by Ta’ayush activist Amitai Ben-Abba
My arm was twisted, bent, injured, violated, but it was not broken. 5 soldiers and 4 settlers were huddled around me. I felt blows from all directions. My hat was in the dirt. I was biting dust, clinging to my glasses with my left hand, and desperately clenching the camera with my right. The blue shirted attacker grabbed my right arm, twisted, bent it. I screamed. The camera was extracted from my hopelessly clenched fingers. They quickly smashed the camera on the ground.
Taayush means living together, living the revolution, living it good, living the change, living the way we want to see society. We live the end of the occupation as we go, in direct action and the presentation of alternatives. We make the end of the occupation as we go, without politicians, rich people that sit on spinning chairs made of dead cows’ skin, that mix potions to create divided, butchered societies. Getting beaten up is a byproduct. We put ourselves in dangerous situations for the pearls of experience, for the pure notion of taayush. Gems like sitting that day yesterday 10-07-12 at Bir al-Id with the three beaten worn out powerful fathers of the village and looking at the beautiful view of the hills of Jinba and the Arad Valley and Masada in the distance.
“Ahla manzar fi Bir al-Id – the prettiest view is at Bir al-Id,” I said.
“Come live here, you can have it!” bellowed Haj Ismail known as a great grandfather to 90 kids spread across South Hebron. A powerful, 80 year old man, who doesn’t speak but only yells and named me al-Hind (the Indian) and on another occasion named me abu-Sha’ar (the guy with the hair) and was always eager to utilize Taayush activists to widen dirt roads, rebuild destroyed houses, prepare water cisterns, or simply move a hill of dirt to one side and then off to another. This reminds me how I love doing physical work and admire the Haj that lifts rocks half his size, in his age, and tirelessly roars about the fall of Ghadafi in a half-comprehensible dialect.
Abu Tarek is another man of Bir al-Id, he’s tall and quiet, an antithesis to Ismail, with a quiet voice cracked by cigarettes and 45 years of the Occupation. We asked for his wellbeing. He said he’s a little unhealthy. Sick from the settlers, the military, the police, Mitzpe Yair outpost, and so on. We heard that the settler Yaakov Talia stole a goat and a donkey from a farmer in Jinba, the south-eastest village in the West Bank. Some soldiers saw it happen and did nothing. Talia told them that people from Jinba stole his goats. The soldiers went down and arrested the farmer. Our hosts laugh bitterly. Later that day, Ezra paid 500 Shekels for the farmer’s bail. There are so many more poor chaps that don’t reach a half-plugged ear of an Ezra and stay imprisoned for months and months on end. Jail and torture constitute the usual course of life for many people of the ’87 Intifada and onwards.
We sat drinking chai (tea) in a spacious open tent at a terrace that we helped build a year ago. I could see silhouettes of Jordanian mountains in the place where the sky kisses the earth and I felt content, contained, and confident. Dozens and dozens of workdays in the wild south have given me peacefulness through the joy of doing for others, of being in the open and experiencing holy moments. Pearls of experience obtained through human dialogue and interaction with nature. People of the Israeli left associate the Taayush movement with activism of high risk and anxiety. I associate the wild south with contentment and tiny ripples of accomplishment in a sea of dark oppression. Nonetheless, this day materializes in my mind as a day of anxiety and pain and hopelessness.
It’s fair to say that my relative self-security in South Hebron Hills is a result of the hard work of more experienced activists and brave half-known predecessors. There was a time not long ago when violent interactions of activists with settlers occurred on a weekly basis. But things have changed and it is now a time of camera wars. We film them filming us filming and filming the soldiers filming us filming them as they oppress Palestinians trying to make a life in this godforsaken place. It is funny that I didn’t really expect and fear an escalation of the settler-soldier-activist interaction in this particular area of occupied Palestine. I certainly didn’t expect myself to be a victim. In other violent interactions here, the settlers somehow avoided physically harming me. I guess my illusion was a symptom of a young, naïve, arrogant sense of immortality. There is something strangely refreshing in my current feeling of vulnerability.
Stream of consciousness writing obeys no chronological law. Please forgive, dearest, admirable reader. In the morning we went to make sure that the military escort near Havat Maon outpost arrived and did its job. Our Italian friends from Operation Dove have been suffering increasing attacks from the most violent outpost in Judea, so we went to help them out with the task they’ve been fulfilling on a daily basis. A-Twani is the largest village in the South Hebron Hills. Kids from neighbouring villages and khirbes go there for school and summer camp. Settlers from Havat Maon have made the way to Twani torturously longer and have thrown stones at kids on their way to school. After a long struggle, the military has committed to give daily escort to the Palestinian kids to enable them to get to school. Since the army is often late for the escort, monitoring their behavior is essential. For ten years now, activists have been there with them, often functioning as human shields for the children.
