Returning to the Site of an Israeli Pogrom

Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman
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Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman

On the bus they told us the army might stop us on the way and we wouldn’t be able to continue, that maybe they would tell us to get off. If that happens, they said, we obey: We don’t resist, we don’t use force, we don’t even curse. This is a non-violent protest. Non-violent! But they didn’t stop us on the way. On Saturday the spacious, air-conditioned bus took us safely, in less than an hour, to the entrance to Al-Tawani, which, unfortunately, is situated between two nests of thugs with pretty names: Havat Maon and Avigayl.

When we arrived at the village cheerful chaos already reigned: dozens of cars were parked on the edges of the narrow road and kept on coming. And more spacious and air-conditioned buses and minibuses were arriving, from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’er Sheva. Hundreds of people, young and old, emerged from the vehicles, some quickly, some more ponderously, greeting each other heartily, with hugs and slaps on the back. They mixed with the locals from Al-Tawani and the surrounding area – some of them are already old friends. Because here the slogan “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” is not just words, it’s the absolute truth – a truth that has withstood quite a few difficult tests.

A pleasant hour went by this way, and then, after we heard brief explanations in Hebrew and Arabic, which reiterated the non-violent nature of the protest – it was called the Water March – we set out on our colorful march to the shepherds’ community of Al-Mufqara.

Al-Tawani’s blacktopped road turned into potholed-scarred and rocky dirt – rising and falling among the dry, desolate hills, growing longer, bathed first in a pleasant, slightly hot morning sun that grew slightly hotter, then hotter still, until it became harder for the older folks among us.

Nevertheless, spirits were high. As victors, carrying a variety of protest signs under Palestinian flags, we accompanied the modest, symbolic water tank pulled by a blue tractor to the small community, one of many that Israel has sentenced to desiccate and shrivel from thirst on the way to ethnically cleansing these broad expanses.

We passed the farm of the perpetrators of the pogrom, surrounded by green and well-watered trees. No one stopped us. Not a stone was thrown and no officer came to tell us this was a “closed military zone.” A shallow valley separated us from them. A week ago, the rioters had torn across this valley, gripped in a frenzy of domination, hatred and jealousy, and vandalized the property of the shepherds and injured them and their families. No one stopped them then.

But now we neither saw nor heard them. Only a few soldiers paced the edges of the valley, slowly back and forth. It was clear: This time it was decided, and was obviously agreed on with the thugs, that the unpleasant, harmful scenes from recent weeks would not repeat themselves. The march would pass, get where it was going, and go back.

The marchers would return to their homes and quiet would return to the lords of the Jewish land of pogroms, so they could complete the work, they and the army along with them, with its bulldozers and other ruinous heavy equipment.

On that Saturday they had their Shabbat rest and we, tired but satisfied, reached the hills of Al-Mufqara with our flags, our signs and our rhythmic shouts, accompanied by drums.

But then I realized that the march hadn’t reached its destination, which was actually a nearby hill. The truth is that it took me time to realize this. Perhaps I had taken too long at the tail end of the march to look out at these impressive open spaces and the violent changes that are taking place here, and then I wandered too long among the damaged cars and still-broken windows of Al-Mufqara.

In any case, I missed the speeches and the explanations and most of the protesters were already on their way back as I stood on the outskirts of Al-Mufqara, and stared in wonder at the bright lights of the military vehicles on the near ridge opposite us.

That’s where the march had been going, I found out from talking to a local resident, and then from a text message sent by the organizers to the participants’ phones. That’s where the Hamamda clan’s community lives, and that’s where the water tanker was heading. But that’s where thugs of Avigayl had already settled down – and therefore the water tank would not arrive there, neither the tanker nor the beautiful march that accompanied it. Because there, the army was standing and waiting for us, the Israel Defense Forces, armed and primed. To signal to us: Stop. We allowed you to go this far, bleeding hearts that you are, but here you will come to harm, and the shepherds’ community to even greater harm after you leave. And we stopped.

On the way back to Jerusalem our bus was detained at a roadblock. We sat quietly and waited for them to finish checking the many passengers who were taken off another bus: they were all Palestinians. When they were done, a security guard went up one step into our bus, stretched his upper body inside and said: “Does everyone have a blue [Israeli] identity card?” “Yes,” came the simultaneous answer from some of the passengers. “Drive on,” he said.

And the sting of an image that had pierced my thoughts over the past hour embedded itself even more deeply: like a flea who jumped on the back of a dinosaur. That’s the tale of the flea and the dinosaur, and this is not the end.

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