increasingly, i live days in a constant state of frustration here. part of it comes from teaching, like when i ask my students if they know what yom al ard is and not one of my 200 students can tell me the specifics of that date and why it should be commemorated every year. i spend my time reading palestinian history, much of it oral history, for the current chapter i’m writing. and much of what i read i share with my students. none of which they know. but this is not the most frustrating part because i know why the palestinian authority does not include such material in their curriculum. the frustrating part is that the more you read and know about palestinian history, the more you can see it playing out over and over and over again. 122 years of zionist land theft and murder. same methods, same acts. and i feel that not knowing this, not connecting to this, contributed to the zionist entity’s ability to constantly fragment palestinians. divide and rule is their m.o. like all colonists throughout history. i can’t help but think about it right now as so many villages and areas throughout palestine are in the process of becoming ethnically cleansed. yet again. some palestinians will be made refugees for a second or third time. others for the first. either way it is the same story. one of my students is from the village of aqraba, which has about 20 homes, 1 mosque, and 1 school slated for demolition. the two maps here–the first one from passia and the second one an israeli terrorist colonial map–show the areas around nablus and the intense colonization process affecting the families and their livelihood here.
but i want to think about this process of divide and rule here for a minute before i share my experience in aqraba today. because there are so many ways that colonists do this. they do it on the level of family, often religion, on the level of village, political affiliation, and through the recruitment of collaborators. some collaborators do their work in secrecy, and others do so in the form of a so-called government. but i want to think about it on the level of family. because it struck me today that these families in aqraba are all alone. no palestinians from other cities or villages have come in solidarity with them. no one is coming for friday prayer to pray in their mosque that is expected to be demolished by israeli terrorists, though this is not true for those palestinians in silwan whose homes are slated for destruction. but al quds is on the international stage. people report on it. people go there. people care about it. but as in 1948 the fellahin are on their own. they have no support from the people in the cities. this was true in 1948 and it is true today. i’ve written before about this disjuncture and divide and rule policy between urban and rural before. i want to talk about division on the micro level, on the family level. rosemary sayigh in her amazing book the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries shares one particular story from an nakba that resonates for me currently:
Survivors from the Deir Yaseen massacre (some of whom were driven in a triumphal procession round Jewish Jerusalem and then shot) gave chilling descriptions of individual atrocities to investigating Red Cross and British Mandate officials. The British investigator, Richard Catling, describes how difficult it was to persuade terrified and humiliated girls and women to describe what had been done to them, and others who did not survive:
I interviewed many of the women folk in order to glean some information on any atrocities committed in Deir Yaseen but the majority of those women are very shy and reluctant to relate their experiences especially in matters concerning sexual assault and they need great coaxing before they will divulge any information. The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women who often break down…whilst the statement is being recorded. There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed.
An atrocity particularly calculated to horrify Arab peasants was the cutting open of the womb of a nine months’ pregnant woman. This was the clearest of messages warning them that the Arab codes of war, according to which women, children and old people were protected, no longer held good in Palestine. Men now had to choose: their country or their family. It was through such methods that a people with a thirty-year history of resistance to British occupation and Zionist immigration were terrorized into flight.
what i think about when i read this passage is the structure of society: the family. when people have a family they act in ways to protect that family first. sometimes this is to protect them physically. sometimes economically. but the family comes first. sure families often raise their children to be in the resistance, but unfortunately in the west bank they are few and far between. but this idea that one must protect their family during an nakba in 1948 made palestinians have to make an unimaginable choice: their family or their county. and i feel like i am watching the same thing play again in front of my eyes. after i returned from aqraba today i called a few activist palestinian friends to see if they could help me organize a massive mobilization to aqraba for friday prayer. all of them were pessimistic. they think maybe i can fill a bus, but not more than that. they tell me that people are afraid of getting arrested, getting shot, having hospital bills as a result of getting shot. families in nablus don’t want their daughters to go because they worry about them more than their sons. and so there is no solidarity among palestinians. divide and rule is working. i can’t help but think if these same families will feel differently when it is their village or their house slated for destruction. because israeli terrorists will never stop. they won’t stop until they reach baghdad.
so as i posted over the last week, aqraba is scheduled to have several of its homes, one elementary school, and one mosque demolished by israeli terrorists. media reports have some discrepancies in them according to the families i spoke with today. reports say that there are only 6 houses scheduled to be demolished, but the families told me that 20 homes with 200 people living in them will be destroyed. the reports also say that this will happen on march 26th, but i was told today that this is the date for their day in the colonial court, not for the demolition itself. half of aqraba is in area c and half in area b. area b is administered by the palestinian authority, and area c, which comprises 59% of the west bank, is controlled by israeli terrorists (area c generally covers rural areas).
aqraba is about 20 km away from nablus and about 50 km from the apartheid wall, the wall that separates palestinians in 1948 palestine from palestinians in the west bank. the village center is located on a mountain top and its valley in the jordan valley. it is so close to jordan that palestinian cell phones don’t work here unless you want to pay the roaming rates as if you are in jordan. you know that you are coming into the area c part of the village as you drive down the mountain because the paved road stops and the dirt road begins. all of the people who live in aqraba, however, at one point owned and farmed land or grazed their livestock in this valley at one point in time. in fact, the story of the ethnic cleansing in aqraba does not begin in 2009. it begins in 1968. i heard time and time again today the same stories from different families. in 1968, shortly after the 1967 war or an naksa, hundreds of families fled from this village and went to jordan because they heard stories of massacres in neighboring villages. most of the families i met today have relatives living in palestinian refugee camps in jordan.
