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Occupation magazine - Settlements

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Then Israel shall dwell in safety

By Ilana Hammerman

HEBRON It`s Simhat Torah, 5769. A small Jewish boy runs alone down Shuhada Street. His hair is fair and curly, his gleaming white shirt billowing with the ritual fringes of the prayer shawl beneath it. He runs toward a square shaded by palm trees, a broad intersection at the very end of the street. Two signs with their circular arrows indicate that this is a traffic island. But the boy, who runs in the middle of the street, apparently knows there are no vehicles driving about here today. The intersection is quiet. The gaze follows the back of the little runner, who is now skipping happily past a giant poster mounted nearby the intersection, wishing those arriving, those who may have arrived already and those who may yet arrive `Welcome and Happy Holiday,` and past the lone soldier, standing guard in the middle of the big empty area, his head covered only by a small skullcap. The eye catches the soldier smiling at the boy, and the boy disappearing into the distance; then it returns to the top of
the street, which now, without the boy, is completely empty.

This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
All the shops on the right-hand side of the street are locked up behind blue metal grates, shaded by convex tin roofs, also blue, all of them identical, matching. Even the orange hues of the rust stains on the roofs, as though smeared with a single paintbrush, echo each other, and the gaze affixed to them follows them up the street, until it is arrested briefly by two torn Israeli flags atop a stylized streetlamp, an imitation of an old-fashioned gaslight. But no, on closer look it seems that only one of the flags is definitely that of the State of Israel, while the other remains undefinable; nor is it certain that they are torn, the flags. Maybe they simply became wrapped around their poles in the wind, and around the wires and ropes dangling from the grated window above them, which now emerges into view. The window has two layers of wire mesh, one dusty white and with large squares, and the other,
underneath, brown and bearing a sticker that someone took the trouble to climb up and paste,
with the Bratslav Hasidic message: `Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me`uman.`

And the sword of your majesty
The gaze, capturing a momentary rest from this detailed inquiry, turns upward to meander
a bit through the wide blue skies. And even here in the bright heavens it is captured by
a dark line set against the backdrop of a snowy-white cumulus cloud, which on closer
inspection turns out not to be a line in the cloud, but rather a person standing alone on a
rooftop, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a large backpack, smiling at the horizon. And thus one
might be tempted to think that he, too, is a fellow wanderer, in the sky or on the rooftop.
But from closer up it turns out that he is an armed soldier, stuck there on the roof, between
two protective concrete blocks. The soldier lowers his gaze to the street, and one`s view
moves along slowly, down the barrel of his rifle, pausing at a wall covered with various wires
that are stretched taut, and which lead to a big metal frame. These are electric wires and the
frame was probably once used to enclose a sign that lit up; since it no longer exists, there
is no way of knowing what sort of merchant or craftsman once worked in the space that is
shuttered by the blue metal grate below. The gaze suddenly discovers that it is actually
possible to find out, if one insists: A small, black, square-shaped board hangs above the
missing sign, and on it is written hatat in simple Arabic lettering, in white oil paint ¬ sign
painter, or perhaps draftsman, someone whose craft entails lovely penmanship, although the
sign hardly reflects that. And nevertheless one`s eye, to which the deserted street has yet to
present a single human being on the ground, is now drawn to the small signs above the shops,
which, perhaps because of its persistence[the eye`s??], begin to multiply.

