The Village of the Bulldozers

Palestinians emerge from the Nusseirat refugee camp during the uprising

This is an excerpt from chapter 7 of the book I am writing about how my life and Israel-Palestine have intertwined

I could not tell you when the Arabic word intifada (uprising, literally “shaking off”) entered the Hebrew lexicon and Israeli news discourse. In my memory there is no point at which I understood that a series of incidents of unrest and protest in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which began on December 9th 1987, amounted to something qualitatively and quantitatively different to the constant incidents of Palestinian resistance to occupation that preceded it. No doubt it happened gradually rather than as a sudden insight. I was already prone to abhor what I took to be “excessive” Israeli military violence in the state’s handling of Palestinians civilians, even those who protested by throwing stones. So, when protests began to be organized by Israeli groups such as Peace Now, I was a willing participant. Yet, I cannot remember the first protest I attended, whether I held a placard, who I knew at the event, or what the focus of attention was. A month after the start of the intifada, which subsequently became known as the first intifada, I wrote a poem about studying in the library on Mt. Scopus while Palestinians were demonstrating in the neighbouring village of Issawiya:

My tower
Is not ivory
And the local stone
Is only a façade.
It is concrete,
Glass and aluminium
That keep the tear gas out

My conscience
Is not quite pure
And my innocence
Is only disinterest.
It is smugness,
Fear and apathy
That keep the guilt away.


Whether or not I had already been on a demonstration or not at that point I cannot say, but there must have been a transition period during which I focused less on my internal feelings, expressed in mawkish poetry, as well as the intellectual demands of my studies, and more on what was happening around me. I did not have a television at home when the intifada began so I relied on radio news and newspapers. The local Jerusalem paper, Kol Ha’ir, which came free with Ha’aretz on Friday was a source not only for news but also announcements about demonstrations. There is one report from Kol Ha’ir which has always stood out in my mind, though I have never been able to locate a copy of it to test my memory against it. It was written, probably in 1988, by two journalists, one a Jewish Israeli and the other a Palestinian from the East Jerusalem refugee camp, Shu’afat, Bassam Eid. Both of the journalists subsequently became human rights workers at B’Tselem, while Bassam Eid went on to establish the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996, to keep a check on the Palestinian Authority’s abuses of power. The two journalists had gone to investigate reports from a village in the West Bank that a Border Police unit had buried some locals alive while using a bulldozer to erect an earth barrier. The Border Police had a reputation for brutality, while earth and other barriers were a form of collective punishment, preventing road traffic to and from villages. The piece was written, at least in my memory, in a way that appealed to Jewish Israeli scepticism that such an atrocity could have happened. It resonated with a belief that while awful things were happening, the Palestinians were exaggerating. The Israeli Jewish journalist wanted to verify what the locals told them about rushing to pull out those on whom earth had been poured, to save their lives. One Palestinian had been dragged out without a shoe. In that case, said the journalist, the other shoe should still be there. The locals dug around until they found the shoe and the Israeli Jewish journalist was satisfied that the story of what became known as the “village of the bulldozers” was true. I had also not wanted to believe that the story was true. Even though there were more fatal incidents in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed, this one crossed a line of cruelty and callousness. Surely “we” could not behave this way? From that point on I knew that “we” could and did.

The incident was referred to in a 1988 protest song about the intifada by pop star Si Heyman, “Shooting and Crying.” Among the lively beats on her second album, the song stands out for its quiet, evocative tone, her voice, full of pain, serving as the main, stark instrument accompanied only by a piano. The title refers to a well-known barb about Israeli self-righteousness towards their Palestinian victims, the self-justifying expressions of bad conscience after the fact. One feature of the mournful lyrics is a feminist refusal to identify with her nation as the side which must vanquish its enemy: “It doesn’t matter to me at all who wins now,” changing in another refrain to “it doesn’t matter to me at all who is the strong one.” Rather than a battle between two sides, “on both sides, people just want to live.” The phrase about the “village of the bulldozers” incident is in the chorus:

Shooting and crying
Burning and laughing
Whenever did we learn
How to bury people alive?

The two lines then repeat, followed by the phrase, “when did we forget that our children were also killed?” The oblique reference to the Holocaust says it all. I came to learn that this extreme discomfort about becoming the oppressor of another people so soon after the Nazi genocide is repeated in Israeli anti-occupation and human rights activism. It is too much to bear. It was also too much for the Israeli military’s radio station, Galei T’zahal, which banned the song at the end of March 1988.[1]


[1] Avi Morgenstern and Ilana Baum, “Sarid to protest to Rabin the IDF’s ban on Si Heyman’s song.” (in Hebrew) Ma’ariv newspaper, 29/3/1988.https://www.nli.org.il/he/newspapers/mar/1988/03/29/01/article/56/?e=——-he-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI————–1 Accessed 19/12/2021.

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