Mufaqara, Part 4: Building Houses

Last time I went through the details of dodging the military in order to move materials into Mufaqarah in order to build small concrete block houses. Two loads of concrete blocks were successfully delivered, while the military prevented some powdered rock and concrete from being delivered.

The day after these adventures with trying to sneak in building materials, we hold our usual Saturday get-together in Mufaqarah. Some Israelis, local palestinians, and international activists from many countries, including Canada, England, Germany, and United States come to visit the village. They are here to hear the story about the village, get updates on the campaign and help in the actual construction of new houses. They help to spread the story of this village as well as deter immediate violence from the military. Many of them work for news agencies, or NGOs. One or two are politically interested tourists.

In the morning the military comes to tell us, again, not to work on constructing the mosque. We make a big show of moving rubble (from a building that the military previously destroyed) into the mosque, ostensibly to level the floor. In fact, we have no intention of working on the mosque. We deliberately use it as a distraction so that they don’t pay attention to the houses we are putting up. It astonishes me that something simplistic like this could work, but the activists here assure me that it does. As for the importance of a concrete mosque, the shepherds here pray in the field next to their sheep, on the road lit up by the headlights of the military, in their caves and in the dining room. It looks to me that their mosque is in their heart, not composed of concrete blocks. They seem to have no qualms about using the building as a distraction to help in the campaign win their freedom.
An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor.  The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background. An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor. The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background.

The construction of the house goes slowly, partly because of lack of organization on our part, and partly because of the missing materials. But, as always, there is plenty of discussion. And by the end of the day the walls on the third house are partially built.
Taking a break in the cave during the heat of the day. Taking a break in the cave during the heat of the day.

In the evening, after dinner, I understand that we are to go to the site of the third house and sleep in the cave next to it. I’m not sure why, but I’m game. I’ve taken a shower (which is a special event for me here) and get ready for bed, gather up my things and head over. When I get there, however, I learn that the rock and concrete has been transported the rest of the way. Previously held in the neighboring town, the goods have been transported to Mufaqara under the cover of darkness. We work anxiously, moving concrete blocks, enormous bags of concrete and buckets of rock powder. In our rush, and without adequate light, we break open some of the concrete bags and are soon covered head to toe in the fine grey, caustic, powder. By the time I leave to do my best to wash off the concrete, change my clothes, and put on more insect repellant, I am thoroughly ready for bed.
Unloading concrete blocks at night, to avoid the gaze of the military. Unloading concrete blocks at night, to avoid the gaze of the military.

That night, I have nightmares about the military entering my house. And, when I wake up, there are soldiers parked on the hill, watching my house. I have a feeling that they are up to no good. Soon, my suspicions are confirmed as an excited boy comes into my room and tells me to come quickly; there are soldiers in the village.
The view out my window in the morning; soldiers watching like predators.The view out my window in the morning; soldiers watching like predators.

They have come with their cronies in the Civil Administration (which, despite its title, is just another branch of the military) to intimidate the villagers into stopping construction. They do this by issuing written documents demanding people stop working on specific buildings. One document is issued for the first house we worked on during the campaign, which still lacks a proper roof. Another is issued for a tent. We like to make fun of them for asking us to stop working on a tent which is already built. But actually, following their demands would restrict installation of electricity or running water. And the document foreshadows their intent to come back later and destroy both structures.
The military occupiers issue a written threat to the villagers, demanding that they stop building their house. If they follow the order then it means their house will have thin, unpainted, cinderblock walls, no waterproof roof during the rainy season, no electricity, no running water, no doors and a gravel floor. Moona, a daughter of the family who owns the house, watches as she holds her little brother. The military occupiers issue a written threat to the villagers, demanding that they stop building their house (left, covered in plastic as a makeshift roof and door). If they follow the order then it means their house will have thin, unpainted, cinderblock walls, no waterproof roof during the rainy season, no electricity, no running water, no doors and a gravel floor. Moona, a daughter of the family who owns the house, watches as she holds her little brother.

The threats are not really a surprise, but it’s never pleasant to have this sort of situation. The Operation Dove team is present and watches the whole thing, taking video. When the infantry and Civil Administration leaves, I give Operation Dove a copy of my photos for their archive, do my best to ignore the buzzing military helicopters, and try to relax. The military moves back and parks on the hill to watch us. Things have settled down for the moment and the rest of the day is just another quiet day in the South Hebron Hills.
Moona holds copies of the written demands. Moona holds copies of the written demands.

A man stops on his donkey to read the demands
A man stops by on his donkey to read the demands.

http://almufaqarah.wordpress.com
-Official blog for the Mufaqara campaign to exist.

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