A chain of Debka dancers links between pregnant olive trees. The harvest itself is no cause for dancing. Olive harvest yields alternate and this is an off year. But the trees are still planted firmly enough in the ground to inspire some people.
The scene is colored by a bright pallet which says “Middle East” to aquatinted, squinted eyes. Such a gaze can also detect a gravity in the dancing. The dancers look as if they might be stomping out a brush-fire, like synchronized firefighters landing on their right foot-to the first beat. Their collective-will stomps out only those hypothetical threats which are low to the ground: a small brush fire or a serpent.
More encouraging news is available in prophesies. Especially prophesies about the past: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice’. This prophesy usually comes as a congratulation after the fact, from the presumed just-end of the arc. But the more common and less examined end of the arc is the other end of it. This other end was written about in a series of books by Christopher Hill. He is best known for his work on an earlier ‘civil rights era’- the English revolution of the 17th century which included demands for universal suffrage (for Englishmen) and civil rights. However, with the monarchy restored under Charles the second the revolutionaries were defeated. Hill called his book about the period following the restoration ‘The experience of defeat’. From where the Levelers, Quakers and Diggers stood, it was impossible to see any bend in the moral universe heading anywhere but down. Instead they thought in terms of what Gerard Winstanley the digger pamphleteer called ‘god’s true law’ which they saw as the moral basis for their political ideas.
Their defeat could not be more complete and more consequential, the world which was turned upside down was turned again and the revolutionaries who survived were powerless to turn it again. One possible outlet for such frustration was to literally (meaning in literature) recreate the world by writing the story of the fall. Milton was powerless to restore parliamentarian rule but could play god by amending the biblical story of creation. This is not a Joseph Heller having fun with biblical stories, to Milton who saw his friends drawn and quartered and nearly suffered that fate himself, hell must have seemed very real. Milton did not have to change the ending of the bible to include a return to a parliamentary paradise but the act of writing and in particular writing that, defied the powerless fate of a blind frail failed revolutionary.
Without the benefit of waiting for 300 years for positive signs from the the moral universe, those defeated English revolutionaries who did not write Paradise Lost, must have sustained themselves by a belief in divine inevitability.
The defeated are typically written out of history. Possibly starting with their own personal history which might have ended for them along with their struggle. Even for those who are eventually vindicated, their experience of defeat is still ignored. This oversight leaves out what is probably most of the experience of struggle. It is only in its last historical moments that progress becomes visible in a long struggle. For the rest of the time the experience is one of the aftermath of defeat. Hill had the original idea to highlight that historical feature which is typically overlooked even when a history of an overlooked topic is written. As a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain Hill could recognize defeat as a way of life, embodied by Milton.
One of the 17th century defeated which Hill describes is Gerrard Winstanley. In the summer of 1649, Winstanley and other Diggers were driven off of St. George’s hill by armed men and indicted for trespass. In a subsequent pamphlet they asked :
“For what are all the Laws of Nations, in this corrupt covetous Government, lifting up one branch of Adam mankind above another, the Conqueror, above the conquered, or those that have power above those that are weak, I say what are they, but Laws of murder and theft, yea enmity it self, against the Law of righteousness, which is love, which makes people do, as they would be done unto ? “
Bourin; Nablus region; Nearly four thousands kilometers and four centuries apart, that description of British law would sound very familiar to Palestinians subjected to it (along with Jordanian law; Israeli military decrees; and Israeli civil legislation which all apply to Palestinians in the West Bank.)
Friday starts at 8 am with a relief. The work will be at the plot north of road 60 which is the side where the village houses are. The settlers from Yitzhar do not usually go that far down the hill so the olive pickers feel relatively safe. Yitzhar has a reputation for having ‘the most violent settlers’ in a crowded field of West Bank settlements. Apart from Yitzhar which is located on the hill overlooking Burin from the south, two other settlements are on its east and north side.
About two dozen people are scattered around the olive grove. They are clustered around about 4 trees which are being picked in groups. The most experienced pickers are the Burinian family which owns the plot. They are joined by about 20 volunteers, mostly from Ramallah.
