I started writing my Hebrew blog when I was involved in a tragedy of a family in one of the villages in the West Bank.
The village spread over the two sides of route 60, the main road of the West Bank. The street crossing the village is used by the Jewish settlers in the West Bank as a highway. Three years ago a settler ran over an 11 year-old boy who was crossing the road to the falafel stand where his father worked. He was hit right before his father’s eyes. Because the driver was an Israeli, the son was rushed to an Israeli hospital, together with his father. I heard of the accident while standing at a checkpoint. A rumor rustled in the small market (all the major checkpoints had small markets developed beside them. Vegetables, coffee, candy). I heard of the accident from Naji, a taxi driver and a close friend. Only later did I find out that I knew the father. Only by face, not by name. A few weeks earlier the IDF took over the top floor of the building next to his falafel stand. That’s how we got acquainted. I will refer to them as “mother”, “father”, “son” for the sake of privacy. Only Muhammad will appear here by name. It’s a common name.
The mother was pregnant in her nine month. It took me several hours to arrange for a permit for her to visit her son (who was in Israel, in hospital, in a critical condition. Not a simple matter at all. Numerous phone calls between me and the DCO). Muhammad, the father’s older brother, had to drive to a military base to pick up the permit. I called him with the good news, there’s a permit, and he said he wouldn’t be able to pick it up because there’s a curfew on the village, in fear of riots in response to the accident. Now he needed a permit to pick up the permit. Another half hour of phone-calls between me and a police soldier, who shouted on a loud speaker in the deserted streets of the shocked village, that Muhammad was allowed to leave.
I drove from Tel Aviv to the village to pick up the mother. On the way there I got a phone call from the father. He said she doesn’t want to go. I admit that I was angry at them. But at that point I was by Sha’ar Shomron, crossed the Green Line already and halfway, so I decided to continue. When I got there, I understood. She has never even gone alone to Nablus, a ten-minute drive from her village. She visited Ramallah only once, with her husband. She was afraid to go alone to Israel. And with a Jewess. She was afraid of me.
I sat silently in their living room. They offered me fruit, coffee, coca-cola. Meanwhile, they tried to persuade her. She wanted her sister to come along, but her sister didn’t have a permit and there was no chance of getting a permit for her. She eventually agreed, on condition that she could speak with her husband the whole way there. They explained to her there wouldn’t be reception in Israel. I gave her my phone. We went on our way. She was frightened. The tension in the car was huge. I could hardly believe that beside me in the car was a pregnant woman, going to visit her son, who was in a critical condition in a hospital, in a hostile country. With me as the chauffeur.
We became good friends, me and the family. I took the mother from the hospital back home and back again numerous times. An Airlift, I called it. She gave birth to a healthy child, she went with her sisters to the hospital in Nablus while her husband was by the bedside of their son in Israel. She told me that on the way back from the hospital there was only a short queue at the Huwwara checkpoint, but then there was a surprise checkpoint at Burin, that caused a big traffic jam. After she gave birth she travelled to Israel less frequently. Some times she left the baby with her sister in law, who also gave birth shortly before that.
There was one time that I picked her up from Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel. She bid her husband goodbye at the entrance to the hospital (I’ll skip the attitude of a Palestinian patient/visitor with the Israeli security guard at the hospital this time), and saw she could hardly hold back her tears. We drove and all the way back I was thinking what I should do if she starts crying. I decided I would stop by the side. Shortly after we passed Sha’ar Shomron she couldn’t hold back. The tension with the soldiers at the crossing. I stopped the car and pulled aside. Gave her my hand. She hugged me and then took both my hands. After about half an hour she signaled I could continue.
