy told him. The officer said that on the map the area was signified as being permissible for Palestinian access. Guy disagreed. The officer persevered: the presence or absence of a particular star on the map was in question. The olives were loaded. I and the others bade Guy and his sidekick and the officer and his comrade shavu'ah tov (a good a week) and farewell. We were off.
In the centre of Jit Zakaria turned up and got us our oil. We sat with his young brother, with the portly head of the village and with his ninety-something-year-old farther. I chatter with the rotund local leader, who's Hebrew was good. We drank tea and eat brownies and another sweet, both brought by the Israeli ladies. Then off back to Rosh Ha'ayin and a lift to
14 August 2008
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Westbankblogger has returned! For the first time in a while a trip into the
On Monday and Tuesday of this week I was in
Emerging from the Tomb I went to wait on the grass. On the way out I chatted to some of the police stationed there, one of whom had a degree in "political science" which he said had done nothing for him. I talked on the phone and chatted with some soldiers. Then I got a call from John, the Californian. I was to wait on the steps of a settler shop/café, the 'Gutnik Centre'. This I did. I sat on the steps, watching a young grey tethered horse wrangle with its chains by a checkpoint just to my right. Ten minutes passed. I read some of 1066 and All That by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman. Another ten minutes. A religious lament started to pipe loudly out from speakers above my perch. Then I recognized the tune: nicked from Leonard Cohen's 'The Partisan'.
John appeared, still with the tour group. I went with them for a few minutes, harassed all the way by a settler in a jeep. The group left us. John and I went through a checkpoint. My passport was momentarily examined and I was allowed through. In the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) flat I was introduced to those present, including another John, an old British soldier whom I'd also met a year ago.
Time passed. In the flat I found myself bored, almost taking hold of a laptop to read random miscellaneous Guardian pieces lamenting Gordon Brown. John hadn't the time to baby-sit me, and I wouldn’t go anywhere alone. Then the older John (80 years of age) asked if anyone would accompany him walking towards Kiryat Arba, to check on happenings there. I volunteered.
We passed the Tomb and walk up hill, up the wide tarmacked road which cuts straight through a string of abandoned houses. Then out into the open, the no-man's-land between
We looped and zigzagged 'round the slopey streets, finally finding our way into the
In the evening I went to the local café, the Freedom Coffee Shop, to sit with local Hebronites and Tariq, a Palestinian-American and Bethlehemite Christian who works for CPT. We were in the
I slept under a large poster showing a world map, surrounded by the world's flags. I checked:
At around 9:30 am I heard kids singing outside. I looked out of the window. On the street above a group of settler children were running by, singing/chanting, "eizeh nudnickim!" again and again. (Roughly translated, "What naggers!")
10am. A cockerel crowed. My girlfriend rang to complain about Avrum Burg's new book, the first hundred pages of which I'm making her read.
I helped John clean the second of their flats, prior to the arrival of a group of internationals down from
We went for a wonder, though I kept checking that he knew how to get back. I was feeling less nervous now. As long as I was British I felt fine. We went uphill and into residential streets. On the walls I saw words scrawled in Hebrew, "rimmon", "etrog", "duvdevan". There were arrows, sometimes numbers two. These were names of Israeli army units, seemingly soldiers telling one another where their positions were to avoid firing on each other. Once this was realized, the place felt different. There had been fighting there not so long ago. A kid ran up to me, "shekel!" he demanded, his hand outstretched. I shook my head. But he was more determinned – and cheekier – than other kids had been. He followed us, and kept asking. I checked my pocket: two half shekels and a ten agorot piece. I put these in his hand and he ran off. Within a moment his older brother was there, also ready to plead. I shouted to him to go and ask his brother for half and, with my pointing, he somehow got the message and left us alone.
Back in the
I gave Jamie the nod. We rose to leave and I bade all farewell, giving one guy my e-mail. We strode through the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) checkpoint. We went through like we owned the place, as advised by the Johns of CPT. Then I walked with Jamie past the Tomb and up the hill to Kiryat Arba – he needed to use a cash machine. I showed the guard my Israeli ID and said that Jamie was a British friend. Having gotten the money, we tried to walk across the settlement. Jamie commented that the place resembled a condominium. I asked what condominium was, and was told that it meant a pleasant communal holiday-village, where people could hold second homes. We got a bit lost. I asked some Russian kids how to get to the road down to
The bus was packed. At the back sat a group of ultra-orthodox men, arguing in Russian. Of the many kids, only one was screaming. Stuck behind the frosted bullet-proof glass I opted for sleep. I awoke as we entered
07 January 2008
Last Friday I went for a Shabbat arranged by a website, anywhereinisrael.com, which enables people to host others for religious Sabbaths. I went to Eli, South East of Ariel, South of Nablus (Shchem).