starting in 1968 israeli terrorists began confiscating aqraba’s land for military training. a few years later the first settlement on their land was built on a mountaintop overlooking the village. this settlement, gitit, which apparently has a website, makes no mention, of course, that they are on palestinian land. in fact, the word palestine is nowhere to be found on its website whatsoever. not surprising. they don’t mention, for instance, that part of their so-called love for the land and agriculture includes stealing aqraba’s land and removing the indigenous products of the village–fava beans, lentils, and wheat–and planting grapes instead. it is not surprising that they fail to mention the fact that palestinian shepherds die every year in aqraba because these illegal colonist terrorists murder them. there was a well publicized murder of one of these shepherds, but mostly they go unnoticed in the media. but this case, in september 2008 of 18 year old shepherd yahia ateya fahmi bani maneya, elicited some media attention (in contradistinction whenever foreigners come to palestine in solidarity with palestinians and s/he gets shot or murdered everyone knows their name forever, such is the racism of the media). shepherds in aqraba were under attack especially between 1975-1982 when they were routinely arrested and their sheep confiscated. it would cost them 10jds per sheep to get them back.
so aqraba has been under attack for decades. my student and the taxi driver who took us around have their stories, too. they both live on top of the mountain, but their families historically lived below and own land. my student’s family has land where they plant wheat, but they have not been allowed to access this land since the start of the second intifada. our driver told me that in 1974 his family was attacked by rockets, one of which hit their house. as a result they fled to the mountaintop and lost 30 dunums of land where israeli terrorist colonists now plant grapes. i heard again and again these stories from aqraba from different people of a constant internal and external displacement. of a constant state of refugeedom. from people fleeing in 1967 to a constant process of their land being confiscated and families having to move up to the top part of the village. it is the same story over and over again. ethnic cleansing. land theft. colonialism.
as we drove down into the valley of this village we came upon the school that is slated to be destroyed first. we saw shepherds grazing in the area as aqraba is famous for having some of the best land for animals to graze. the village is 250 years old and all of the homes in the valley document the longevity of the village. originally these families slept in the caves with their sheep next to their homes hundreds of years ago. then as they began building homes they did so next to these caves. as their families grew over the generations they added onto their homes. so you can see the evolution of their homes and of their lives quite easily. part of the issue of building houses for palestinians in area c, like in al quds, 1948 palestine, or anywhere else, is that they cannot obtain building permits. to give you an idea of the difficulty, here is what my passia diary has to say about this (quoted from arij):
Figures from Israeli Civil Admin. show that between 2000 and Sept. 2007, only 5.5% of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C were approved (or 105 out of 1,890 applications). Forced to build without license, Palestinian construction became subject to house demolition: in the same period, 4,820 demolition orders were issued, 1,626 of which were executed. While Palestinians were denied building permits in Area C, Israeli settlements were granted them at an annual rate of 1,000 or a total of 6,945 between 2000-2006 (as compared to 95 permits for Palestinians in the same period!) (355)
after you drive past the school you see the mosque slightly down the road. this mosque is scheduled to be demolished too. as is the foundation of a house across the street. this house is owned by yousef nasrallah. he started building his house a year ago and the israeli terrorists immediately came and ordered him to stop. like so many in aqraba, he had to sell all his sheep and move to the top of the village. like so many before him since 1968. since then he has found no work. this is one of the primary issues for fellahin refugees for the last 61 years: how do you maintain a livelihood when your livelihood is tied to the land? his sister still lives on this land, though, up the road a bit, as does her husband’s brother and his two wives. their families–the anas family–has lived on this land for generations. and like most of the other families, many relatives fled in terror in 1967 and now live in zarqa refugee camp in jordan.
fatima anas welcomed us into her home and kept us busy consuming tea, coffee, and a special tea i’ve never had before made with this flower called بابونج which was absolutely amazing. i was asking my student if he thought it was better than tea with maramiyya and he said yes: he was right. fatima made us an amazing lunch, too, including the most incredible cheese i’ve ever tasted, which she makes herself. she told me that the reason she thinks that the house demolition orders were issued was really because the israeli terrorists want to build a road through their village to connect the surrounding israeli terrorist colonies: gitit, itamar, hamra, and yitzhar that surround their village. already there is a road running through their agricultural land that the israeli terrorists made, but it is a dirt road. and now they have spray painted some markings on rocks on that road indicating that this may indeed be the case.
their homes and their lives seem so removed from the consciousness of palestinians more generally. even the part of the paved road in area b was only put in two years ago, as well as electricity, by the palestinian authority. but mostly they are ignored. partially it is because the palestinian authority does not control area c. but this is also because the pa is a tool of the israeli terrorist regime and does not resist its colonial masters’ wishes. water remains a difficult issue for them, too. they have a well that they built which collects rain water, but they do not have a generator to pump the water into the tanks on top of their houses. so every day fatima has to go and carry buckets from the well to the house to fill it up by hand.
the rest of the photographs tell the story, i think. this latest chapter in the latest nakba in palestinian history. and the lessons of the past have not yet been learned. palestinian children are not taught it. and those who know it seem to think they cannot make a difference by resisting. that may be true. but it is clear from speaking to the anas family today that seeing some solidarity from their brothers and sisters in the area would certainly go a long way to helping them to remain steadfast. what is especially scary about this latest chapter is not just the families and their displacement, but it is quite clear that if their houses are indeed destroyed and they, too, have to move up to the top of the mountain, the generations of farmers and shepherds from aqraba will be no more. palestinians can sit idly by and think they cannot make a difference. or they can try. they can set up a tent here as in al quds. they can maintain a presence here and visit regularly on solidarity visits. or they can wait until it is their village, their house. this is why the lesson of yom al ard is so important: because palestinians in sakhnin resisted. and this is the message that needs to be both remembered and honored with the same sort of actions again and again. israeli terrorists will never give up. no one fighting for the rights of palestinians should either.