11/11/17 | International Solidarity Movement | al-Khalil Team
Last month in northern Palestine broughtÂ stories of Israeli settlersÂ from the illegal Yitzhar settlement that, however horrifying, all suffered an important shortcoming: the scope of the stories lent to individual scapegoats, and in doing so provided a vivid, but ultimately penny-deep look at the Palestinian condition. Todayâs news is flooded with such dramatic examples.
This past month, I lived in and began to learn the story of Um al-Khair, a Palestinian Bedouin village in the South Hebron Hills. Again the case presented a challenge of conveyance â perhaps even more so. While itâs certainly every bit as troubled as the villages in the shadow of the Yitzhar settlement, Um al-Khairâs story is much less made-for-TV than the photogenic, headline-grabbing brutality of physical violence.
Thereâs no getting around it: itâs a small village, and reversing the injustices there wouldnât move the needle on injustice in Palestine a whole lot.
However, it does offer itself as a worthy placeholder â an exemplary microcosm for the nation of Palestine, and what happened, is happening, and will happen to it if nothing is done.
This isnât to say that tragic physical violence doesnât occur there. One of the first stories new visitors hear is that of a resident who, as his brother Tariq says, âlost his life without losing his life.â About 17 years ago the young man, Muhammad, was herding his goats and â so claimed a settler â ventured onto a far corner of settlement property. An Israeli soldier chased him down (after the fact and within his own village), and beat him most of the way to death for it. Today, the man who wouldâve been one of the leading breadwinners for the village walks the roads mentally handicapped, unable to contribute to the survival of the community. As the soldier was leaving the village that day, he turned and pointed at Muhammad in the dirt â the young man already having left his body for the last time â and shouted âLook at your brother, let him be an example! Iâll make every single person in this village handicapped!â
As it turns out, the soldier didnât have to. Seventeen years later, the pen would again prove mightier than the sword, and the true kneecapping of Um al-Khair would come not in the form of an excessively forceful soldier, the optics of which might provoke international outrage, but rather bureaucratic, pseudo-legal land-grab policies.
To that end, in the 17 years since the martyrdom of Muhammad, by far the most high ranking targets of the Israeli army in Um al-Khair have been peaceful, inanimate objects â their traditional Bedouin oven, among the kind of objects Pierre Nora coined âles lieux de mĂ©moireâ in 1989, as well as a proposed community garden â the first of which has been built or rebuilt and subsequently destroyed 3 times over, and the other disallowed before construction could even begin (though thereâs anÂ international campaignÂ to support it anyway).
As Tariq, a budding community leader, said, âThe soldiers that try to break us arenât enemies of terrorism. They donât like us, but even they know we are not terrorists. They are enemies of life. They are enemies of our presence here. Look at the oven, the garden.â
Clearly the real threat isnât any one person, but anything palpable for Palestinians to hold on to,Â and with it the motivation to continue resisting.Â Homes, homelands, even ovens and community gardens are brought to ashes â as Israel admits with shameless candor â to make room for people of a different ethnicity.
Taken together, what happened to Muhammad the individual and whatâs happening to Um al-Khairâs lifeblood structures span the spectrum of violence, from physical to structural. Though theyâre specific to Um al-Khair, they speak volumes about the post-1948 Palestinian story.
The notion that a bread oven or community garden could be threatening should be preposterously silly and, at the same time, make all the sense in the world when the very acknowledgement of a Palestinian people is threatening to an ideology whose implementation required their ethnic cleansing. After all, one of the most repeated go-toâs for stewards of Zionism â that Palestine was âa land without a peopleâ â reveals itself as the only option short of confronting the question of what happened to those people, and who was responsible.
The result was that incorrect and racist revision: pre-1948 Palestine â a rich bastion of culture, cuisine, art, music, academia â was really a land of zero cities. After all, it didnât even have a people.
Of course, any rational person knows that Palestinians do exist, and that they didnât come to Palestine simply to meet the arriving Jewish immigrants with weapons. Sentient, living evidence for this â for the bustling Palestinian society and what happened to it â exists in refugee camps in- and outside of Palestine to this day.
Since 2007, roughly 20 families from Um al-Khair have joined them, after the State of Israel â not a rogue extremist, not an individual settler, but the real-life manifestation of Zionism â has come to their village to make them homeless. This, unfortunately, is what defines the struggle at large for many indigenous Palestinians âÂ to stay and survive at all under the threat of expulsion and extermination. Thereâs been virtually no evidence even of an attempt to maintain a second-class, exploitable Palestinian population, making this â whatâs occurring in the West Bank and Gaza as opposed to the State of Israel â not apartheid, but unvarnished ethnic cleansing.
And so, ceding for a moment the possibility that Um al-Khairâs situation is controversial, the fact remains that the international community has yet to be told what justifies it. What justifies the fact that the people with the deed to the land, whoâve lived completely on the straight and narrow, without sin and within the law, are forced to stand there crying out for help, physically weak from humankindâs deepest sadness â the gutting, emptying kind that you feel in your body â as a Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer thunders to life and starts towards their home.
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