Tag Archives: Rabbis for Human Rights

Feeling demolition in your fingers

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Wadi Ejheish, June 25, 2016

It is one thing to look at pictures of demolished homes. It is another to feel the rubble with your fingers. It is one thing to see a photograph of the wreckage of a building left by a bulldozer and another to pull the twisted wreck apart with your hands. It is one thing to cast your eyes on documented destruction and another to put your back into repairing the damage. These are two things, two different types of experience. Perhaps neither is better than the other, but they feel quite different.

btselem.reportTwo buildings in the hamlet of Wadi Ejheish were demolished by the (un)Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military government ruling over Area C of the West Bank, of Palestinian Occupied Territories. The demolitions are part of an undeclared process of creeping annexation of Area C, part of a pattern of dispossession and displacement of Palestinians, especially Bedouin. As part of that pattern, the demolitions in Wadi Ejheish were routine, although in this case they broke understandings about refraining from executing demolition orders during Ramadan.

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Detail from B’tselem map

 

Visual and written documentation of the destruction is also routine, notably by B’tselem which shares the information in the hope that it will halt the expulsion that is designed to follow from repeated demolition. Other anti-occupation groups and organizations supporting Palestinian human rights, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, have worked actively for the preservation of communities in Area C, such as in the high-profile campaign to Stand with Susiya. Wadi Ejheish is known as “south Susiya,” somewhat separate from it. While the activists of Ta’ayush do also take part in the sharing of the documentation of destruction, they share experience with the inhabitants of Wadi Ejheish in more tactile, physical ways.

I accompanied the activists on their weekly work in the South Hebron Hills area on June 25th, during which we went to Wadi Ejheish not to look but to touch. The sight is certainly distressing, poignantly marked by the remains of clothing and toys caught in the rubble. Yet as we tried, along with the people who live there, to clear away the mess and salvage the building materials that could be reused, I was struck by the heavy materiality of the destruction. Heavy both literally – the concrete blocks that are thicker for external walls, thinner for internal ones, that had to be sorted separately – but also heavy mentally. No doubt it was easier for we Israelis to regard the work as a job to be done without having to overcome the despair of those whose homes had been destroyed. But still, we were working with the men whose buildings had been crushed days before.

The materiality of demolition is not only about what is found among the ruins – I chanced across the ID card of the wife of the Palestinian man working next to me – but the material of the ruins themselves. To disentangle the tangle of metal poles, rope, tarpaulin, concrete blocks, stones, plastic pipes, electricity cables, corrugated metal is to linger in the violence of demolition. This is a stage between witnessing destruction and the defiance of rebuilding, maybe something like a stage of mourning in which you begin to get through the devastation and, with the help of friends or relatives, start putting a life back together.

But it’s not quite so pat. There are different ways of working together. For some time we worked without much conversation, as men do, coordinating actions by observing what others are doing. After a while two Israeli women came back from accompanying a shepherd elsewhere, and there was more chatter and verbal coordination. It also became more necessary to coordinate as we worked further into the tangle of rubble and it was less easy to pull out individual poles, tarps or pieces of corrugated metal. In any case given that some of us can’t speak Arabic or Hebrew well, some of the cooperation had to rely on gestures. Nonetheless, it was working together, the partnership that Ta’ayush embodies.DSC00205

It’s an odd partnership, not one of equals, but one in which equality is valued rather than achieved. Urban, middle class, and often intellectual Israelis doing Hebrew-Arab labour as if redefining Zionist halutziut (pioneering) alongside poor Bedouin shepherds. For all our privilege, what we offer is what anybody could volunteer. In the shade of a broken down cart, a couple of mathematicians burble away to each other incomprehensibly  (to the rest of us) about zeros while I can’t converse with the guy next to me as he doesn’t speak Hebrew and I don’t speak Arabic. As his son works with a couple of us later, I can only gesture to where he should cut string binding metal grating to corrugated metal. And then a thought flashes into my mind about the common Jewish Israeli saying about Arabs sticking a knife in your back. This work in common, a boy eager to help adults, shows how silly such thoughts are. But I don’t know what he’s thinking. They, the Jews, come with guns and bulldozers to demolition his home, then some other Jews come almost empty handed to help clear the rubble. It’s hard to make sense of that.

