Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall
Shortly before ten in the morning the car arrived at the point from which we had to continue on foot. We got out – Arik Ascherman, the Chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights, Vivi and me – and we began the long walk down and then the ascent up the mountain that leads to the area in which residents of Bani Naim planned to graze their flocks, and also apparently to prune olive trees. There were over ten men and a few women, and a similar number of Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers who live in Tuwani, all of whom have cameras and good relations with the local residents. In addition there were there a flock of sheep, a small flock of goats and two curly-haired youths with kippas and a dog – residents of Pnei Hever, the nearby settlement. Apart from the settlement that sits on the top of the mountain – in plain view of everyone – only bare hills and a few trees.
Those youths understood their mission very well: “to get the Arabs out of there”. Since we were not impressed by them and their dog they began to telephone in their tone of commanding familiarity: “Send the army and the police here right away.” It was clear that they knew very well that the army and the police would do their bidding.
While the flocks were still going down to the grazing grounds Dov appeared on the scene – the violent lunatic on duty whose lunacy, as we saw afterwards, serves as an effective ad hoc weapon, that is to say he goes crazy only when he has to be crazy. He and his club, a black club coated in rubber, with two projections on the sides, began to run amok with shouts, as he waved the club at the heads of the Palestinians, old men, women and children while yelling – I am crazy, I am crazy, get away from here and other slogans including The Jews, The Torah, The Rights, The Madness, The Bastards and two specific names, to wit: you killed Dov!! You killed Nati! The cameras drove him insane. He ran like a madman after every camera that was visible on the scene and demanded it be given to him, and the nearest camera was Vivi’s. First he approached her and demanded relatively quietly to be given the camera. “I will return it to you afterwards”, he promised. Yes, of course, like he and his friends will return the lands and the goats that they stole from the legal residents of the place. Vivi refused and he attacked her with the intention of grabbing the camera. Vivi, as she said afterwards, was not so much scared of the blows as she was for her son’s camera, and when the scumbag pushed her and knocked her down on the ground she remained sitting with her face to the ground and the camera in her embrace and I lay on top of her in order to separate her from the madman. “The bear” [the name “Dov” means bear in Hebrew – trans] ran around among us with shrieks and threats and continued to try to pull the camera from her (whoever can guess why cameras upset him so much can get a job in the police, and whoever identifies with this anger can receive, and evidently will receive a plot of land in the Pnei Hever settlement). In the meantime reinforcements arrived from the two sides – Arik arrived at a run to defend the victims of aggression and from the other side the security chief from the Homesh settlement arrived with a gun and a group of friends. They say that a knife only gets sharpened by another knife, and in truth when the settlers who were there on the scene saw their friends approaching, their abusiveness and violence increased. The youths joined the madmen in the well-known style of the settlers – they stick their faces two centimeters from the face of the victim and shriek: “Are you a Jew? Did you kill Dov? You killed Nati!! Yes, you killed Nati!”
“The bear” continued to run around, shrieking, he shoved and knocked down an old man who was standing there leaning on his cane and proceeded to violently attack Arik Ascherman. First he threatened him with acts they would commit on his wife and afterwards moved on to threats on the lives of members of his family as follows: I know you, I know where you live. I will kill you and your children. I will kill your children. All this while running around in a circle, shoving and striking and casting sidelong glances to see if they were photographing him (if you can guess why, you’ll get a free ticket to The Hague). And in fact he was being photographed from all sides. He left Ascherman for a moment and ran after the photographer, one of the “foreigners” who fortunately was more agile than he, and then the sovereign in the territory made its appearance – the army, and immediately we saw who was the boss in that place. The soldiers got chummy with the violent rampagers, put their arms around their shoulders and drew them aside for a briefing on the situation and the incidents, that is to say, who were the good guys and who were the bad. The riotousness continued on the scene, with the army standing and watching impassively from the sidelines without making any effort to intervene.