In a land of grain and new wine
`Tzitzan ralef maadat mazara` reads one sign, and the chicken pictured alongside helps
one to decipher and surmise that somebody used to trade here in poultry and chicks, in
animal feed and agricultural equipment. A phone number listed below might have solved
the riddle, might have allowed one to ascertain the current whereabouts of the tradesman or
men, how they are doing and what they are up to now. 052387811. Only nine digits; perhaps
Cellcom could provide the 10th that has been added to its numbers.
In any event, for some reason it is the chicks that come to mind after reading the
signs. A great many soft chicks were evidently caged in the stores that are now locked shut,
up and down the street. This is indicated by the guttural, whistling word tzitzan, which
reappears on many more signs, telling us that all kinds of animal feed was sold here from the
produce of the land. One store, so the sign says, also sold the produce of the animals
themselves, eggs and meat, to feed the poultry and cattle owners and their customers. This
particular sign is already harder to approach, because a wall of protective concrete blocks
seals off the side street at the corner of which the shop is located. In front of this wall
lie barbed-wire reels, known in Hebrew as taltalit (literally, curly ringlets), which someone
was apparently too lazy to cut, leaving a good-sized reel that could have provided protection
for the other walls, which have concrete blocks and barrels that cut off every street turning
right out of Shuhada ¬ to defend against nimble climbers, who wish to cross from this side to
the other side, hidden from view.

I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there
Indeed, one`s eye has also yearned to do so at long last, and to that end could find no
solution other than to look through the keyhole in a small door. This door was set within a
concrete block of one of the walls, access to which was not barred by any wire ringlets. The
door would not open, even though it had no lock, only the gaping keyhole, which probably held
a lock in the past, since it looked like a household door. But the eye gazing through the hole
could discern no furnished rooms. Here, furniture can be seen only on big trash heaps, and
also on one of the shop signs, which bears an illustration of a double bed surrounded by
curtains and dressers, and will also vanish soon beneath the climbing shrub that adorns the
shop`s wall with blue flowers.
Through the empty keyhole appeared a small alley, nice and quiet, with three people in
it. Two of them, well dressed, were strolling along, chatting and passing beneath a stone dome
into another small alley. They embodied an aura of intimacy and pleasantness, perhaps because
the whole spectacle, through the keyhole, reminded the observing eye of an addiction to other
sights, seen through a magnifying glass ¬ scenes that were drawn with the slender brushes of
Flemish Renaissance painters, in which only a magnifying glass reveals to the observer the
details of the ancient urban vista unfolding beyond the tall and narrow windows of a room, or
even, through a stable entrance, the gorgeous domes angled above alleyways and streets, and
the few passersby, who seem, like these two, to be strolling along and chatting.
But the foreground of the picture through the keyhole contained neither saints nor
Madonnas, but rather a small bulldozer with a man seated inside. The bulldozer did not
move, did not make noise and did not disturb the restful picture, and so the gaze
ignored it and tried to penetrate further beyond the dome and the two people beneath it, as in
those beloved paintings. And it discovered that in the alley into which the pair was walking
the shops were closed as well. It even seemed that there, too, as on this side, the tin roofs
were rusting.

Strike the loins of those who rise against him, and of those who hate him
The gaze, now saturated with the visible and hidden sights of Shuhada Street, now
hurries back down it without pausing, except at one large sign destined to clarify
everything, which reads: `The ancient Jewish quarter was purchased and built by the
Jewish community in Hebron. Destroyed by the Arabs after the massacre of 5690 (1929).
Destroyed a second time by order of left-wing entities and the judicial system in 5767
(2007).`
The eye does not pause for long, because just at this moment a merry procession is
approaching, consisting of men wearing white dress shirts and carrying Torah scrolls, singing
and dancing. All of a sudden a police car pulls up beside the photographer, who has in any
case lowered his camera in alarm, and an officer steps out and asks, who you are and where you
are from, and says the area has been declared a closed military zone, and begins explaining
politely why and wherefore, because this place, as you know, is sensitive both from a
religious standpoint and a political standpoint, and today only its residents are permitted to
be in it. And he gestures with his hand at Eid and at Abu Abd, the owners of souvenir stores
who are standing idle in their shops` entrances, and also at the revelers passing by, from
whose midst the [right-wing extremist] Baruch Marzel emerges just at this moment, and orders
the officer to cease his insipid conversation and to get rid of a group of reporters and
photographers, who are standing on the other side of the procession. The officer indeed
hastily cuts through the group and stands next to the uninvited guests ¬ and presto, they`re
gone.
@info:The quotations cited here are from the Vezot Habracha (`And this is the blessing`) Torah
portion read on Simhat Torah (Deuteronomy 33-34
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