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Echoes of Childhood on the Road to Hebron

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A Palestinian shepherd tending a goat near Hebron, February 5, 2017.
A Palestinian shepherd tending a goat near Hebron, February 5, 2017.Credit: HAZEM BADER/AFP

A graceful youth mumbled something about breaking bones. I asked him to repeat what he’d just said for the camera. He said, “Me, break bones? I invited you to coffee.”

From the sleepy atmosphere of a Friday morning in Ramallah, I traveled to the jazziness that precedes the quiet of a Friday evening in Jerusalem. Along the way, 88 FM was playing songs of Sarajevo native and resident Damir Imamovic. One of his songs is called “Sarajevo.”

“They tell me that the words of his songs are sad,” the program presenter said. How else? The artist was a boy when the war started that tore apart and destroyed Yugoslavia. Now his songs, new to me, accompany my writing.

The style is somehow familiar, echoes of childhood. Indeed, my family is from there. Imamovic plays and promotes sevdah, traditional music that combines Turkish, Balkan, Andalusian and Sephardic music. Wow. He told Huffington Post in a 2015 interview:

“It is a sister music to Fado, Tango, Blues or Rembetiko and any other genre of music formed out of meetings of different worlds of music, languages, mindsets. It is a specific blend of music and lyrics connected to the notion of sevdah (the Turkish everyday word for ‘love’ and an Arabic word for the Greek ‘melancholy’).”

Despite the changes, Jerusalem’s Zion Square also echoes childhood. It is bustling with youths in yarmulkes, fundraising for something. There is a cacophony of street musicians on Ben Yehuda, each one okay. Together, they arouse a longing for quiet. At 11:30, en route to the car, a text message from Machsom Watch’s Dafna Banai arrives. She doesn’t want to bother me, as it’s Friday, but she reports an attack by settlers and soldiers on three shepherds in the northern Jordan Valley Next at a new, illegal outpost, home to a herd of cattle and some armed youths.

Shepherds and farmers in the area, Machsom Watch and Ta’ayush activists have reported in recent weeks the ways in which Israeli cow herders scare, threaten and restrict the movements of Palestinians and their flocks. It’s classic, the same methods that settlers used to disconnect thousands of farmers and shepherds from their West Bank lands. There is nothing new, either about soldiers that help settlers narrow the space of Palestinian shepherds and farmers. The new outpost is really adjacent to the Netzah Yehuda army base. Photos show soldiers fraternizing with the youths in the illegal outpost. The new Breaking the Silence report, “The High Command - settler influence on IDF conduct in the West Bank” is in my bag.

A few checks, and I send a query to the Army Spokesman. But the nice soldier in the spokesman’s office tells me a few hours later that the answer will be sent after Shabbat ends.

I headed south from Jerusalem to Hebron, for a meeting with Abd Al Karim al-Jabari, about a matter in need of further investigation. He is a Hebron resident. The Kiryat Arba council levied on him and his brother municipal taxes, after he complained that the settlement had built an illegal structure on their private land. The authorities demolished the structure dozens of times, and it has been rebuilt dozens of times. The Kiryat Arba police are situated on the hill, a few hundred meters above the tiny outpost called Hazon David. Residents of the Givat Avot neighborhood walk on Jabari’s property like it was their private garden. Last week, Kiryat Arba’s military security coordinator prevented Jabari from going to farm his land. There is a special section in the Breaking the Silence report about the status of the military security coordinators.

When we left the Jabari home, we saw some youths and two adults expanding the illegal structure made of wooden planks and plastic sheets, on Jabari’s land. A Ta’ayush activist called the police. A policeman claimed that they knew beforehand and were coming, anyway. So be it.

The police fraternized with the builders. Many soldiers came and fraternized, too. One asked on his phone, “Where is Ofer?” He didn’t answer my question whether he meant Ofer Ohana, the settler who pampers the soldiers. In the end, the adult took the ladder and left. A few youths were left. A few joined them. A handsome young man drew within touching distance of the Ta’ayush activist, blocked his camera, and forbade him from filming. He threatened to break the camera. Then from his ATV, he said, “I’ll break his bones” when the police and soldiers are gone. I asked him to repeat himself in front of the camera, and he said, “Me? Break bones? I invite you to coffee.”

On the way back to Jerusalem where I was invited to dinner with some leftist friends, I assumed that we’d talk about outposts, takeovers, attacks. The very thought tired me. But for some reason one of the activists, who just returned from a visit in Poland, insisted in “interviewing” the “second generation” diners among us. He asked and questioned and inquired, until we asked him to stop.

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