Saturday, July 01, 2006

Running with Rabbis (for Human Rights)

I was feeling quite gloomy Friday morning, my boss having told me and the entire office that he will be retiring in a couple of months, which left me in tears most of the day on Thursday. It took me a year to get used to working with him - and he used to brag how people who worked with him needed to be under the care of a psychologist/psychiatrist after their stint with him. He was one tough bugger, and an old one too - way past retirement age. But I thought he'd never retire, and I even got to enjoy his rantings during the day, because they were so silly most of the times over simply nothing. I likened my reaction to the Biblical slaves that were able to go free after 50 years, but many chose to remain as slaves having gotten used to their owners.

What would make me happy this morning? I didn't have a penny to my name so a scrumptious breakfast out was not an option. I hadn't done any kind of volunteer work with Rabbis for Human Rights since the Olive Harvest a year before last October. And they were going to a tiny village south of Hebron, Jawawis, at the normal hour of 11:00 am instead of leaving at their usual ungodly times at 6:00 am on Friday, my day off of work.

I thought maybe I really am crazy going in the heat of the day to this place in the middle of nowhere. But doing things like this gives me a high, which I cannot fully describe. Knowing that you are going where most Israelis dare not venture and instead of seeing an "enemy" you see people, simple farmers, who are so appreciative that you are there, that you are supporting them.

Turns out just a handful of us were there and Arik Ascherman, the Chief Rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights took us in his own car. He explained what had happened and some of the area's history with the army and settlers. This village's hay supply (20 bales) was burnt, supposedly by settlers from Susiya nearby. Rabbis and Taayush and the Kibbutz Movement had donated 12 bales of hay and we were to unload it for them.

Arik's car bumped over the unruly paths leading to the village that I told him, if I won a lottery, I would donate a 4-wheel drive to Rabbis for Human Rights. We waited for the hay to arrive, and there were only a few women there, so I chatted with some Christian Peacemaker Team women from Italy and the US who are living in Twane to help the villagers there.

Some of the young men wanted me to take their photos and then grabbed my camera to see the photos I took of them. But they didn't stop there. I heard some shrieks from them and laughter, and then I realized - hey! they're looking at the wedding photos and at my daughters who looked absolutely lovely, but were, in comparison to traditional Arab women, much more scantily dressed. The redheaded one ran to me with my camera showing me the photo in my camera of my dark haired, sultry, 16 year old, Ex Criminal, and the Good Daughter, who had the blonde bombshell look for the wedding, and excitedly got his friends to talk to me.

Who are these girls??? they wanted to know.

"They're my daughters and they're MARRIED" I lied, grabbing the camera back from them.

When the hay did arrive, it was 3 strong locals and Rabbi Arik, together with Taayush activist Ezra Nawi, who unloaded the supply and went off to demonstrate at the main road against settler violence. I don't do demonstrations and stayed back only to be joined by some of the village's women who asked me why I wasn't at the demo. I showed them my camera. "I just take the photos". My Arabic consists of maybe 10 words, and I disappointingly could not carry on a conversation with these women, but that still did not stop the feeling of closeness I had with them. I offered them some of my water. I smiled. It was my only way of communicating, but it was enough. One teenager asked me something in Arabic I couldn't understand but I accosted Arik coming back from the short demonstration.

He translated - "She wants to know if there will be any internationals staying with them in their village"

"Will there be"? I asked

"We'll have to work something out". I'm sure he will get to it.

After we left, with Arik wishing the Israeli soldiers who were at the scene a "Shabbat Shalom" he said we'd be making a detour to Beit Umar (Beit Umma?) near Hebron. There had been some previous trouble there with settlers and he was called to check it out. We met a Palestinian taxi who showed us the way and through the village we twisted and turned, about 15 minutes. It was a huge place, and I thought, my family would truly be shitting themselves if they knew what I was doing at the moment. Now is not the ideal time for excursions deep into Palestinian territory with kidnappings of Israelis on the rise by terrorist cells. But I stuck to my belief that if you go with the aim of giving help to these people, there may some kind of immunity against this sort of thing. I hope I am never proven wrong. We overlooked beautiful groves of plums and apricots overlooking the settlement of Bat Ayin.

Apparently they were tending their groves in the wadi and encountered Jewish shepherds from that area whose animals were eating their crops, vines, etc. The Jews called the police and the police arrested the Palestinians. They seem to be nervous getting to their fields now. Arik said we don't need to be taken down to the wadi, but nevertheless, after 15 minutes a tractor appeared taking the 5 of us down to the wadi.

"They don't take 'no" for an answer, do they?" I mentioned to Arik.

Riding down in the back of the tractor, the 5 of us squished together, I felt like I was riding on a bucking bronco. The ride was breathtakingly beautiful and it felt idyllic looking at the beautiful groves but it wasn't really. Not for them. While riding down there with 5 Palestinians and us 5 I wondered to myself again, what many Israelis believe (wrongly) of most Palestinians - that if they wanted to, they could easily chop us up into little pieces down here and no one would ever find out.

It really takes a lot of trust on both sides for us to be here together nowadays. To talk, to sympathize, to listen unconditionally, to offer help.

On the way back I got a call from my ex-Criminal daughter who was let out of her hostel on her way to her friend in Netanya.

"Where are you?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm on a tour" I told her not wanting her to worry, even though I wasn't too worried myself about myself.

"Where will you be going tonight?" I asked.

"Probably to a club somewhere in Netanya" she told me.

I think I'm more worried about her going clubbling in Netanya at 16 years old than I am about myself running with Rabbis for Human Rights deep in Palestinian Territory.

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