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May 30, 2015
Happily, nothing very dramatic happened today in South Hebron, unless you consider acts of friendship, perseverance, and somehow doing the decent thing as in their own way dramatic. I spent the whole day harvesting the fields of Abu Anan. He’s an old friend, a lovable man of almost mythic qualities. Born in Hebron long ago. Driven from his first home, then his second home, by Israeli settlers, who also stole considerable chunks of his land. Still he didn’t give up. He built a third, and then a fourth, home, surrounded on three sides by the settlers of Kiryat Arba and their various violent extrusions. I remember well the time, some eight years ago, when settlers would come in large numbers every afternoon, encircle his house, and throw stones at it, smashing the windows, for two or three hours. In those days, we used to keep Ta’ayush volunteers in the house day and night, to protect him and his large family. We, too, are his family. His brother was among those murdered in 1994 while at prayer in the Machpela Cave by Baruch Goldstein, whose grave is a pilgrimage site for settlers and right-wing politicians.
Today we came to help Abu Anan finish harvesting his plot of land. “Harvesting” means picking by hand the dry stubble and the remnants of wheat, barley, and prickly grass so that next winter, when the rains come, he can plow and sow more barley, chickpeas, wheat, and other crops. What we pick today will feed the sheep and goats for months. We crouch close to the baked earth and pluck the stalks, trying our best to avoid the fierce thorns hidden in plenty amidst the rest. It is slow, hot, heavy work, satisfying as harvesting always is. The bundles of stalks and hay have to be stuffed into big bags and carried up a steep hill to the huge haystack that has been waiting there since last week’s volunteers worked these fields. Hours go by as the sun moves in and out of cloud.
For the first two hours we have a drone accompaniment. A few meters past the field, but still entirely on Abu Anan’s land, there is a makeshift synagogue—a miserable confabulation of stones and wooden benches under a black net roof. Four times settlers built a synagogue on this spot, and four times the Civil Administration, bowing to the ruling of the courts, demolished it. The new one is number five. Some thirty settlers in white prayer-shawls come to chant the morning prayer, shacharit, and to hear the Sabbath Torah portion. They look at us with evident disdain, or worse. As I pull up weeds and thorns, I hear them singing the gentle words I once loved: “God, Lord of all deeds, blessed by the mouth of all that lives and breathes. His greatness and his goodness fill the world. Thought and wisdom surround him…..” It’s a prayer about the way the world is put together, and about the compassion, hesed ve-rahamim, that precede God’s glory, and about the heavenly lights and the angels—a mystical vision of a world that is innately, profoundly good, as indeed I think the world is, as I know it to be. I don’t have to explain to you the sharp dissonance I feel, hearing these ancient words from the throats of thieves, the sworn enemies of my friend and, I suppose, of all Palestinians, or maybe all non-Jews, certainly of any Israeli peace activists or “leftists” who happen to be there today. I know they want to hurt us. A sadness descends. Again I notice, with some relief, that I feel no hatred for these men.
After some hours Abu Anan calls us into the thick shade of a large fig tree, an inner bower roofed by gnarled branches, and serves us tea. We have a moment to reminisce. The past tumbles out, including those days when his house was besieged; also the time he offered us refuge after we were released from arrest, in the police station that towers over his home. He speaks of his children and his thirty grandchildren. He speaks of the fruit trees that used to dot his land, all the way down the hill—there were olive trees and almond trees, fig trees, pomegranates, and many more, all of course cut down by the settlers. He doesn’t quote the famous, utterly unromantic line by Mahmoud Darwish about Old Palestine, before the catastrophe, but I hear it in my head: “Unfortunately, it was Paradise.” If it were up to me, I’d add it to the Jews’ morning prayer, in the hope that someday this place will be Paradise again.