(Some names may have been changed)
At Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Friday afternoon I bought a slice of pizza. I noticed that all the busses to settlements are located at that far end of the line of bus docks. The guy at the pizza stall confirmed that this was so. I got on the bus for Eli and sat near the back. We snaked through the northern neighborhoods of
We drove for about forty minutes and arrived in the driving rain. I ducked beneath my umbrella and called my hosts. I had gotten off at the wrong stop. Within a few minutes Avi, the husband, had arrived in his old people carrier. I bundled my bags onto the back seat and jumped in.
At his home I met his wife, Adina, and eighteen-month-old son, Shlomi. I was parked in front of the box to watch a repeat of the
Avi got on the phone and managed to get enough people to come 'round to his to do a service there, thus avoiding going to synagogue in the rain. So we duvenned (prayed) in his living room then, once all had left, had dinner. Out of the window the clouds gathered over the hills. On the opposing hilltop was a newer part of Eli, some houses being built. No Arab homes were visible.
Conversation was pleasant though uninspiring. It turned out that both Avi and Adina were on their second marriages. Normally her two sons and his two daughters would've been there too, but all were at their other parents' places in near-by settlements. He was originally a New Yorker, from Queens; she from
In the morning we went to synagogue with Shlomi in tow. I prayed. Avi stood, prayer shawl on, book in hand, Shlomi held on his arm hovering above the pistol strapped to his waste. A few of the men had these pistols, and a couple also carried massive machine guns slung over their backs. Out of the window the hills stood, large and impressive. On top of some were Jewish homes. Bellow and to the left, on lower slopes there was a Palestinian town.
We had kiddush (snacks, drinks and blessings) at the home of a convivial Mancunian couple: herring, Israeli pickles and drinking-whisky. I asked one of the few Israeli-born Israelis present about the number of Anglophones in Eli. Almost everyone he said; good for his kids' learning English. Many of these inhabitants either don't or else hardy speak Hebrew.
On the walks between locations I chatted with Jay, a bearded, friendly, (American), friend of Avi's, also with pistol strapped reassuringly to waist. He was eager to tell me about Eli's history and politics. In synagogue for minha (the afternoon service) he had pointed out two of it's founders, standing at opposite ends of the room. One had led the council by diktat for years, using the seven-man council as a rubber-stamping committee. Elections dates had continuously been postponed by virtue of unanimity. The other had eventually broken off and formed a new party. Now they stood at impasse; the struggle continues.
Jay had come for ideological reasons, to use his phrase. As we walked he pointed out the hill tops and named them for me. I noted that in the direction we were looking we could only see Jews. In that direction (East), he said, you could draw a line around a piece of continuous land that would give a Jewish majority all the way down to the
After lunch I tried to read and fell asleep in a chair. When I awoke, I asked Avi about going for a walk. I wanted to get up the hill we could see out of his window. He had told me that it had been built to make sure that the Arabs didn't build there, on the highest hill around, overlooking Eli. Now he told me that I should be able to get there and back before ma'ariv (evening service). I took the long path spiraling to the right, around the south of the hill. The walk was steep and muddy. On the hilltops in front and behind were rows of red-roofed houses and white rectangular caravans. I kept going. Then, almost at the top the path turned and suddenly I was on a road back in Eli. I hadn't moved, hadn't climbed a hill, hadn't gone anywhere. Same houses, same lights, same people. Some of these now walked in the opposite direction. "Shabbat shalom" we said to one another as we passed by. Beyond the houses there were two rows of caravans. Beyond these there was what seemed to be a plateau. I walked along a road there and saw the metal frame of a watch tower around which the hill fell away on three sides. As I climbed it the wind suddenly hit me: cold and strong. I got to the top and looked a round: finally a full panorama. Looking north, Arab villages lay plastered to the slopes. Looking east and west: a chain of Jewish-settled hilltops as far as the eye could see. It seems that this had been the plan more than two decades ago when the project was begun in earnest: a chain of the tallest hilltops stretching west to east, first on one in every few hills then on those in between.
