Al-Ma’sara – Friday 19th August 2011
Yesterday, after monitoring the checkpoints at around 7am, me and an American girl called Lucy headed for the small town of Al-Ma’sara to join a demonstration against the expanding settlements there. . After getting off the bus too early , it took us around an hour and a half to reach the small village in the hills meaning we missed the demonstration. We hitched a ride off of a Jewish settler. She explained that it wasn’t safe for us around here, in a brief cold , staccato sentence. ‘ One in front, One in back’ she told us, although her English was fine. I sat in the back beside around 15 bags of groceries. She asked us where we wanted to go. Lucy stumbled to find an answer that didn’t include our real destination (an Arab town) . She played up to being half Korean and acted like a clueless tourist. Her ‘Uh, eh , um over , uh here, and I think its , uh round there’ seemed to last a lifetime as I touched cloth in the back seat. I’m not sure if the settler was really listening anyway as she drove us in penetrating silence up to the driveway of her settlement guarded by a checkpoint and around 5 soldiers. ‘OH JUST HERE WILL DO!’ Lucy said, and she let us out without another word. Christ knows what would have happened had we been taken into the settlement or I had been sitting up front. From here we navigated ourselves down two , long dusty roads in the wrong direction. After about 45 minutes a ‘service’ (mini bus) pulled over and said he would take us to the village, so we squeezed into the boot. Lucy who had modestly told me that she spoke a tiny bit of Arabic, held a full conversation with the people on the bus. I smiled and gazed about vacuously as I clung to the edges of my seat as the bus hurled around corners and perused the bumpy path as if it were smooth tarmac with full force. We finally arrived at the village where we met the rest of the demonstrators walking on their way back from a line of soldiers they had just been trying to get past (onto their own land). Here we met around fifteen internationals and were taken into the house of the demonstration organiser from where we got a lift back to Hebron. The guy who gave us a ride was talking about how after the Algerian uprising, the two communities now live in relative peace and his hopes for that atmosphere here in the future. It seems alarming to me now that , driving from a village with barely any water or electricity and nothing but goats and camels and haphazard houses , driving past settlements with swimming pools and football pitches guarded by soldiers was not something I was really paying attention to. I’m used to it after being here for two days. As we waited in traffic, I heard an odd, deep and woodwind like wail coming from the side of the road. I turned in my seat to see a camel, bound at the legs that had just been dragged out of a transit van . As if they had thought of the most hideous way to put it out of its misery, six or so men were trying to push its neck back round on itself to snap it. I made the mistake of shouting ‘OH GOD DON’T LOOK!’ to the two vegans sitting beside me who began screaming their heads off as the guy driving the car took photos of the scene on his mobile phone. The rest of the ride back to Hebron was silent, and as I held the hand of the girl next to me as she cried her eyes out, I weighed up the pro’s and con’s of being a vegetarian. On our return we monitored the checkpoint some more. The soldier on duty was Ethiopian, probably airlifted here during operation Solomon, where a minority of Jewish Ethiopians were airlifted to Israel in their thousands. Taken from a country devasted by all angles and regarded by most Israelis as a second class citizen, he seemed to be enjoying his time stroking guns and scrutinising over Palestinian passports and making them empty their bags, sometimes mango by mango. We managed to report him to T.I.P.H (temporary international presence in Hebron )when he kicked an elderly Palestinian in the shin. The report will probably lead to nothing considering it gets passed through the Israeli Defence Force, but at least its there. It was around about this time , when I was watching a two little boys playing football together, metres away from an Israeli Army jeep that had pulled up . The youngest of the two seemed to have only taken his first steps a few days previously and his older brother (around nine) laughed as he picked him up to give kicking the ball another shot. I made my way away from my co-worker , the two T.I.P.H workers and the soldiers and into an abandoned building to cry my eyes out , pull myself together and put my ‘Observing’ face back on. I returned to observe the checkpoints again within five minutes as if nothing had happened.
On our way back to our apartment we helped a Palestinian family carry come plates and a microwave up the hill to their house , where they took us in and demanded that we drink the coke they were offering us and eat some of their fruit. We got told in training that its rude to deny such offerings, regardless of how full you might be. Lucy handled the conversation in Arabic as the rest of us gazed around not knowing what to do with ourselves for half an hour. The man of the house looked disappointed that when I said I wasn’t Muslim after he asked, but I cant imagine he was surprised.. we returned to our apartment to find that the cat that had been sleeping on a pillow outside our door had died. It had rigor mortus and flies were flying between its bared teeth. Later on I went and fed some stray kittens that were gnawing their way through some bin bags on the street outside. Walking back from this I was laughing at myself , feeding kittens here seems like a ridiculous thing to do . Then the watchtower facing out apartment turned its spotlight to me, which followed me through the gates and up to the door.