Running up to our time to head in to Palestine, I had a quick sniff round the mainstream Israeli media. Typing ‘Israeli news’ into Google rewards me with a paper called Haaretz, which has got a range of opinions ranging from stuff which criticizes the occupation to stuff that is so right wing that it reads like Noel Edmonds has taken over the country using an army of Teletubbies.
However the neutral space where ‘pure news’ is reported is revealing, and very disturbing. A report on an incident in which a rabbi has shot an Arab dead near an Israeli town is presented in the following terms: the report to the IDF given by the rabbi is one in which a late middle aged man mumbled something, and lunged at him unexpectedly with a knife. He received a bullet wound which left him on the floor, but he attempted to get up and appeared to reach for the knife again so the rabbi shot him in the head, just in case. As far as it goes, taken on its own, fair enough – except that Haaretz has decided to objectify this incident as typical of a recent wave of “‘lone wolf’ terror attacks”. So, a Palestinian does not need to organize into any kind of group nowadays to be a terrorist. He or she just is one. They are guilty until proven innocent, and as our trip continued it seemed like sometimes they are dead until proven alive.
The adverts on a poppy, Arabic TV channel also provided some pointers about how the modern world creates really bitter ironies in situations like that many Palestinians are facing. Indiana Jones is currently tearing around the desert in a Hummer, advertised as available for immediate purchase in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq – the list goes on.
We entered on a sunny day, and stopped off for a snack at a shop in some farm land. We met a Palestinian guy who said he had had a good life so far, travelling around Europe and learning things, he was beaming away. He got on about philosophy, he reckoned that Hegel was important. Don’t ask me why – I’m no good at that stuff, but anyway he said that the Palestinians have got a heart, but no spirit. Still not sure what that means really, but it sounds quite sad, which is in keeping with what we’ve learned about the occupation before we got here.
We were taken to meet some farmers whose land was under threat, at Al Farsiya. Right up until this point I had been naïve enough to expect that there was something complicated about what was going on in the West Bank, that the military occupation was something that it might take a while to describe. Pretty soon I was thinking, “oh, I know your game”.
A farmer explained that he had an imminent demolition order. There was an Israeli military structure just a short distance away. He wasn’t allowed to use water from the spring which he could prove was on his own land, which had provided for his family for generations. This urgent matter had been explained to him a few months ago, and consequently the crops in his greenhouses had failed. His electricity had been cut off, and he lived right next to a power line. The price of water was so expensive that it beggared belief. It was explained, in convincing terms, that these people could not move from where they were. It just wasn’t possible. Where could they go, faced with an injustice like this? Death threats, intimidation with gunfire and verbal abuse from local settlers was then detailed. Then we got to try eating the most expensive cucumbers we’d ever got the chance to taste. It was very moving for the visitors to be given some of these, which were organic and top quality, and to realise that this agricultural business had been comprehensively smashed to pieces, literally bled dry, and was currently on the last bout of a fight for self preservation. This is an affront to the senses.
On the way in, at an Israeli checkpoint, a soldier asked us what we are doing here and got a noncommittal reply. “Enjoy Israel”, he said, sauntering off, nearly buckling under the weight of the personal Star Wars project attached to his arm. Disturbing.
Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group