At some point in the afternoon Avi made the comment that most sticks in my mind: the attacks of 9/11 had been a good thing. Then he caught himself. He was a New Yorker and had always looked up at the
After Havdala (ceremony for the end of the Sabbath) Avi tried to burn me a DVD of the first series of '24'. But that went too slowly and I had to leave for the free bus to
I ran to get there for the bus, then joined the queue. I sat behind the driver. The bus was subsidized by the army he said, to prevent all these people trying to hitchhike back on a Saturday night. We snaked back to
22 October 2007
At half past six last Friday morning I left my flat and crossed Arlozerov Junction. Abu Rami's minibus was already there. I climbed on board and tried to go back to sleep. Forty-something minutes later one team, comprised on Yesh Din / Machsom Watch ladies was dropped off at land adjacent to the Gilad Farm outpost, west of Hawara, where there's been trouble recently. I went with four PHD students from the Weitzman Institute for Science. We continued through Hawara, turned left before the checkpoint and jumped off the bus on a road just by a large almond tree. We were where I'd been only two months ago, picking almonds. We walked up the hillside, the wadi and checkpoint bellow us to the right, then came across the family. We'd come from the Hawara side of checkpoint, they from Kfar Kallil on the
We set to work picking olives. Last year was a good harvest, and so this year is not. I joined the boys up in the trees, balancing on bending braches, trying to get to what olives there were without falling. One of the teenage kids, Hamudi, revived the chant from last time of "yehudi balagan, yehudi sababa." Later he started banterously poking me and accusing me with, "yehudi balagan". Eventually I retorted with "aravi balagan, aravi sababa", which drew a sudden laugh from their grandmother who'd been quietly attacking the olives with a stick.
I stuffed the olives into my pockets before descending from a tree to relinquish them into a container. We stopped for breakfast and sat in a circle eating. One of the Weitzman scientists was Anna, a thin, blond English woman from
Jawal raised the issue of going to get water from the family's spring. The kids clambered around me, wanting to be picked to come. I asked Jawal to choose, anyone but Walid, who'd been irritating, laughing at me in Arabic. He picked Walid. As we walked down the path he was suddenly nice and suddenly understood Hebrew well too. The lack of an audience made him OK. As the road and the almond tree came into sight we saw first a head and then a car, parked behind the spring. We hung back, and waited. Five or ten minutes, then back. But we'd been seen, more cars turned up, more people came out of them. We headed back.
We had worked for over four hours when Rabbi Arik Asherman turned up with a UN man. He utterly ignored the Israelis and went straight to talk only to the Palestinians.
We looked down at the valley. People streamed out of the checkpoint. "Look," said one of the Palestinians to me, "they've been let out."
Our time was almost up. Jasmin, more religious than the rest of us, was beginning to get nervous that she wouldn't get home with enough time to prepare for the Sabbath. I took Walid and the bottles and headed once more towards the spring. Two of his brothers came too. The settlers were still there. This time with an army jeep alongside. I told the kids to stay there and started down the hill with the bottles. On the path I saw a soldier. He aimed his weapon towards me. "I'm Israeli!" I shouted, (in Hebrew). He lowered his weapon. I continued towards him. He raised his weapon. "Lower your gun, I'm an Israeli!" I shouted, (in Hebrew). He lowered it. I came closer to him. "I was just looking through the lens" he explained. "It's still unnerving," I said, and asked if it was alright to go to the spring. He didn't mind.
I got down to the road and asked the commander of the jeep, a fat man in a scull cap, if I could go to the spring. He tried to ignore me. Behind the jeep were half a dozen settlers, sitting around the spring, a small pool of water. I asked if I could take water. One tried to ignore me. Another asked why I was there. As I filled the bottles he and I got into a conversation about Jewish philosophy: he quoted Rashi, I Maimonedes. My phone rang. I was told to hurry up. Abu Rami's bus was there. As I rose to my feet, the settler who'd been ignoring me told me, "that's the pool, the spring's over there", pointing to another water source, "I tell you this because you're a Jew." I'd already drunk from the water and it'd tasted fine. With no time left I decided to deliver the water I had. I bid the settlers Shabbat Shalom and left them there.