Today the military jeep arrived on time for the escort. We later accompanied another family on the way to the summer camp in Mfaqara. The father said on the way that his daughter dreamt the settlers and soldiers were coming to take them away and the military jeep was made of fire. We then stopped to document destroyed olive trees on the land of Twani. Ten olive trees were vandalized last night. Suddenly three settlers came down with stones and covered faces. One of them was uncovered and held a camera. An interesting development of the camera wars. I pulled my phone out called the police and screamed,
“We’re attacked by people with covered faces south of Havat Maon; they’re throwing stones, send a vehicle now!”
The settlers heard the Hebrew and left. I was called a couple of times later by both soldiers and coppers to verify whether I was attacked by Palestinians or Israelis. The cops arrived with a fancy jeep and automatic guns 45 minutes later. We filed a complaint about the attack and the destruction of the trees. How did the trees ever do wrong to the Zionist vision? As far as I can tell, no settler from Havat Maon was ever prosecuted for his terrorism.
Next, we went to take a look at the destruction of water pipes leading from wells to the village of Bir al-Id mentioned earlier. We saw a mobile crane for caravans at Mitzpe Yair on the way. It’s a time of large mobilizations in the wild south. Caravans are springing up everywhere, while the media keeps its focus on Givat ha-Ulpana.
Teargas canisters, skunk water and sound grenades behave in a rather expected way. Generally, when off to a Friday demo against the Occupation, I know what will happen, I recognize that twitch of adrenaline and prepare myself for only partially-lethal violence. This is not the case in the wild south. An ideological settler with military training and thirst for blood is a much more unexpected, lethal weapon of Israeli Occupation.
Avidan Ofir, who we met when unloaded to document the unloading of caravans at Avigail outpost, is such a weapon. He’s infamous for and dozens of other violent incidents. Yaniv and I went activist stylishly, passing the soldiers and filming the same crane we’d seen at Mitzpe Yair, unpacking a caravan, a home for fresh weapons, on private Palestinian land. Avidan and three others came out for us. Avidan tried to grab Yaniv’s camera. The soldiers did nothing but try to stop our way into the outpost. Maybe the soldiers had a sense of the war crime that was going on. More likely, they’re confused kids with no sense of justice, products of a colonialist regime, victims themselves of a colonialist, nationalist, militarist, pseudo-education system. In cases like these, it becomes difficult to save my rage for the white people in suits that are responsible for this madness. Not fearless, just reckless, I yell at the soldiers to stop the settlers. A white shirted settler with a motorcycle helmet tries to grab me. I escape. He manages to throw a kick at my right thigh. I pull out my phone, call the cops and demand they send someone over before we’re killed. It’s interesting to note that when I relive the experience, the present tense takes over. Avidan grabs Yaniv and breaks the screen of his camera. I get it all on tape. Another settler in a blue Avigail t-shirt, looking much like the average Israeli or Palestinian – 177 cm tall, dark skinned, with short black hair and a fashionably unshaven face – tries to grab my camera. I shut the screen and pull the camera close to my heart. I find myself on the ground, receiving blows from all directions. My glasses fall off and I cling to them too. As I stick to cameras and glasses in despair, the settler grabs for my right arm, the one clenching the camera. He bends my arm, shakes it, twists it, gives it a nice little swing dance duet. I scream,
“He’s breaking my arm! He’s breaking my arm!!!”
The infernal dance continues for too long a time. I feel the camera slowly getting out of hand. Everything fades and colors blend into a mishmash of yellow dirt in the color of the blazing sun of south Hebron.
I am back in my house in Jerusalem, a day later, contemplating a return to past tense. He smashed the camera on a rock, or with a rock, into many many pieces. I stood immediately and demanded the soldiers return the shards of the cameras to me. Yeah right. Ridiculous. Yaniv, later that day, and Tali, earlier today, said a good idea might be to live-stream these occurrences in the future. So when we’re murdered, at least no one will be able to destroy the camera. The aggressive settlers went off and the soldiers stood in front of us to block our entrance to the illegal outpost. “Put an eye on him!” The commander told a boyish soldier that stood in front of me. Some soldiers in the distance had this silly camouflage shit drooping over their heads like some sexy veil. I asked the one in front of me if he’s from Gdud Shimshon (a military unit). He said he’s from rescue and relief. Witty guy. The cops arrived. My heart was pumping a little slower now. I mean then. I mean now. They treated us as criminals. The upper funny side – at least I was not arrested and charged with assault.
