Monday, November 28, 2011

Army in the village

Today I went to the boys' class without my phone or camera. It's a short class, I'm helping the English teacher, and the bell dismisses us. No need for any of that stuff, right? Wrong! Abu Saleh came into the classroom before we finished and said, "Haj!" Like, the Haj needs you....ok. That didn't sound that unusual.


Ok. The army is in the village, and Haj Sami wants me to be there! I left class and trotted along after Abu Saleh. I knew they weren't demolishing anything, it was already mid-day and they usually demolished at the crack of dawn. But this was new for me. I was waved up to the roof of the new office, and saw the jeeps parked by one of the houses. Camera, camera, I need my camera. I ran home and got it and snapped some photos from far away. Then I walked down the street towards the jeeps.

What am I doing? I don't know. They wouldn't expect me to be here. Yeah, wallahi, I live here....

I caught up with Haj Sami, who was by the jeeps, talking to some guys. Haj Sami told me to go take pictures from further away, so I distanced myself.

I realized he was talking to Israeli civilians. What were they doing out here in Al Aqaba? This is a military zone. Israeli civilians aren't allowed past the Area C checkpoint, or through Area A. 

They all headed down one of the village streets, and it looked like they were surveying the land. If they were taking pictures, it could mean another demolition. But no, if there were civilians there, they must be talking about the village's new building plans. I felt silly playing activist and snapping photos when I saw Palestinian government officials taking a group photo with Haj Sami. Maybe this was good news. But you can't be at ease when the military jeeps are driving down village roads and parking in people's private driveways. The Israeli High Court prohibits the soldiers from entering the village. It's mumnua, forbidden.

So why were they doing it? 

After they all left, I sat in front of Haj Sami's sister's house and ate breakfast with Sheikha, his sister and her daughters and their baby girls, Lara and Jena. Lara has blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Sheikha's daughter brought me bread and yoghurt and oil and thyme and cucumbers and fried eggs. And tea. There were kittens running around, begging for our food. 

After an hour or so, I went to go find Haj Sami. He was in the office with Osama and another man from an NGO called COOPI. They explained to me that the soldiers were just protecting the guys from the Israeli Civil...something, who had come about the Master Plan. They wanted to make some plan for the village, maybe allow for expansion. Osama suggested maybe they would make the village Area B. I said, anjad, really? He said, no, he doesn't know. It was all very vague. I asked Haj Sami if he'd told them about his own Master Plan, and he had. He told them he'd submitted it to the army three times, with no answer.

That's when I got really pissed off .

Why did they think Al Aqaba was too dangerous to send Israeli civilians into? For decades, Haj Sami and his advocates have been corresponding with the High Court and the military, asking them to visit, asking them to stop the demolitions, accept their master plan, and leave them in peace.

But today they roll in with jeeps full of armed soldiers, because the Israeli civilians need protection.....from who? They could never Haj Sami and walk around with him without being escorted by soldiers holding large guns. They even parked in Sheikha's driveway, and carried their guns around her and Lara and Jena. 

I get the clearest views of the occupation when the worst doesn't happen. Maybe the soldiers aren't raiding the village tonight, maybe they're not demolishing a house or even serving up a demolition order, but the fact that they can come in whenever they want and scare you and your an awful reality to live in.