On the road the three Palestinian kids were leaning against the front of the jeep, a soldier checking them one by one. The UN man and Arik were trying to figure out what was going on. The kids had been ordered down to the road by the soldier I'd met on the hillside. Once there they were detained. The army said there'd been shots fired in the area two days previously, and the area was off-limits. This was the first the Palestinian had heard of this; it was the first the UN man had heard of this; it was also the first that Rabbi Asherman had heard of this, even though he's in daily contact with the local DCO.
The upshot: they had come from the
It was agreed that the kids would be driven in the army jeep to the checkpoint and released on the other side. An experience, something to tell their friends about. Abu Rami's bus was now waiting. I couldn't shake any hands, so I waved goodbye, said Shabbat Shalom to the soldiers and asked the UN guy to make sure that the kids call Jawal to let him know what was going on. We all got onto the bus. There was no time to stop for falafel in Hawara. We had to get Jasmin back to Tel-Aviv with enough time to prepare for the Sabbath.
13 August 2007
Almonds Near Hawara
Last Friday, the 10th of August. We met at Arlozerov where Abu Rami's bus almost filled up. We drove on Route 5, then 505, past Ariel, left at Tapuach and along the valleys to Hawara. We passed through the town then took a sharp left at the check point, climbing up a steep road.
Suddenly Abu Rami stopped and we disembarked. We were three in our 20s, two in their 60s, and two in their 70s. Abu Rami pointed us up the hill towards the almond trees. One of the 70-something-year-olds set the pace, delighting in the brilliance of his walking stick. Then I was sent back to the road to pick up a group from the ISM (International Solidarity Movement). Then back up the hill. The daughter of the Palestinian family remembered me from a year or more ago when I came for their olive harvest. She was still the boss, even more stern than then, though still pleasant. Her many brothers shook our hands one by one, then we were off.
The pickings were poor. But we got what we could. Bit by bit we clambered down the hill, stripping the trees, trying not to loose anyone.
I talked to a Jewish-American woman from the ISM who was incredulous at my being a Zionist. She was aghast at my general support for the army and for its continued presence in the territories. I pointed out that even Abu Mazen, the Palestinian President, has said (in private) that his forces cannot currently take security control of Palestinian towns that Israeli forces might leave.
I talked with Muhammad, one of the brothers. He was called Hamudi by his sister. He was "Muhammad Hamudi", and I was "Udi Hamudi". ("Hamud" means cute). Those are the kinds of things you talk about when you have few words in common. One Hebrew word he kept repeating was balagan, a total mess. "Yehudim Balagan," he said, pointing towards the settlement. "Ana Yehudi", I said ("I'm a Jew"). "Yehudi balagan," I said, pointing at the settlement; then, "yehudi sababa", pointing at myself. (Sababa is Hebrew slang for good/cool). He grinned and repeated the gesture, pointing back to them, then to me, agreeing that they're balagan and I'm sababa.
We finally crossed the road and arrived at a massive tree, full of almonds. I climbed up to join some of the brothers. Up in tree I chatted more with Muhammad, who must be around 16. He hated all the Palestinian factions, and all their politicians. I climbed steadily higher, packing my pockets with almonds as I went.
Finally, pockets firmly packed I and we descended. I was handed some bread with za'atar and sat beneath the tree for the quick meal. One of the kids came to me and asked if we could go to the spring. He was already leading me off before I cottoned on. The freshwater spring is on their land but normally under settler control. I managed to stop him and, through one of the ISM women translating, told him that perhaps later on we could go there, when we had a better idea of the situation.
After a while we started back up the hill towards the road. Muhammad took me by the arm and walk with me. Then suddenly all the kids began to rush forward. Muhammad too broke from me and into a run. I was weary and tried in vain to calm them and find out what had happened. Then I saw that they'd all set upon a pomegranate tree, excitedly stripping it of its fruit. By the time I arrived all that was left for me was half a bitter pomegranate.
We got to the spring and plunged in. We drank from a plastic jug, like those used for Jewish ritual hand-washing. The water was fresh and sweet, cooling on such a hot day. Once each had had his or her fill we walked up to the road. A settler stood on the corner, waiting to hitch a ride. He was tall, dark-skinned, with a large scull-cap and dangling side-curls. One of the older volunteers asked me if he was typical of the kind of settlers they have in that area; he frowned and sighed when I answered yes.
