Snapshot: Between a Funeral and an Outpost

This brilliant, doleful photograph by Nir Elias was taken at the funeral of Eviatar Borovsky, a father of five from the settlement of Yitzhar who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian.

Nir Elias, Reuters

In Dror Mishani’s finely crafted and brooding tale “A Possibility of Violence,” the second in his series of detective novels featuring Inspector Avraham Avraham (the first, “The Missing File,” is available in English translation), Avraham’s new boss talks about the police’s desire to create a safe environment for the country’s citizens. What is a safe environment? It’s one in which there is a pervasive fear of imminent violence. This is standard top-cop talk, and Mishani, who masterfully fuses cool restraint and emotional turmoil, allows Avraham to take note of this fact and weaves it into the fabric of the novel. It’s a work about fatherhood, about the ties between father and child, and also about the way in which a person tells himself a story that interprets his violence and justifies it.

Eviatar Borovsky, a father of five from the settlement of Yitzhar, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian (Salam Za’al, 24, who had been imprisoned for four years for security offenses) at Tapuah Junction near Nablus. Borovsky, who was armed, died instantly. The assailant was himself shot and wounded by Border Policemen, after he opened fire at them. Within hours, settlers launched revenge attacks on Palestinians. Among other incidents, they stoned a bus, injuring two 10-year-old girls, set fire to crops, and in the evening beat up a man from the settlement of Elon Moreh, whom they mistook for an Arab. (Doesn’t this misidentification call into serious question their constellation of markers, which sanctifies “the Jew”?) The next day, they established a “protest outpost” at Tapuah Junction, where the head of the Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, temporarily took up residence.

This brilliant, doleful photograph by Nir Elias was taken at Borovsky’s funeral, which took place in Kfar Hasidim, a village near Haifa, where the murdered man’s parents live. It is not an image of the deceased in a shroud or of one of his children embracing the body as it lies on the stretcher. This seems to be a marginal shot that does not immediately grab the viewer. It is not occupied with the deceased himself, or with the mourners’ keening, or with the settlers’ rampage. Rather, it concerns the working of quiet contemplation in the men of Borovsky’s tribe, and what this might tell us about them.

The photograph contains a moving contrast between the glow of the light − which is not blinding yellow, as in most outdoor shots in Israel − and the shadows and leaves that almost swallow up the face of the man sitting on the cemetery’s stone fence next to the two children, who like him are wearing Source sandals. There is a play of light and shade between the translucence of the day, the hues of green, the red of the gerberas in the funeral wreath, the thin supple line of the lithe body and thick beard and sun-scorched sidelocks of the handsome young man leaning on the tree, and the grief that resides in the inner-directed gaze of those who are wrapped in silence.

The photograph catches each of these individuals (other than the one who has his head buried in a prayer book or Bible, as though he has found a channel into which his self can flow actively) contemplating some indistinct point in an ostensibly passive mode of being, while waiting with repressed tension for the funeral itself. The face of the man who has set his crutches across his thighs is turned to the left and he is biting his lip; the face of the mustached man sitting next to him is turned the other way, his reading glasses hang on his chest, and with one hand, which can barely reach, he scratches his elbow; the two children are so light they almost hover over the fence; and the man to their right, who looks at first glance to be a boy but is not, wears sunglasses and blends into the leaves, his face dappled with light and shade.

In its depiction of grief and self-containment at Kfar Hasidim, this photograph differs from other funeral shots, which tend to convey the moment when it is no longer possible to hold back the wailing that cannot be repressed. Here we see a man of stolid silence, arms folded on his chest like Ehud Barak, and another who leans mutely on a tree in quiet dignity fraught with pent-up energy. Three days later, in a regular ritual, the army evacuated the outpost at Tapuah Junction. For if the settlers expect the state to prevent violence, it is impossible to station guards around the site day and night. The settlers embarked on a march in which they read out a letter written by the widow, Tzofia Borovsky, attacking the GOC Central Command, Nitzan Alon, who paid a condolence call at Kfar Hasidim. She wrote, “I would like to believe that this despicable, ugly act [of dismantling the outpost], which was perpetrated even before Eviatar’s blood was dry, stemmed from stupidity or ignorance. But I know, as everyone knows, that the GOC Central Command is a smart man − so my only conclusion can be that Nitzan Alon is simply heartless.”

She adds that he should be dismissed from his post, because he is “skilled in being antipathetic,” and transferred “to a job in which his insensitivity will not destroy the lives of others.” But it is not Major General Alon’s “insensitivity” that destroys others’ lives. It is violence that does that. Who perpetrated “despicable and ugly acts” even before their fellow settler’s blood was dry? Who attacked even the army, which protects their settlement project?

The silence that envelops the mourners in this photograph is a transmutation of their grief for the murder victim, whose children have been left fatherless, his wife without a partner. It is a wholly absolute death, utterly without justification. It was not caused by Nitzan Alon, and no letter of mourning will bring back the deceased, though a letter written during mourning tells the writer’s story to herself and her community. There is no point in talking about an environment without violence. Nor about diminishing the atmosphere of violence. Because Tapuah Junction is the most violent place there is.