A police cruiser and the Border Guards arrived very soon. We recorded the licence-plate numbers of the vehicles for anybody who is interested (that thing that rolls on four wheels – when it belongs to a citizen who uses it for his purposes – it is a car. When it belongs to the police, the army or the Border Guards – it is called a “vehicle”) Among the soldiers were officers and reservists holding the rank of officer. One of them wanted to know what was going on, I explained to him and then he said the words that clarified to me exactly (in spite of the fact that I already know what country I am living in) who sent them and why. He said: but these are State Lands. That is to say, one state conquered territories belonging to another state, declared them to be “non-State”, and its citizens “non-citizens” and their lands as State Lands. And then, under the aegis of those definitions you can do anything you feel like: declare the legal residents of the place as “non-people” and therefore without human rights, to seize, to confiscate, to demolish, to expel, to intimidate – everything. State Lands! But as for the citizens of that “State” …
At the end came a Border Guard jeep, they separated the hawks, the shepherds and their flocks were invited to leave the place and we were invited to drive to the police station. In the presence of all those uniforms “the bear” changed his skin and became a red-bearded bespectacled citizen, wearing a very dirty galabiya, an aggrieved Cossack, whimpering, complaining and friendly. He complained that Ascherman stole his camera, that he “broke his glasses”, and requested to file a complaint with the police. His other friends, the armed men, the youths and the dog and others continued to socialize and to chat with their buddies.
The wearers of uniforms know and understand very well what is meant by “State Lands” and what is the power of that definition to destroy the lives of others, and they do it. And our fine boys requested not to be photographed. Finally, they took a stand.
Vivi says that what was engraved in her memory among the blue marks and red abrasions was Abu Ruhi, the oldest member of the group, who tearfully argued with the Border Guards, and afterwards when the Palestinians withdrew and left, defeated for the who-know-how manyth time he took off his kafiyya and wiped the tears and sweat off his face and, not metaphorically, but in reality, wept in silence.
And another image. When we arrived we saw two Palestinian youths carrying two saws, two buckets and a few small tools and a little food in bags, they laid them down beside their mothers and a little bit, almost, a little joy appeared on their faces, here they were, at long last coming to the land to help their parents.
Afterwards we drove to the police station to lodge a complaint. Arik had to be accompanied by policemen in a patrol car in order to lodge a complaint about the attack and to respond to the complaint lodged against him by the crazy bear, to the effect that he had stolen a camera. His proposal to show pictures that he took yesterday and to send them the purchase certificate for the camera, that he had in his house, were to no avail.
Vivi lodged a complaint of assault. The visit with the police was a protracted, wearing and oppressive experience. We waited in the place for about four hours, no one was in a hurry to let us go and until the busy investigator showed up Arik, Vivi, and three settlers sat in a room with a policeman. The chief madman didn’t stop talking for one instant – he had an inexhaustible reservoir of quotations from the Torah and maybe also other torahs, dreadful racist exegeses of that Torah and about his own actions in the field, provocative questions – Do you observe the Sabbath? Do you observe the Sabbath? Do you believe in Maimonides? In Rabbi Kook? And other such like, profitable flattery for his security forces and mendacity until our ears were overflowing. To all this the policeman listened seriously and with absorption, and it can be assumed that the next time he is called upon to separate settlers and Palestinians he will know what side he is on. Afterwards there was there an “incident” – a settler from Kiryat Arba shot at a Palestinian youth on the pretext that the latter had thrown stones at him or towards him. The police station was pumped up full of adrenalin, patrol cars went out full of security forces, the ugly loudspeaker squawked “stand aside!” and soldiers and policemen ran with guns. We observed the whole incident from the police station, which was situated above the scene of the gunfire.
Palestinians gathered on one side and on the other side, armed police and soldiers, yelling at the boy: you are lying! You are lying! Why are you lying? They put him into a patrol car and afterwards took also his father who was accused of having instructed his son (about 18 years old) to throw stones, and another man who was at the scene. The shooter, on the other hand, stood in the “arena”, his gun with him, talking with the security forces and feeling splendid. Afterwards he was taken to the police, his gun still with him and there too he felt splendid, given the consideration that was shown for his religious obligations, to the effect that “we have to release him, it’ll soon be the Sabbath”.
The oppressive atmosphere was broken only by Ezra and his friend Raanan, a filmmaker who apparently is making a movie about all this, who came to wait together with us. Ezra says he doesn’t give a damn. He talks to the policemen on the scene with a crude abandon which greatly entertained those of us who were listening from the sidelines. But what will they do to him? To lodge a complaint over his abuse would put the complainer in an absurd situation because all the talk was about the sexual competence of the policemen. To a youth from the settlers, the scumbag with the curls and now without the dog, he said “What do you mean it’s your land? You have nothing. You are a subsidy with a kippa.” And indeed he was right. These are not the lands of that youth and nor those of the other settlers, rather they are State Lands and therefore the State too is indeed an American subsidy with a kippa.