The family were nervous to go back to their village alone. So a few of us went across the hillside with them. Just before we said our goodbyes one of the kids asked if I'd not had a tongue stud. Actually, he asked something in Arabic then pointed to his tongue. I had had one a year ago when I helped with their olives. Rather than going into all the reasons I said that my girlfriend had made me take it out. Actually, I pulled out my Israeli id. card and said something in Hebrew while pointing at a picture of my girlfriend. I got the requisite laughs and jibes for being controlled.
We all shook hand and said goodbye. The younger kids were, as always, surprised when I shook their hands. I was probably wrong to shake the sister's hand. I think that like religious Jews the religious Muslim Palestinians don't shake hands with the opposite sex. But she was the one in charge, and it seemed wrong to shake everyone's hand but hers. She didn't seem offended. She remained stern bet sweet as she said goodbye.
We got back to the road to find Abu Rami's bus waiting. We turned sharp right at the checkpoint and entered Hawara. The better falafel stall was shut, so we bought some at another and headed back to Tel-Aviv.
05 August 2007
At 7am on Friday, the 3rd of August, I walked from the German Colony in Jerusalem to Liberty Bell Park, (a place that had once seemed magical to me). There in the car park was Abu Rami's bus, complete with Rabbi Yachiel, some English and American volunteers, two OAPs and three men from a group called the Sons of Abraham. We drove to Hebron.
After an hour or so we came to pass through the settlement of Kiryat Arba, this being the only direct route. We were stopped at a gate to the town by a security guard, or rather a member of their private militia. He was either Ethiopian of one of the Menasha tribe of Asians who had moved to there. Abu Rami told him we were a group of American going to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. But the suspicion persisted. "Rabbi Yachiel!" shouted Abu Rami, and Rab Yachiel's head duly popped forward, complete with grey beard and large scull-cap. "Oh, Rabbi Yachiel!" said the guard, and promptly let us through.
We wound down round the settlement and into the city. We passed the Tomb of the Patriarchs and continued past the closed market, along the Jewish route deep into the city. The bus climbed a little up hill and then arrived. We were at Tel Rumeida, at the house of Issa with whom I have spoken about a joint Israeli-Palestinian students' project.
We were there to put up a fence against his settler neighbours, and to help clear up. Here the settlers were not on adjoining land, but rather a few meters up the hill, their kids sitting in the garden chatting to two soldier at the house just up and two the right. The owners of Issa's new home have, like many others, left to go to East Jerusalem for a quieter life. Issa is renting the hither-too empty property cheaply, effectively house sitting for an indefinite time. Up until now settlers would have moved in. This is the fist time that Palestinians have moved into an empty house in a Hebron neighbourhood which settlers or trying to take over.
We worked hard, scooping up broken tiles and carrying them in rubber buckets to the edge of Issa's land where the debris was chucked down the hill. The Anglo-American Jews did themselves pound, breathing in the dust, shoveling on in the oppressive heat.
A young film-maker from Finsbury Park in London asked me to speak into his camera. He asked why I was there and I rambled on for a bit. He had been to Nablus the day before and later caught a lift with us to Jerusalem on his way to stay with friends in Nahariah. Only foreigners have the right to roam anywhere between the sea and the river.
Three Americans and an Englishman from the Christian Peace Makers in Hebron turned up. We sat in a circle and spoke about Christianity. The view from the hillside took in most of the city, spread across the valley bellow and up onto opposing hillsides, at its centre the large rectangular cube and minaret of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Gunfire went off, followed by shouting. But it was just a wedding. Then it was back to the rear of the house, clearing the rubbish and putting the fence in place.
The work done, the Sabbath closing in, everyone was gathered round. Three very short speeches were made. The Sons of Abraham men thought it was historic. Issa, more poignantly, told us how much it meant to him and to his neighbours to see Israelis come and help. To me that statement made a difference. It often feels pointless.
We went back to Jerusalem. By 6pm I was back in my flat in Tel Aviv, ready for a quiet Friday night with my girlfriend.
04 June 2007
With the Rabbis in the South Hebron Hills.
