Peace in our Time?

January 29, 2007

The Guardian: Comment is Free: Rabbit in the Headlights

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 10:17 pm

Seth Freedman

Rabbit in the headlights

The fate of a tiny Palestinian village highlights what is wrong with Israel’s policies.

By Seth Freedman 

Sometimes it’s hard to be Israeli. There are those who think the Arab world wants to kill us all, there are those who think that Europe unfairly singles us out for harsh criticism, there are those who think that, apart from America, we don’t have a single friend out there at all. Then there’re those – like me – who think we deserve all we get.

As I sat on the ruins of yet another demolished house in the tragic village of al-Nu’eman yesterday, I wondered why we think we merit any kind of sympathy at all.

You reap what you sow. And what we’ve sown in al-Nu’eman can only yield a harvest of more anger, more bitterness, more hate. And that’s just from the residents – what the rest of the world will feel for the Zionist machine is another story altogether.

To put it succinctly, Al-Nu’eman has been done like the proverbial kipper. Twenty-two houses, home to a tight-knit community who have lived in the same hills for generations, it sits on land annexed by Israel during the 1967 war.

However, due to the villagers’ clan chief living in a town located deeper in the West Bank, al-Nu’eman residents were registered under his address, and consequently denied Israeli status and IDs. This meant they could not enter Jerusalem – fine, until the plans for the security wall were finalised. Al-Nu’eman is to be fenced off, like countless other Palestinian hamlets and villages, but – and this is the Kafkaesque nightmare – they’ll be on the Israeli side of the wall when it’s completed.

West Bank residents who can’t go to the West Bank. People living in Israel proper who can’t go into Israel. Prisoners in their own homes? Spot on. And an utter disgrace.

I’m not going to bang a drum for peace, co-existence, make-love-not-war, and so on. I’ll leave that to the Israeli girls with flowers in their hair, to the long-haired Israeli boys back from Goa with opium-infused fantasies. I don’t reckon I’ll see a lasting peace in the region during my lifetime – and, truth be told, that’s not the reason I go on trips like these.

Just like I served in the army to try and understand the Israeli psyche better, so I go to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, etc, to see the other side of the story. And, 90% of the time, I come away ashamed of my country in the same way that a child gets embarrassed by a racist or otherwise socially unacceptable parent.

I’m no mug – the fact that there are PFLP members among the town’s residents doesn’t exactly make me want to rent a villa there in the summer months; the fact that our host – Yusuf – wore a beaming smile and spoke perfect Ivrit doesn’t convince me that he doesn’t raise his kids to hate Jews, but then this is mere conjecture. Whereas the hard facts are these: Israel has stitched up this village – which is in many ways a microscopic example of the Occupied Territories as a whole – and, furthermore, the whole octopus of Israeli authority is complicit in the crime.

From the upper echelons of government who delay reviewing the residents’ pleas for Israeli citizenship, to the municipality who serve demolition orders on the houses, to the boneheaded Magavniks who hassle the locals on an hourly basis. Magav, or border police, are the dregs of the army – the delinquent kids none of the other units want, those with criminal records and other behavioural issues. Often from poor immigrant families, they have a reputation for dishing out their own style of justice – up alleyways, out of the prying eyes of the media – and I know them only too well, from my 15 months in the IDF.

In late 2005, Magav thugs stopped two al-Nu’eman residents and tried to arrest them both. Only one cooperated and, to cut a long story short, the second was found later tied to his mule and beaten unconscious. The 43-year-old never came round – he died, and so too did the chance of his eight children ever forgetting and forgiving Israel for its deeds.

After meeting on Hebron road, we all climbed into our cars and set off for the village. We turned right, past the imposing, fortress-like settlement of Har Homa, and down into the lowland. Within seconds, the landscape became indistinguishable from the countryside in any of the Middle Eastern states. Dotted on the side of the golden, barren hills were stone houses, and down in the valleys were neatly planted rows of olive trees.

The roads we drove along were in such a state of disrepair that we were reduced to crawling pace. They are meant to be maintained by the Palestinian Authority but, as has been witnessed over the last decade of misrule, the swollen coffers of the PA are rarely put to good use for its people.

