In the West Bank, Every Flat Tire Tells a Story

'There’s no chance of things getting better,' concludes the flat tire king of the Jalazun refugee camp. 'All that's left is making a living.'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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FILE: Pedestrians walk between cars and trucks queueing to cross the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank town of Ramallah and Jerusalem.
FILE: Pedestrians walk between cars and trucks queueing to cross the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank town of Ramallah and Jerusalem.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Apparently all the nails scattered around my neighborhood, a nonstop construction site, had embedded themselves in one of my car’s back tires. The flat-tire king from the West Bank’s Jalazun refugee camp hoisted the tire up and began counting. He showed me where all the nails were.

It was as if he wanted to say he didn’t want to cheat me, but there was no way he could fix the tire. What he did say was that a new one would run me 300 shekels ($77), and its “brother” of a tire — just like new — would cost 100 shekels.

How I love the way Palestinians use “brother” or “cousin.” You need something at the store, let’s say a hammer, and they tell you that its cousin, the one in the drawer, is excellent.

The “press” decal on my car may be pealing off, but that didn’t stop this young fellow from interviewing me. Before I remembered who was supposed to be asking the questions, he found out where I was born, where my parents came from and how many years I had been living in El-Bireh, the West Bank town near Ramallah. (He was 4 when I moved there, and now he’s 22).

“And where did you live before that?” In Gaza, I replied.

“In Gaza they’re men,” an eavesdropper interjected. “What does throwing a few stones do? I can go to a roadblock and throw stones and Israeli soldiers will shoot me and wound me. Or I could become a martyr, but for what?”

It was just like the way many residents of Palestinian refugee camps and villages have been killed or wounded, I noted, and they nodded in agreement.

I asked what the rockets fired into Israel from Gaza had achieved. “They paralyzed Al-Lydd [Lod (Ben-Gurion)] airport for two months,” the guy who was impressed by Gaza’s men told me proudly.

That’s how myths are built, but my attempt to set things straight and argue with his wild imagination were no more successful than my efforts over the past 20 years to remind Israelis that the Israeli blockade policy against Gaza and the isolation and imprisonment of its residents began before suicide bombings and before the Oslo peace process of the 1990s.

The flat-tire king was born into a family of Palestinian refugees, not from the 1948 war but from the 1967 war. His grandparents were among about 1,500 people that Israeli soldiers expelled from the village of Beit Nuba during that short war.

Israeli soldiers also expelled thousands of residents of the nearby villages of Imwas and Yalu, after which they bulldozed and blew up the villagers’ houses. The West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon was built on the land of Beit Nuba.

The sites of all of the villages, along with their springs and fields, were made off limits to Palestinians and opened up to Israelis — a de facto annexation. Canada Park is there, beyond the hills of darkness for this young Beit Nuba man who was born 25 kilometers away in crowded Jalazun.

“There’s no chance of things getting better,” he summed up. “All that’s left is making a living.”

Sophisticated forms of expulsion

On the way back to town, I ran into a journalist who invited me to a discussion on the local press’ problems obtaining information from official Palestinian institutions. The main speaker was Muammar Orabi, the manager of Watan, an independent and courageous television station. He too was born in Jalazun, to a family that had been expelled in 1948. His family’s village was Beit Nabalah near Al-Lydd (Lod) airport. Beit Nehemia and Kfar Truman were built on its land.

The event took place at offices belonging to the Palestinian Democratic Union party. I remember the shabby office building, which was probably built in the 1950s, from when I volunteered for Kav La’oved, the workers’ hotline, in 1991. There I met with laborers at a trade union’s offices, recording their complaints about Israeli employers who had not paid their salaries.

Palestinian memory is unavoidably long because Israel and its Jews have not severed the continuity from 1948 to 1967 to today. Living on the Palestinian side of the divide means adopting this long memory, jumping within seconds from one link to another.

But continuity of what? What may sound like a slogan is the naked reality of each and every moment — sophisticated forms of expulsion and colonial dispossession, calculated, studied repression, and nonstop defiance of it.

On the official Voice of Palestine radio they reported on a laborer from the village of Farun who choked to death at the Sha’ar Efraim crossing for Palestinians, a place where laborers staged a strike to protest the chokingly crowded conditions and the conduct of the security firm that runs the checkpoint.

I switched stations. On Israel’s Army Radio they were chatting away about another opinion poll in the run-up to the Knesset election. The parallel lives of Palestinians and Israelis that do not meet are well reflected by the radio waves.

I went back to the Voice of Palestine. The life of a prisoner in Israel’s custody, Jafr Awad from Beit Omar, is in danger, it reported. He had been at Assaf Harofeh Hospital (tied to his bed) and was returned to an Israel Prison Service infirmary in Ramle.

The radio then reported on 5,000 olive saplings uprooted in Turmus Aya. To the Voice of Palestine, it was clear the perpetrators were from settlement outposts at Shiloh. (And what luck that on Friday settlers threw stones at a U.S. diplomatic convoy touring the area. Thus the information has reached not only the listeners of Palestinian radio and the recipients of Rabbis for Human Rights press releases.)

If I were keyboard happy, if there were 50 hours a day and if Haaretz were the top-rated daily news site for the occupied Palestinian territory, every routine day like this would produce several news items and articles.

The Voice of Palestine played a rhythmic song about how “we rejoice at martyrdom,” and so on. Then two longtime Fatah activists were interviewed, extolling the armed struggle of the past in order to extol the transition today to a struggle by peaceful means and diplomacy. That was followed by commercials for a beauty salon in Ramallah and easy loan terms for home buyers.

Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz

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