Wednesday, June 19 2013 The Struggle for Being by Amitai Ben-Abba

In the insane, maniacal strive to live life at its fullest I have found the most meaning in the perseverance and generosity of the Palestinian strugglers in the South Hebron Hills. The mechanics of disenfranchisement are so horrendously well-oiled, that the strugglers of the Wild South resist simply by being. And so, the rest of us, that come from safe(r) surroundings and secure(r) socioeconomic backgrounds, resist simply by being with them. That is the meaning of Ta’ayush – living together, living the end of apartheid and separate-ness.

Waking up at 5 AM on Saturday June 15th, 2013, the body is drowsy but the spirits are high as the sun rises gloriously on the horizon above the old city of Jerusalem and the fresh breeze of dawn washes the lungs. We arrive early near Susya to help clear a dirt road of boulders thrown from the settlement above. We work quickly, because any Palestinian labor may be deemed illegal according to the whims of the military ruler. Vehicles and tools may be confiscated; people may be detained on counts as ridiculous as “assisting terrorism.” Often times, the military erects the roadblocks, using big boulders to block everything from private driveways to main roads to Yatta. It is one of the many means of apartheid, meant to make life impossible, to make being a struggle, and conducted with impeccable coordination with local settlers.

Clearing the road to Susya. Photo: Guy
Clearing the road to Susya. Photo: Guy

The settler guard spots us from the colony on top of historical Susya and the army soon comes sprinting down with jeeps, but we already finished removing the largest boulders. A Druze commander of the Civil Administration comes out of a jeep and tells our Palestinian hosts that if they want to complain on roadblocks they have to do it alone, without us. Of course, that would be a waste of time and paper. But some useful work has been done and we proceed.

We go to accompany our friends to their land in Umm al-Ara’is, where recently 15 were arrested and among them a woman with her 18 month old baby (watch the too real video here). The Border Police comes to bully us as we arrive. A woman soldier stands silently by the side of the men. In front of us stands the illegal outpost Mitzpe Yair. Avidan, the settler that attacked us numerous times (introduced in this post), is there with a herd, grazing on Palestinian land. He leaves soon after our arrival, but we’ll see him again. The military declares a closed military zone – the grazing is forbidden from the beginning of the barley field all the way to the greenhouses of Mitzpe Yair. Those greenhouses, as a friend tells the soldiers, are to be demolished by recent order of Israeli court. But not today, if ever, and the sheep and goats will be limited to their usual mouthful of thorns. Ironically, it is forbidden even by Israeli Supreme Court to declare a Closed Military Zone in order to block shepherds access to their land.

The shepherd, Abu Amr (aliases throughout), greets us with a grand ear-to-ear smile. “Ahala wa-sahala,” he welcomes us loudly, enunciating every syllable. As the Arabic-speaking Druze commander of the Civil Administration comes to warn him again to refrain from coming with us, he protests. He tells him his full, real name, and the history associated with it, that his family has worked this land for five hundred years, and that all authorities until the present one have respected his family’s customs. The human may be listening but the authoritative position is bounded.

Abu Amr shares interesting things that I only half-understand – that his clan is part Jewish in tradition, that the land is owned by a thousand people that share it in ways unlike the contemporary rule of private property. But the machine of segregation has a very particular language. The land is officially “in dispute,” or as David Shulman writes in an important post about the area, “settlers have open access, Palestinians have none.”

We sit with our hosts on the border of the forbidden zone, another imagined, grotesque concept that may have very real consequences for those who cross it with the wrong ID. The women collect herbs that grow wild on this fertile land. Guy brought sugar. They cook sweet tea of Gurni and Nana on a small fire. I look ahead on the vast empty lands across the green line, the lands on which settlers won’t receive free water and electricity, and on which Palestinians could be shot for trying to reach by foot. Sun in the zenith, we talk, and protest by being.

Tea in Umm al-Ara'is. Photo: Guy
Tea in Umm al-Ara’is. Photo: Guy

We hear from our friends in Operation Dove that Jenbah in the 918 Fire Zone has suffered some harassment. I wrote about it here previously. Last Wednesday, at night, a helicopter landed near the village, and raised dust that filled the air and the houses.

Abdallah, an activist from Beit Ummar, is limping, though he was impressively lifting boulders off the road earlier. He was shot in the knee last week, working on his land near the settlement Karme Tzur. The soldiers shot him with a rubber coated steel bullet from a distance of five meters. He shows me the wound, a recovering red bullet hole in a blue mark. He says he’s been shot six times beforehand and points at his chest, arms, and back, the knee is the seventh. An Arabic cat has seven lives.

Beit Ummar is a village with a long history of resistance to the occupation. The weekly demonstrations I’ve been to have often been lively and zestful in reaction to ever-worsening brutality. Other atrocities happened last week. Soldiers kidnapped and interrogated a young man and forced him to drink hard liquor in attempt to have him name people. He was taken to a hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Back in Umm al-Ara’is. “Last Saturday was more interesting,” Elai says. The group went into the land, the soldiers were confused and settlers came out. The herd got a good bite of the barley by the time the closed military zone was in effect. “It felt more like resistance,” he concludes. Suddenly, as if by a spell, the herd starts running, uncontrolled, down the hill, across the invisible line and into a spontaneous feast on the barley field. The befuddled soldiers weren’t trained in shepherdry. But the spectacle ends as Abu Amr runs down to drive the herd back. A moment of livestock insurgency.

After a good amount of sitting that characterizes most of our activism, we head back, and at the top of the hill see that a group of settlers in white shirts is headed towards us from the outpost. The military blocks their way, though. They’re too late.

Soldiers following activists and disturb Twaneh. Photo: Guy
Soldiers following activists and disturb Twaneh. Photo: Guy

We meet our friends for a falafel in Twaneh. A military jeep follows us into the languid village. We’re told that Umm al-Amad hasn’t been as quiet. The brutal military treatment described so well by Shulman in his +972 article didn’t occur, but a fanatic settler came out and attacked the shepherd and the herd. Please watch and share this video that says it all:

In solidarity with our friends in Umm al-Amad and the rest of the Wild South. The ridiculous monkey clown is back in the blogosphere. The half-frenzied half-languid struggle for being persists.

[This post was first published in Amitai’s blog]