By the time we stopped work I’d been close to calling it quits for myself, my strength drained by the hard physical work under the unrelenting sun. I was deeply fatigued, but not in terms of the compassion I could feel by looking at yet another photo or video of Israeli occupation forces demolishing Palestinian homes and work places. I was deeply fatigued by the sheer effort of undoing destruction, and I wish that the photos could convey just a fraction of that difficulty to the Jewish Israelis in whose name the demolitions are executed. For all the sensuous power of visual experience, perhaps you have to feel demolition in your fingers to experience how cruel occupation is.

The direct line between Susiya and Duma

Hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march into the Palestinian village of Susya, demanding that Israel not demolish it, Suysa, South Hebron Hills, July 24, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march into the Palestinian village of Susya, demanding that Israel not demolish it, Suysa, South Hebron Hills, July 24, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The mobilization of international and Palestinian-Israel pressure to support Susiya and prevent the demolition of half of the village was remarkable. The US State Department and EU foreign ministers warned Israel against further destruction and expulsion, and the demonstration on July 24th in support of the village was the most significant Palestinian-Israeli rally for years. That so many eyes were on, and bodies in, Susiya is testament to the determination of the people of Susiya to remain steadfast on their land, and of the support they receive from the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, Combatants for Peace, Ta’ayush, and others. News came that the “Civil Administration” of the military occupation decided to hold back on the demolition, and that the High Court hearing to appeal the demolition was being delayed while some other arrangement for the villagers to stay on their private land is considered. So for once there was some good news. Susiya remains to live another day, and the Occupation is held at bay.

But the news didn’t stay good for very long. It was a spark of hope in what remain dark times. The same week the Israeli security apparatus shot dead three unarmed Palestinians when soldiers went on arrest raids. Palestinian lives matter. The settlers did not let up on their efforts to grab the land of Susiya for their own use. In any case, Susiya has not yet been saved, merely given a reprieve.

A photograph of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh who died in the attack. Irish Times

A photograph of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh who died in the attack. Irish Times

Then the news became horrific, with the burning to death in an arson attack on his family’s home, apparently by militant settlers, of 18-month year old Palestinian Ali Dawabsheh. At the site of the attack in the village of Duma, graffiti was painted, including the word “revenge” under a Star of David. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ya’alon and President Rivlin were quick to condemn the attack, even to call it Jewish terrorism, and to promise that the criminals would be brought to justice. They were also quick to draw a clear distinction between such extremism and the regular practices of the security forces and state without which the settlements, which are illegal according to international law (and some by Israeli law) could not exist. Palestinian President Abbas however saw the connection between them. And so he should, although it would also be good to see the resources of the Palestinian Authority put to use in support of the harassed Palestinians living under full Israeli military and civil rule in Area C.

The village of Duma, near Nablus, has not been forced to relocate itself as Susiya did in 1986. Nor is it facing any immediate danger of dispossession and dispersal. But the military-bureaucratic post-Olso occupation regime, as reported here, has left the village of Duma isolated among settlements and army bases, restricted movement with roadblocks, limited access to most of its land that is located in Area C, ordered the demolition of homes built in the part of the village located in Area C without the required permits that are almost never given, confiscated land for roads that connect Israeli settlements, and failed to protect it from numerous settler attacks.

"Revenge" graffiti at Duma. Photo from Rabbis for Human Rights

“Revenge” graffiti at Duma. Photo from Rabbis for Human Rights

The revenge attack is made to seem exceptional, its violence impassioned, whereas the routine structural violence of occupation that Netanyahu and Ya’alon practice is made to seem proportionate and justified. Homes of the Dawabsheh family were slated for demolition by the occupation authorities in 2013. Ali Dawabsheh’s murder (and that of any other members of his family who may not survive their severe wounds) is indeed exceptional in its viciousness. But to treat it as a homicidal exception to the politicide of occupation is an alibi for the viciousness and extremism that is the daily practice of governing people without rights whose lives simply don’t matter to their rulers. Occupation is a revenge attack for no crime that was committed by the people of Susiya or of Duma. Occupation is a revenge attack that condemns both those who can find no salvation in vengeance and those who are the target of their misdirected fear and hatred.