Then there was another time, at Id el Fitr. I picked up the two brothers of the father who had a “magnetic card” (a magnetic ID given to workers who are allowed to work in Israel), so they can visit their nephew, and let the father go back home for one day of holiday. So he can spend time with his family, and see his newborn son. I went to their house. I knew the village well by then. We sat on their balcony. It was a festive holiday meal, with the special confectionary of Id el Fitr. I got a big tray, with a generous selection of confectionary, “for your friends”. Back at the hospital, the guards saw who I had in my car and examined them, but not me, and also went through the Qatayef and Baklavas.
Muhammad wanted to return a favor. He is a gardener, and could make a garden for me. I told him I lived in a rented apartment, with no yard. He said that one of the brothers works in a sewing factory (in the industrial area of Barkan), and they can sew for me anything I want. I said it’s fine, and no need, and I have enough clothes. Muhammad laughed. “Well, you must like food, everyone loves our food. Next time on your way back from the checkpoint, stop at my place.” He prepared a humungous basket for me: all kinds of olives, eggplants, Za’atar that the kids picked fresh for me that same morning (has anyone smelled freshly picked Za’atar before?). Homemade hummus and tahini, figs that were handpicked from the tree in the garden. Muhammad said that the women didn’t leave the kitchen for a week, and that once in a while he heard them shout my name. They love my name.
It was through this family that I learned of the intimacy of the checkpoint. Of the single person who is trapped in the occupation apparatus and tries to pass another day. Every day. I fell into terrible bitterness. I hated, literally, anyone I saw in Tel Aviv. Enjoying their coffee and knowing nothing. Oblivious. I read newspapers, full of disinformation, and was filled with hatred. I went mad by reporters who refused to listen. That’s how the blog began. I was crazy with anger. The blog went through many changes, some too minute to be noticed. But it starts and ends, always, with that boy, who is hospitalized today in a rehabilitation center. He is what people call “a vegetable”.
The father called me today. He wanted to ask if he could use my Airlift services to visit the son he hasn’t seen for two months (don’t forget that the son is hospitalized in another country for him). He also called to wish me Hag Sameah – “Soon it’s Passover by you,” he said.
The radio is already playing songs of redemption and spring and Seder night is this week. On Sunday the whole West Bank was put in closure, for the Festival of Freedom, for a whole week. And after Israelis celebrate their freedom, they will celebrate their holocaust and then their independence. But there is no independence for an occupying nation.
Soon I will be travelling, and I’ve more or less started to bid my goodbye from the blog. I’ll post soon another post on the crossing-terminals, and whatever I will see in the coming weeks. But I hope my trip won’t be postponed a second time (I actually should have left already).
Governments are free to act because of acceptance of their actions among the civilian societies they have been elected to monitor, or because the civilian societies provide them with the industrial quiet they require. There are many Israelis who do not accept. In fact, for some time now I suspect that the number of Israelis which is willing to say “enough” is quite considerable, that it is time to break the silence, to hinder the wheels of occupation.
How? There are many answers to this, but I know that first we must learn of our own occupation. Israelis know nothing of what goes on in the West Bank, and they are convinced that they know. Israelis somehow believe that knowledge of Israel and its neighbors was transmitted by birth. Every Israeli is convinced that he knows all the maneuvers of every battle, and all the segments of the Oslo Accords and the Wye Accords, by heart, and sleeping. But the truth is we know nothing of our occupation and it is hardly a coincidence. The violence we exert on Palestinians is institutionalized violence, and we have developed numerous mechanisms to normalize it, to help us not view ourselves as aggressors. I call it “cultivated ignorance”.
This cultivated ignorance allows us to perpetuate this institutionalized brutality. We can not know what is going on, and still be convinced that everything is in order. We need to start learning our own occupation. Because as long as we don’t know, we cannot criticize the occupation truthfully and seriously.
The first step is to go visit. To recognize that there is something to see, and to go see it.
The photo is from Sheikh Jarrah, December 2009. A girl peeking from the temporary tent on the street, where her neighbors are living, after being evacuated from their home. Their home now serves as a synagogue. The house next to it is used by settlers.
Click here for a Hebrew version of this post.