I talked to my friend Mori about clinging to the camera like a child, falling on the ground to protect it as I held it close to my heart. For hours at the police station the images crossed my mind over and over again. I was thinking of a way to save the camera. The images tormented me. It was a sense of failure and refusal to accept reality. How could I lose the camera? Why couldn’t I slip the memory card into my pocket? I could scream as if I got a stroke or stage an epileptic shock. I could give my attacker a spinning capoeira kick and hop away in jinga. Maybe it was reckless of Ezra to send us there in the first place. Whatever it is that the camera signifies, the world has seen so much of this type of violence, hasn’t it? The cops will do nothing with our complaints. They did nothing about the Nasser’s car. That was nicely caught on camera, but they dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Saving the camera this time would only add another Youtube video with barely 300 views. A camera is replaceable. That’s what I must tell myself. This is where it ends. This paragraph, at least.
Three days earlier, on Saturday the 7th, we accompanied Yusef of al-Rihiya and four of his sons with their goats to their herding land stolen by Beit Hagai. Ezra met Yusef through their mutual butcher. The butcher told Ezra that settlers stole 13 goats from Yusef, and that he needed help getting to his land. The network of butchers creates opportunities for all kinds of fishy activities. Trust me, I’m vegetarian. New soldiers were at the zone last Saturday. They didn’t know how to react to our presence. We went into the land. Israeli law protects our entrance, at least on paper, but why would the kids with guns know that. They tried to push us back but they had very limited herding skills and couldn’t get the goats to do as they said. They don’t educate them properly at Bahad 1 (officer training camp). It was unclear if it was an absurd spontaneous decision or some planned strategy to scare farmers, but they grabbed the three little boys, ages 9, 11 and 13, and took them into the jeep. They cuffed and blindfolded them and held them for an hour. Three of us ran after the jeep into the settlement. I stayed with Yusef. His eldest son ran back home. The soldiers tried to arrest Yusef too but I stood between them with the camera yelling at them that they’ve gone completely out of their minds. Somehow it worked, mostly because Yusef refused to comply and go with them to the second jeep. “They stole 13 goats, and now they stole three kids, and if they steal me too, the settlers will come and steal the rest of the 50 goats! I’m not leaving!” He called. So they stood and did nothing.
Two days before that we staged an In Bounds act. I was cuffed and blindfolded and begged in Arabic non-existent guards for water at the entrance to the Jerusalem Film Festival. More interesting than the people that told me to go back to Auschwitz are the people that said these things, torture etc., don’t exist. It’s not irony but reality. In the manuscript of my life, what happened in Saturday was culture jamming, going Beckett.
“The soldiers did nothing” is now a canonical sentence in this fringy piece. It is not for the oppressed Mizrahi Jews with silly uniforms and M16s that I save my anger. The utilization of one oppressed minority to oppress another class which is a potential comrade of the former, is simply a strategy of the divide-and-conquer. The Arab Jews suffer a de-Arabization as they stand with guns to protect the thieves. “A slave will be king.” Yet it’s difficult to control the rage when ethnic cleansing dances right and left. Humour helps. And hummus as well. And friends more than anything.
Yaniv is a brave and fun comrade. Following his life experience he probably copes with what happened better than I ever could. He was recently imprisoned for conscientious objection to serve in reserves. He went on hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners. He was in isolation on the inside. He now said he’ll probably get some extra grey hair from our joint experience. I wonder when my grey hair will show up if at all. Either way, I shall return. So much shit is happening on a daily basis. We’re exposed to a fraction of the massive machine of oppression. But the little we do matters. It matters for our Palestinian comrades and it sets an example. We get beaten and come back for more. There is joy in our activism, in the pearls of experience. I will come back this Saturday for the characters, for human interaction, what I live for, our Palestinian, international and Israeli partners, my friends and heroes, the people who inspire me who enable me to feel that I live the revolution for change and elevation in the form of protestation of the situation of segregation.
Radical Monkey Clown
Amitai Ben-Abba. An actionist achrilist and rabble-rouser and pseudo-structureless think-tanker.