Friday morning. 5am. My alarm goes. I reset it. 5:30am. My alarm goes again. I push myself out of bed, get dressed, take something from my grandmother's fridge and emerge, more asleep than awake, onto
Initially we thought that Ta'ayush must have been the targets. But then the absent volunteer came to mind. The police's number didn't work. Rabbi Yichiel recalled hearing orthodox music in the background when speaking to him. He called the man, and heard an answering machine in which he used religious language. It now seemed clear. This man had directed the two would-be assailants to us. We had indeed been the target. But his stupidity we extreme: later on he called again, saying that he was in (the settlement of) Kiryat Arba, and whether he could join us. This confirmed all our suspicions. No-one who would volunteer for Rabbis for Human rights would drive alone to Kiryat Arba.
So we arrived late at the
Back in Tel-Aviv I sat in front of my computer screen. I read a report by the Reut Institute, a small independent think tank. They describe what they call the Resistance Network, made up of Hamas,
01 May 2007
A valley somewhere near Nablus/Shechem
I must admit I've stopped remembering their names. They're all nice, to me that is. I come, with the Rabbis or Yesh Din, we help them out and they're nice to me. I used to make an effort to remember their names for this diary, but now it's all blurring into one.
Last Thursday was the QBP, the Queen's Birthday Party at the British ambassador's house. Diplomatic dignitaries, political personalities, and people who have friends who work at the embassy, gathered in the ambassador's garden to raise a glass or two to her majesty, until late in the night. At around 11:30 my friend David Bernstein called from
At around 6am on the morning of Friday, the 27th of April I began to battle a vengeful hangover, cycling to Arlozerov Station through Tel-Aviv's deserted streets. I caught the train to Rosh Ha'a'in where the minibus was waiting for me. They'd come from
Abu Rami remembered my normal nagging to stop off at Hawara for their two-shekel-falafel. (His news is that his fourth son, who's my age, is getting married. Seeing as each married son needs a place to live, this means a fourth flour needs to be build onto his sons' house next to his own in
We drove through Hawara, taking a right just before Hawara checkpoint where I had once got stuck for an interminable forty minutes. The destination was a valley in the Hawarta Stream area. We stopped in a green valley and were met by a man on a tractor and his two sons. The valley sloped gently: from a flat, broad basin, up to low-lying hills on either side; the road, and the steam somewhere, running down the middle. I clambered up onto the tractor, just for the ride. But the rest of the team didn't follow. They remained on the road for the time being.
I had been worried as to how I would explain my hangover, and my reluctance to work, to a Muslim Palestinian. Five years ago I worked scrubbing dishes in the kitchen of a Kibbutz on the southern coast of the
Time moved slowly. Across the valley and atop its northern slope we could see the southern reaches of the settlement of Itamar. Just beyond Itamar's eastern edge is the village of (Upper) Yannun, where I once spent a weekend. A few years ago the whole population of that village left due to the settlers' harassment. They only returned when a foreign NGO agreed to station a three-person team permanently in the village. So I knew where I was: SE of Nablus/Shechem, E of Hawara, S of Itamar, SW of Yanun. I slept.
A man and a boy on a donkey approached. The man and I spoke in Hebrew. In fact he was hardly a man, seventeen. He wanted to know if it was safe to work in the valley. I told him that where we were stood it was more or less safe. The army knew we were there and their local base, the Nablus DCO, was close-by. The settlers probably wouldn't try anything. He wanted to work his family's land across the valley. I gave him my number, but then suggested that he go and speak to Abu Rami. While we spoke he probably saw the look in my eye and asked if I wanted a ride on his donkey. He ordered his brother off and I clambered on. And so I got rides on a tractor and a donkey within a couple of hours. Every boy's fantasy. Great fun.
The ploughing work was almost finished at around the time that Abu Rami had had enough and that we had to leave to be back before the Sabbath. (The Rabs for Human Rights is a religious organisation). So I left the ploughman whose name, as I say, I forget, and walked back across the valley. It didn't look like there was going to be any trouble, and it being so close to the Sabbath, it was doubtful that the settlers would start anything now. So the ploughman continued on ploughing.
The valley was an amazing green. Rich and bold even by English standards. It was littered with an array of wild flowers. A scattering of competing colours, spread across the green. Then as I walked I came across a putrid little rubbish dump. It stank, was repugnant. I walked on by. The future Palestinian state might well be reliant on tourism, but they're going to have to teach their people to stop throwing all their crap all over the place.
