people need to know يحتاج الناس إلى معرفته
This reportage was written in the days of the tragic kidnapping of three Israelian boys close to Hebron, in West Bank. It can help to explain the mood, feelings and the style of lives of people on both sides, Israel and Palestine.
HEBRON – Isra wakes up every morning with the anxiety that a new order of demolition could make disappear his home forever in the village of Ibzet-Tabib. She likes to draw the face of Marilyn Monroe, she is 16 years old and has a great desire to have a normal life. Avighai is drinking a coffee and nibbling a halva, while slowly browsing the pages of a newspaper. He thinks about how many insults he will receive today, and about those Israelis will look at him with stern eyes, without commenting. He is a former sergeant of Tsahal the IDF, the army with the Star of David. In 2003, he was moving with his patrol from one checkpoint to another in Hebron in the West Bank. He was there to protect. But he quickly realized that they were protecting the “wrong” side. At eight o’clock in the morning Mohannad is already walking around Hebron. His house, his family’s, is near the Cordoba school and the stair of “shame.” In the garden of Mohannad’s home you can enjoy a view, one of the most suggestive of Hebron. The young guy has a small video camera, documenting every illegal behavior of Israeli settlers and IDF soldiers. It is not an easy job. The threats are continuous and so are the humiliations. For the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the three boys disappeared last Thursday, just in the Hebron area, every morning is painful. Every minute without news is like a torture. Any hope switched on and then turned off it is like dying.
Moran is sleeping. She lives in Tel Aviv, where she works, but she loves staying up late at night clubbing and wandering around. The city offers so much to the nightlife, to the movida. Over the past two weeks she had sleept badly and dreamed worse. She has a recurring nightmare: waking up lying on a bench but far from her country. She cannot get any rest, she fears that it can really happen. Moran worries about what might happen in the North. She still remembers the period when rockets were launched from southern Lebanon. A daily nightmare. She thinks that even in the West Bank, things could get worse. “We are exaggerating, but no one can thinks sane beyond the green line.”
Walking around the West Bank, you immediately realize that the Palestinian state project is just simply an illusion. A symbol can be waved over the negotiating table, while below the table what Ariel Sharon had anticipated already in the seventies is brought to fullfilment: “we will make any chances of building a Palestinian State impracticable.”
Abu Ghassan now does not sleep anymore, also because he wouldn’t know where to lie down, if not on the ground. He is a Bedouin. His camp is near E1 area, dedicated to new settlements, just outside East Jerusalem, and at the center of a political dispute. In the Holy City all issues involve politics, everything has a “strategic” value. Every single license, each piece of stamped paper, any signature or endorsement are made, designed and built to wear down the will of the Palestinians to continue to live in the eastern part of the city or close to any settlement in the West Bank. Ghassan is almost blind and has ten children. The wind is cool and breezy on the hill that dominates the so-called E1 area. On the left, you can see the settlement of Maale Adumim extending to northeast as the phalanx of a finger. The city administration has decided that this tribe of Bedouins should go away. The Israelis have put money at stake and the lure of a new home. Bedouins know that by accepting the “bargain” they would give a green light to the construction of a belt of settlements around East Jerusalem. Then it would be only a matter of time for the Arabs that still stand in the neighborhoods to leave. They are living with poor services, limitations and harassment if they have the misfortune to live in contact with settlers. The Bedouins are between two fires, but “this is the life we have chosen since 50 years, untill we can we’ll resist here” says Ghassan, by the words of Shadi, head of communication at the EU legacy for Gaza and the West Bank, who translates for us.
Ghassan had tried to put together four spare bricks to build something that would be a small step ahead of rusty shacks where they lived. A zealous municipality officer issued a demolition order. The soldiers came. But with mockery came along humiliation, because together with the military there were settlers who pickaxed walls and windows. It was not enough. UNRWA (the UN organization that deals with refugees) had donated the blind Bedouin a caravan. It was confiscated as well. Then the Red Cross had provided a tent, for humanitarian reasons. But apparently they were also merciless to this emergency shelter. You can only imagine what kind of feelings hatch persons deprived of all rights.
In the old city they have found subterfuge to resist the bureaucratic war, the experts of UNDP, the UN organization that handles some aspects of urban planning of the delicate situation of Jerusalem, explains to us. Many Palestinians have donated their homes to Aqwa, a Jordanian religious foundation. In this way they do not risk eviction or to lose their residence. This is one of the worst threats they must face, because could permanently banish them from their homes. It’s really disheartening to hear the list of methods by which the municipal “machine” exerts pressure on Arab residents, little businesses and shops owners, with the clear intent to force them to leave.
This morning, Moran will tooks the red Vespa, the envy of all her colleagues to reach her office. She’ll passes at the cafe on the corner of Nahalat Benyamin Street to have breakfast. Italian cappuccino and “hurry up” fast fleeing along the streets of a unique city, alternating Miami with the Middle East, Los Angeles with Tyr. She keeps thinking that such a glittering life that many envy them, because Tel Aviv is a great place to live in, will be paid by promissory notes signed in the West Bank. Despite her appearances as “localara” – as they say for movida lovers in Rome – Moran knows that nobody gives you anything for free in life. Nothing comes easy and whatever you get, sooner or later, you will pay for it. She has a sensitive soul and she cannot get out from her mind that, a few kilometers away, there are people who live day by day without any rights, without any hopes. Just passing by Qalandia checkpoint you can go through the stargate between civilization and misery.
