Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

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Mufaqarah Part 12: Paradise lost

The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.

The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.

On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.

Drying the grain
Laying the grain out to dry. Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 9: Sheep

Middle of June, 2012

Every day in the afternoon someone takes the sheep out to graze. This job belongs to the boys, and today it’s an outing for 4 brothers to take about one hundred animals out to pasture. They split the herd into two so that it is more manageable. Each half can be led by a single person, but it’s nice to have more people to help.

Mahmoud owns several pieces of land, and today since we are going to an especially dangerous piece one of the boys made it a point to ask me to come along. We are going to graze the sheep near an outpost and are therefore at risk of settler attack as well as harassment by the military. The name of the outpost (a small settlement illegal even under Israeli law) is Avigail.

We leave Mufaqarah and cross a valley, stopping for a drink most of the way up on the other side. The water comes from a cistern built for this purpose. The cistern has recently been cleaned, all the silt being removed by hand, one bucket at a time, from the tank. A dry river of soil lay downstream of the tank provides a dramatic illustration of soil erosion in the catchment area. All of this soil emptied from the tank represents destroyed topsoil.
Soil emptied from the cistern
Soil emptied from the cistern

The flock takes a drink at the cistern
The flock takes a drink at the cistern Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 8: Susya Continued

The second time I visit Susya I’m exhausted and sick. I fall asleep in a tent and when I wake up I don’t know where anybody is. Eventually I get a call from the Operation Dove team who tend to be a little more on the ball than I :-). The protest is over and they pick me up to go back to Mufaqarah. My consolation is that I was able to examine a home-made grain thresher that someone in Susya must have built. Mahmoud tells me I abandoned him, and he almost got arrested. I tell him he deserted me in a foreign country where I can’t speak the language. We are both half serious.

A home made grain thresher
A home made grain thresher.

The next time we go to Susya there is a march organized to protest the harassment and planned destruction of the town.

No For Demolition

There are hundreds of people, with bus after bus coming from Israel and Palestine. The military tries to stop them, blocking the vehicles as they approach the village. People don’t turn around though, they get out of the busses and walk the rest of the way towards Susya. Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 7: Susya

This post contains accounts of serious human rights abuses and is for mature audiences only. This post has taken me many days to write and the people in this cafe must think I’m a bit strange since I have been visibly disturbed more than once.

The map shows the location of the Palestinian town of Susya, which has no label on Google Maps. The nearby labeled town of Susya is the new, invasive, settlement which has taken the name.

Susya is another village in the South Hebron Hills, about two hours by donkey from Mufaqara. Like many towns in this area, the Zionist movement is trying to erase this village and re-colonize the area with Israeli settlers. The story of Susya is inspiring because their resistance has been especially determined. Yet terribly sad because of what they have been through, and the fact that the same thing has happened to hundreds, even thousands, of other villages like Susya. In most instances the Israeli military was successful long ago and the towns no longer exist.

The town of Susya has been under threat for many years, and life has been very difficult since the settlements began. In the past, the town has been destroyed by the military more than once. Many people left, but some stayed and rebuilt their homes. Recently, the military has renewed their efforts to destroy the town. Five months ago the military issued statements that are coming to destroy 15 of their buildings. With support from an American Zionist organization, a new court case was been opened against the town of Susya, in February. The case claims Susya to be an “illegal outpost”, although the village has existed here long before the state of Israel. Continue reading

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.

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Mufaqara, Part 3: In Which the Apparent Peace is Shattered

In the last entry I described some of the relatively quiet days that Mahmoud’s family lives through. Many days in this part of the world are not so quiet.

Before I begin this entry in the series, let me write a few words about the overall situation here. I am in the West Bank, Palestine, which is part of Historical Palestine. Around the beginning of the 1900s, a movement called Zionism began to take a distinct shape in parts of Europe. Their idea was to create a Jewish-only or at least overwhelmingly Jewish state in Palestine. Naturally, there were people already living in this area who would have to be removed (“ethnically cleansed”) in order to make this happen. Over time the movement gathered steam and managed to recruit the help of the occupier of Palestine at the time, the British. The Zionist movement was able to use the terrible events of World War II to their considerable political advantage, and shortly after the war, began colonization in earnest.

That colonization continues today, and the Zionist movement has not yet been able to secure the entire property of Historic Palestine. It actively continues to try to annex the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, although it certainly has ambitions to acquire other nearby areas as well. Flouting a number of international laws and UN resolutions, the movement continues to grab land and cleanse the local population.

At times, the campaign to eject the locals and take their property has been a direct military effort, with wanton killing, looting and so on, as is traditional with military(1). At the moment the situation is a bit more quiet and complex. Instead of spending the money and dealing with the political disapproval of more outright military ethnic cleansing, the Zionist movement has adopted a different strategy. The strategy is based mostly around settlements, in which civilians (often armed) are encouraged and supported to take over land and build towns in the West Bank. These form bases to intimidate the local population into leaving. The army prevents any violent reprisals against the settlers. The movement is using other strategies to take land as well, for example simply building a wall around portions and stating that the property inside the wall belongs to Israel. It is a slow, grinding process of wearing away the property controlled by the indigenous population. In this way it is similar to how the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) have been treated.

But, back to the ground reality. Every day I wake up around 9am. I’m worried that they think I’m lazy, but Mahmoud does the same thing so I guess I’m in the clear. I take some photos, study Arabic, read some books. I’m reading one about popular resistance in Palestine, and one I’ve always wanted to read called, “Shake Hands With the Devil”, by Romeo Dallaire. During the hot part of the day, the family mostly gathers in the cave to sleep and relax. When it gets cooler we go back to work, grazing the sheep, preparing dinner, filling the water tank, writing, whatever.
Unloading cinderblocks
Unloading cinderblocks

The family ate meat for the first time since I’ve been here. I’ve managed to communicate that eating meat is, for me, “haaram” which is the word they use for things that are forbidden by religion. I think I accidentally told them that all Canadians are strictly vegetarian. Oops. My arabic obviously isn’t up to snuff yet. In fact, sometimes I confuse the words “haaram” and “hmar”, which means “donkey”. As you can imagine, this causes great confusion.

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