It turned out that David Bernstein and Her Whatshername had worked with the kids on the donkey. David later told me that the seventeen-year-old hopes to study abroad, then be a doctor in Tel-Aviv. He certainly has the Hebrew to do so.
We got back in the minibus and headed for Hawara. Over the radio we heard that the other Rabbis for Human Rights team, working in the South Hebron Hills, had been attacked. Rabbi Arik Asherman had taken some blows. We didn't know how bad it was. Then it emerged that he was with the police, at least not the hospital. Then we found out that he was there to complain, that he had not been arrested. Not too bad then. He's taken blows before. In the past he's been arrested on a Friday, then not released until after the Sabbath has come in. Perhaps, now that the Sabbath is over, I ought to call him…
Well, Rabbi Asherman's mobile phone was switched off. The woman in the Rabbis' office told me that he's abroad, lecturing. They were with Palestinian shepherds when they were attacked by settlers from Pnei Khever. He sustained a few blows. Exactly what she didn't know. She hadn't seen him. Another volunteer had her wrist injured. Rabbi Asherman was detained by police, at which time he also made his complaint.
We passed again through Hawara. Once more we stopped, this time to buy some tasty knafe, an Arab sweet similar to baklawa. They can cost around £3.50 for one in
30 March 2007
An admittedly belated post, but aptly so. For it is a post with a subject, and the subject is banality. It's all so banal. And when it's banal, it' s hard to get yourself to write about it. Hannah Arendt made famous the idea of the banality of evil. 'Evil' is a word I dislike, and I'll leave it to Arendt[i] to define. For my purposes here I'd rather we think of this: 'the concerted ability to treat others as if they were not people of worth.' Perhaps a better way to think of it is to consider it as the opposite of the old Jewish dictum of Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva that you must 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you', (Seeing as some of us are sadomasochists and others are not, this usually means asking the other how they want to be treated, which then leads logically to Emanuel Kant's famous injunction that you must treat people as ends and not merely as means. But I digress.) For brevity, and only for brevity, I will call such action evil.
About a month ago now, on a Wednesday, I travelled with Yesh Din to the police station in Ariel. On the way we met up with two Palestinian men, who waited for us by the roadside. They were father ad son: the father in his sixties, the son in his thirties. We drove to Ariel, called the police to come and collect us from the checkpoint, and eventually were waved through; the policeman couldn't be bothered to come down.
Their story I will give in brief, for it is not the point of this post. They were on their land when a group of settlers attacked them. They called the (Israeli) army for assistance. The army came and arrested the two Palestinian men, hitting the younger in the back of his head with the butt of a rifle, knocking him unconscious. We sat and waited in the corridor of the Ariel police station, as the story was clarified by the younger man, he himself a policeman. He is a tall man, broad, with a face that looks as though it's been chiselled from granite. He works as an assistant to the Palestinian Authority's police commander in
We waited and waited. We talked about family and land, work in Tel-Aviv and police work, studies and women. The father urged against mirage. The son, who has a young family of his own, quietly disagreed. Eventually, we were informed by a friendly policeman that the national police computer network had collapsed, and that as the id. parade they would be asked to view was computerised, we would have to wait. They said they knew the people who had attacked them, but that was utterly beside the point. All in all, we waited almost four hours. Four hours in a dull and bleak mini-maze of airless corridors. The people were interesting, but the situation utterly banal, and utterly boring too. However important the geopolitical forces struggling in this small stretch of land, however bloody a bomb here in Tel-Aviv or a helicopter missile attack in
Think back to previous posts. To Qiryat Arba, to the Ariel police station, better described there, to the DCO, or the court at
[i] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in
nb. The feeling might be given by these post that the Palestinians are wonderful and innocent, the Israelis evil and belligerent. This is not the case. But this blog is dedicated to adventures and misadventures in the
11 February 2007
The Wailing Wall
On Thursday I was in
So I climbed the stairs back up to the Jewish Quarter (where I know where there is a free toilette). I passed an Al Jazeera news crew, an attractive reporter stood with her back to the Wailing Wall and above it the beautiful golden Dome of the Rock, preparing to talk into the camera. I paused and looked down. Two bulldozers moved to the right on the Wall, outside the south-western corner of the enclosure, moving earth around. They're repairing a temporary bridge to the Mugrabe Gate which hovers many feet up in the air, (when seen from the west).
