Surrounded by hilltop settlements above the village, settlers dump raw sewage down the hillside, contaminating the well and making it unusable for agriculture and drinking. Combatants for Peace and their supporters were there to encourage villagers to continue to develop and use their land; and to not be driven away. Rebuilding a Wall, Stone by Stone
By Doris Norrito
Combatants for Peace met a few weeks before and agreed to go to the little village that was dying of contamination from raw sewage. Settlers who live on the hilltop above the valley dump garbage down on the village farmlands below. And no one stops them.
Combatants for Peace, an organization of Israelis and Palestinians, work together for peace. At an earlier meeting, they decided to do something.
We had attended that meeting with Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh. An Israeli man spoke at length in Hebrew; another translated into Arabic and Mazin translated the Arabic into English for Sherrill and me.
Later, Mazin expressed doubt as to the speaker being wholly committed to peaceful means of resistance. He had gone on at length about his family history, their escape from the holocaust in the 40s and his service in the Israeli army; and ended by saying he could not understand the actions of fellow soldiers as reason for wanting to join the group committed to peaceful resistance.
“I’m not convinced he is entirely against violence; he never said it,” Mazin later reflected.
We were on our way to the little village under siege – Nahaleen.
Only God and Mazin know where we are; and Mazin isn’t sure. We stop along twisty rock-strewn dirt roads to ask directions. All point east of Bethlehem. We continue often sharing the narrow pathways with herds of sheep and goats.
Sherrill and I exchange puzzled glances, realizing we are not going to what we believed was our destination, due to a misunderstanding in pronunciation. Ni’lin, a village to north of Bethlehem, sounds (to the English speaking ear) like Nahaleen, which is south and near The Tent of Nations, another farm community under threat.
Village boys tell us the demonstration is nearby and starts in half an hour. “Arab time,” I think, “so who knows?”
“I need coffee,” says Mazin. We sit outside a little coffee house sipping terribly bad coffee that Mazin tells us is instant Israeli coffee. I don’t care; it makes a good hand warmer I think, wrapping my cold hands around the cup.
A narrow dirt road takes us from the center of Nahaleen to a farm area in a valley below. A Combatant leader is briefing about 30 volunteers. The purpose is to reclaim a badly contaminated water supply. He points up to the hillside to a thick green growth line, a clear indication of the path of pollutions following down the hillside and ending at the entrance to a well at the bottom of the hill.
Armed with gloves and scrubbing brushes, participants were ready to clean out the nearby reservoir of plastic bottles, tires, decaying vegetation and the thick green slime that covered the thin surface of remaining water. After, they would paint the sidewalls in green and yellow colors.
Nearby, there were water channels to be cleared, thorny branches to be collected, piled and carted away by villagers using donkeys. Replacing stones that had dislodged from retaining walls was the job I chose. I looked over each small rock, then plugging it into spaces between larger boulders.
I thought about walls while examining each stone as if it were the piece of a puzzle before fitting it into a space between larger boulders. I was rebuilding a wall; not a wall of separation – not like the huge grotesque gray slabs that kept people apart. Each sun struck stone was a warm and comforting part of something bigger; a free wall with spaces for air to dance freely in and about rounded edges; a wall of hope, each stone in concert with others, a fortress against assaults of hatred.
Others joined me. They are young and eager; and have an undefeatable spirit. Monica is from Romania, working as part of the Romanian Cultural Institute. Ariel is from New York; it’s her second time in Palestine and the first time working with Combatants for Peace.
Yuval is Jewish. Born in Jerusalem, and says her grandparents came from India and Iran. A senior in high school, she will volunteer for another year and then must go into the army. Wide dark eyes and a shy smile belie determination. I asked what her parents think of her coming to help Palestinians. “They are supportive; we need to learn how to live together.”
A van arrives; a man leans out; he is cheerful and smiles broadly. Many there know him. I am introduced to Ali who says, “I come to support and thank everyone for helping us.”
He tells me his story. In 1989 he was injured and can no longer walk. “It was during Ramadan. It was dark and we had just finished our pre-dawn meal before beginning the day long fast. I was with my father and some friends; we were on our way to the mosque to pray and heard shooting. We ran but I got shot in the leg and in the kidney. Five of my friends were killed. I was thirteen years old.
“They took me to a hospital in Jerusalem. I could hear but couldn’t respond. Two doctors said I was dead. A third one said, ‘no, he has a chance.’ I had five operations.”
Ali said he spent five months in a hospital in Jordan. “Arafat came and visited me and told me I would go to a hospital in Yugoslavia on the Black Sea. For two years I was there and had massages and treatments.”
He drives and uses a wheelchair but will never walk.
“I’m proud of all who come to Nahaleen,” he says cheerfully.
The message of Combatants for Peace and the volunteers who share commitment to peace is clear; peace comes not in words, but in work and a determination to build in defiance of those who destroy again; and in spite of the many roadblocks and vindictive contrivances thrown in path toward peace. It is the building that counts. As the efforts of few grow, more will come to see peace is more than words and will join. In the end, even those bent on destruction must realize that real peace, peace with justice and security for all, means building together, stone by stone.