As we approached the edge of al-Nueman, up rocked a jeepful of Magav. Their first display of their might was to blare on their horn to attract the attention of two passing youths. They checked their IDs perfunctorily, nothing heavy, and to an outsider their behaviour was perfectly above board. I’m not saying any different but, having spent a month doing exactly the same in Beit Jalla, know that it is this low-level form of assertion of power that keeps the Palestinians constantly resentful of us – just as the black and Irish communities in London felt during the stop-and-search years.

We reached the house of Yusuf – a rotund, well-turned out resident and de facto head of the welcoming committee. He ushered us into a beautifully tended garden – lush grass, neat flowerbeds, and rather at odds with the villagers’ assertion that their water was routinely cut off for weeks at a time by the army.

However, splitting hairs was not my aim here – just as listening to the sadly-familiar recounting of IDF abuses by Yusuf was also not my top priority. Anyone can meticulously detail the complaints of the Palestinians, the rebuttals by the Israelis, and go mad trying to see the wood for the trees.

Instead, I prefer to focus on my emotional reaction to the visit. Of the seven of us touring, two of the group were non-Jewish Europeans – one a human rights worker from Paris, the other a film-maker from Bosnia. Their presence sharpened my feeling of guilt and shame at what we were witnessing. Had we been a homogenous group, all Israeli and all Jewish, then perhaps I wouldn’t have felt that our dirty laundry was being aired in public. And this is one of my main concerns with Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian neighbours.

I don’t claim to be a military expert, and I am sure that there are strategists who have an explanation for every little incident carried out by the army in the interests of national security (road blocks, ID checks, house demolitions), but this is not the point. To the outsider, the treatment of the West Bank residents is nothing short of brutal and oppressive, and it is no wonder that organisations such as the BBC treat Israel with such disdain when the likes of the Bosnian film-maker are exposed to situations like that of al-Nueman. We can decry Hamas’s policies all we like, we can use suicide bombings as justification for the security wall, but – until our own house is put in order – we’ll never win over world opinion. Or be able to hold our heads up high.

Al-Nu’eman is a tragedy, plain and simple. There can be no possible humane explanation for the complete cutting off of this unassuming cluster of houses from the outside world. It is nothing short of pure malice – and it’s being done in my name. The government continues with the expansion of settlements, continues to fight terror with draconian measures, continues to rule the roost with an iron fist.

And almost no one cares enough about the plight of al-Nu’eman to do a thing about it. The futility and hopelessness of this particular village is overwhelming – the area has been earmarked for the extension of Har Homa, and the government are doing their level best to bully the residents into upping sticks and leaving.

Do the settlers know, or care, what their cheap housing means in terms of Palestinian distress and disruption? Does anyone in Magav realise the enormity of killing a father of eight and leaving him tied to his donkey yards from his family home? Does anyone in Israeli officialdom give a damn that we are displacing and dispossessing these people in exactly the same way as our enemies have been doing to us since Bible times?

I doubt it. And, much as the shame should be felt more by the main protagonists than the man on the street, we’re all complicit in the crime by our ostrich-like refusal to acknowledge what’s happening in our own backyard.

In the Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan tells King David a parable, during his rebuking of the king for his underhand pursuit of Bathsheva. He speaks of two neighbours – one man very rich, with a flock of a thousand sheep, the other dirt poor, with just one lamb in his possession which he loves as though it were his own child. When a guest comes to visit the rich man, the wealthy farmer goes next door and steals the other man’s only sheep, which he slaughters and serves to his friend for a meal. A totally unnecessary theft, a totally heartless and selfish act – and, I’m sorry to say, Israel is that rich farmer.

We appear to be pursuing a policy of making the Palestinians’ lives a misery just because we can. Leaving aside that overbearing anti-terror measures are actually counterproductive (how many of the dead man’s eight children will grow up to be peaceniks?), what has happened to the collective Israeli sense of right and wrong? Where did all the good guys go?

As we left the village, heading back for Jerusalem, Har Homa loomed above us, underneath thick evening clouds, atop its perch on the hill. For an instant, it appeared like a juggernaut thundering towards the West Bank – ready to crush anything in its way. Which is why I see al-Nu’eman as the rabbit, frozen in the headlights – unable to run, unable to avoid its inevitable crushing under the wheels of the 18-wheeled settlement lorry.

Only we, the voters and citizens of Israel, can put the handbrake on. And, until we do, we only have ourselves to blame when the world points its finger at us.


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