In 1967 Moshe Dayan agreed with the Waqf, that it would continue to hold authority over Al-Haram Asharif (the
I glanced at the slowly moving bulldozers for a few seconds, then went into the Jewish Quarter to find that toilette. The meeting which I came to
(Haaratz has two very good pieces on this today. One by Uzy Benziman,
the other by Danny Rubinstein and Yoav Stern.)
01 February 2007
At a quarter past two last Friday afternoon I was at the ticket office in
We arrived not quite to
Before dinner David, Adam and I wondered down to synagogue for the evening service, ma'ariv. Yosef and Melody's place is on the edge of Qiryat Arba, facing
The road wound up through half-demolished houses, through what looked like an ancient archway, then downhill and out into the open courtyard of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. We walked up the steps and into the building. The place is separated off into a number of services, or minyanim (rough translation), which makes it reminiscent of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
We returned to Qiryat Arba for dinner. On the way David pointed out three people sat at a table in the middle of an empty field. It was cold and they were sat there, eating. The place is known as Geborim, a no-man's-land along the road, claimed by the settlers. In order to further the claim they pray there, and on Friday night some eat there.
Dinner was big. And it was good. I was bound by the 1st rule of the house: no guest is allowed to help unless he/she as been at least three times. So I sat and talked to my neighbour, a large man, a bus driver, whose name I utterly forget. I sat with my back to the other table. There a ten-year-old kid, cheeky but sweet, sat right behind me. He had been given a bit of wine and was a touch tipsy. He tried to get me to surreptitiously give him more. The conversation was jovial and calm, and rather banal. A few songs were sung and the sound of the imam's call to prayer wafted in through the open window. Afterwards Bernie, Adam, Myself and the two Americans (now named as Sora and Rachael) went up to the road where some of us smoked and most of us chatted. There we could see across the hillside of the Palestinian neighbourhood, but only the neon of the mosque's minaret was plainly visible in the darkness.
Morning came. We wondered down to synagogue. Now I was more comfortable, and bounced between minyanim. I caught up with the prayers in one room then moved to another to hear the Torah read in the Sephardi style. The small room was colourfully decorated with Arabic scripture. Through a window in front of the reader we could see another room with a Muslim-style tomb, representing the last resting-place of Abraham. I prayed through the morning. Then I met up with Bernstein and we went to walk in
We went first to the Avraham Avinu neighbourhood, the Jewish settlement in
David and I walked along the Palestinian market road, closed for the Jewish Sabbath. On the way we saw Jewish settler graffiti: a colourful mural depicting sheep, hills, a pioneer with a large scull-cap, side-curls and a rifle in hand. There was writing scrawled on the closed shutters of the shop-fronts. And there was a symbol of a Star of David, with its bottom right-hand-corner replaced by a large fist clenched in the star's interior. It was reminiscent of similar graffiti I've seen playing on the map of mandatory
After lunch Adam and David had a nap. I went with Sora and Rachael for stroll. We asked and were told that there was no picturesque place to sit and look at the view. Stood there amidst the Hebron Hills we found this a little hard to believe. We kept on walking. We came across what looked like a pile of boulders: big white rocks, one on top of the other. We clambered onto them, then skipped carefully to the top. We sat down and got comfortable and started to talk. We looked down and across the wadi (Arabic and colloquial Hebrew for valley), and at the low-lying hills beyond. On each small mound there was the permanent parking-place of a set of caravans: a Hilltop Settlement. On the right there was a brand-new road. Directly bellow us we saw a small grove of olive trees. They'd been burnt. One of the girls eventually mentioned them and asked why they were burnt. I said that they were probably Palestinian trees, burned down by settlers. This year they've mostly been stealing olives but two years ago, when the last good harvest came, they'd opted for burning. And it seemed like the tactic had worked in the wadi bellow. The whole vista looked to be devoid of Arabs: a success. The girls were shocked at the burning of the trees.
As we walked back I noticed again a large number of Indians, members of the "Tribe of Menasheh". Qiryat Arba, Yosef later told me, is home to six or seven hundred Children of Menasheh, Indians who claim to be descendents of the biblical tribe of Menasheh. They had lived in
Dusk came quickly, and we performed havdalah, the ritual to end Shabbat. I made a call to my Mum in
Pictures: First the Tomb of the Patriarchs, then a Jewish couple on a walk in Hebron