Qalandia where only the (palestinian) yellow plates cars are cleared to pass, the green ones are allowed to move only in the West Bank and are not permitted to enter in the roads built for the settlers. Penalty: endless fines and the seizure of cars and trucks. Even if israelian administration has built those roads in front of your door and you would not know which way to turn to move. It’s the life in the WB. In Qalandia where I could look through the keyhole of Palestinian passions. I was lucky enough to understand in a few minutes how fragile the truce is there. From Ramallah to reach Jerusalem I experienced, as usual, the ordinary people’s means of transportation. A collective taxi dropped me in front of the checkpoint. Quarrel with the driver for payment, as usual. Stating wishes that a Muslim would not like at all: “God will not let you enjoy with my money!”. I was so upset. I started to walk towards the border crossing, making a sort of slalom among cars, completely lost in my thoughts. With my “Syrian” black bag on my shoulders. I heard a crackling speaker in a language I did not understand. It was not Arabic. I thought were orders for the cars lined up in the traffic. The horns playing around me were a proof. Then I heard the voices of youngs in English: “they shoot … they shoot … they shoot.” I turn around and I saw four guys sitting out the windows of a car in the queue. They were weaving. The message was for me! Fast step back, hands up full visible. It was excitement melted with concern of young Palestinians who were trying to explain that was forbidden for pedestrians to pass through that point. And the soldiers usually shoot after a couple of warnings. Behold, at that precise moment I saw it in their eyes that kind of excitement, mixed with admiration for an action, completely unaware in my case, they see as a challenge to the Israeli military. They wanted to perform that action. They wanted to be in my place and they probably would have continued that stupid race till get killed. I recognized that feeling in Cairo, as in Tunis or Syria. It is despair that, within seconds, becomes ransom. You have to be Muslim to understand it thoroughly. Israel take things too far with the Palestinians.
Avighai was on time at the appointment with a group of journalists that has to be carried to Qyriat Arba and then to Hebron. Two cities two worlds almost attached. Today settlers will be less “aggressive” than usual, he thought. The first stop is something that causes a shock. It is a kind of memorial to Benjamin Goldstein in the park Meir Kahana in Qiryat Arba. There is his tomb, in the epitaph he is called a “martyr”. It is a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Jews. In February 1994, during celebration of Purim, Goldstein armed with an assault rifle and several magazines made a massacre at the Temple of the Patriarchs, wich at that time was a mosque. Twenty-nine Arabs were killed and 125 were wounded. The government of Israel emanated a law to restrict the movements of the most radical fringes of Jewish orthodoxy and dismantled the memorial built around Goldstein’s tomb. However, nowadays grave and headstone are visited by “fans”. We should not forget that in 1929 in Hebron (under British mandate), there was another massacre and 67 Jews were killed, this time. One of the assassins was an Arab policemen in plainclothes. The great part of the jewish community survived thanks to Arab neighbors that housed them, hiding them from murderous madness. And, more recently, we must not forget the Palestinian sniper that shot from Hebron and centered a child in his mother’s arms in Qyriat.
These facts help explain very schematically the kind of swamp of feelings, resentments, revenge, frustration that people experience in Hebron. Since 1967, the Palestinians have became the weaks, the victims. In 2008, units of Golani infantry arrived in Hebron and settled their HQ in Tel Rumedia. They immediately wanted to make it clear that things would change. It was known that the Nahal brigade was smooth with the Palestinians. Every now and then, militaries would let them breathe. The men of the Golani, instead, began to draw lines on the ground, at checkpoints, intersections and streets. The Arabs were never cleared to overcome such a border lines unless authorized by an IDF soldier. And they began to arrest young Palestinians. It was enough to come too close to a checkpoints, to get handcuffed. While Avighai rattled off tales of his fellow soldiers, I thought of what had happened to me at Qalandia. The desire to challenge the oppression felt as unbearable, the irrepressible urge to react, the need for symbolic and crazy gestures felt as uncontrollable. It’s the life in the West Bank.
Today Isra had good news, Israeli Administration has finally approved the master plan for her village. Thanks also to the UN office that deals with the coordination of many activities (OCHA). It needs just a last bureaucratic step, Inshallah. Maybe now Isra will sleep normally and she will has a bench in the woods in front her home, to sit in the evening to study English that already she speaks very well, while sipping on some carob syrup.
Moran will try to keep his life as usual, full of doubts, full of fears, drowned in the nightlife, but aware that things have to change. Especially for the Palestinians.
Ghassan exhausted is preparing to sleep under the stars. As usual for a true Bedouin, although cannot anymore counts them and Sirius is not more an hourglass counting his daytime. Mohannad will be slaloming the suffocating control of the IDF, maybe secretly filming some “delicacy” behaving of settlers. While the whole country, and not only, are sharing anxiety and hopes about the fate of the three kidnapped boys (on 30 June, the tragedy, the bodies of the 3 youngs have found close to Hebron)
Avighai knows he did the right thing. He thinks about his parents disagreeing on its militancy in Breaking the Silence. He keeps in mind that the daily battle to let the citizens of Israel and the world know what really happens in the Territories will still be a lasting issue. Many people know the truth and think it is a price to pay for security. Others are convinced that the primacy of Jewish ethical, in this way, will be thrown in the trash and the “elected” people will lose the only true and unquestionable protection, God’s one. A traveler who can tell nothing but fragments of truth there is only the hope that these pieces will contribute to a bigger picture of reality. And that life in the West Bank could become sweeter, softer and as wrinkled as the pulp of the dates of the Jordan Valley.