Picking olives requires standing in the sun for hours and picking by hand. Mechanized methods of picking olives exist but are said to damage the trees and reduce the quality of the olives. The manual method of picking olives is to pick individual olives and drop them onto a tarp which is layed under the tree. The one technological compromise is the use a small plastic comb to brush the olives out of the branches and onto the tarp. The small comb can also be attached to a stick in order to reach the top of the tree. Well kept trees should not be grown too tall as tall trees are difficult to pick and produce a lower yield. However most trees still require the use of ladders or some climbing in order to reach the top branches.
An inexperienced olive picker will try to size up the job after spending 15 minutes picking a single olive branch. As one looks up from a branch to a tree and then to a row of trees and then to hillside olive grove, their intuitive sense of magnitude is easily lost. The job of picking the entire grove looks as big as picking a field of wheat one grain at a time. The farmers who are picking nearby and working much more efficiently don’t seem to be bothered by the intuition of inexperienced olive pickers. They will stay for a few hours or days, the farmers will remain with the trees and the tractors and the impossible task until the work is completed.
After about an hour of work the volunteers grow confident that they will be able to endure the physical work and that no settler attack is likely where they are. The collective relief makes for a festive atmosphere which leads some of the reflexively cynical city folk to suspect that the Burinians are playing up the folklore for the benefit of the visitors. Nevertheless, the hospitality starts with bitter Arabic coffee (aka Greek coffee aka Turkish coffee etc.) served in small cups followed by sweet tea with maramiye (sage) boiled on a camp fire. While the drinks are served the work still goes on although some of the city folk do take the opportunity to take a longer break than necessarily to finish the drinks in the small cups. Tea and coffee can be found in any family olive harvest, but the pickers in this field also get something else. Standing on a wooden ladder, leaning on a tree, a middle aged man named Abu Mourad Al Bourini starts singing an Ataaba. An Ataaba is more often heard at a wedding when a singer sings the praises of the bridegroom improvising the lyrics as they go along. The most skilled Ataaba singers, as Al Bourini is, developer their musical and improvisational skills to the point that they are able to riff for 20 minutes at a time. Ataaba singers can demonstrate their skills by dueling with each other trying to outdo their opponent in the musicality of their singing and the wittiness of their improvisation.
A foreign olive picker, feeling self-conscious at the possibility that the folklore is put up for the benefit if the foreigners, mutters to a friend ‘next thing you know there will be debka’. Sure enough, before too long, someone connects their phone to a pickup truck stereo system and streams traditional Palestinian music. After several ads selected by the youtube algorithm are played Debka music came on. Those who know the steps join hands and dance between the trees.
The day before, the volunteers and farmers picked much smaller trees. Because their proximity to the Yitzhar the trees are much harder to tend for. Between March 2020 and May 2022 Btselem- the Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories documented 36 attacks by Israeli settlers in and around Burin. Driving up the hill they passed a home-made sign saying in Arabic and Hebrew ‘this road leads to Yitzhar, entry for Arabs is dangerous’. The sign got a bit of attention in Israeli media when a Palestinian paramedic working for the Israeli emergency services was not allowed to enter in order to administer a corona test.
The defeat of Palestinians is announced in stages in the form of laws or decrees. In the 90’s during the most optimistic (for some) period of peace process the freedom of movement for Palestinians was radically restricted by a new permit system and later by the construction of a walls around Gaza and the West Bank; Since Israel occupied the west bank and Gaza strip in 1967 Palestinians have been informed thousands of times that their private or village land was either not recognized as theirs by a government which is not accountable to them (using a combination of Jordanian, Israeli and British laws) or that their private land has been confiscated for public (99 percent of the time this means for the use of Israeli citizens) purpose or else they do own some piece of land but need to ask the military for a permit every time they want to access it. Similarly tens of thousands of Palestinians who built their homes (even on their army-recognized private land) in Israeli administered areas find demolition orders posted on their properties by the army. They are given the option of demolishing their own homes or being charged for the work if the army does it. All they need to do to get a building permit is apply to the Civil Administration offices typically staffed by Israeli settlers and soldiers. Other military decrees become apparent when a water does not flow from a tap. Because of Israeli control of the vast majority of West Bank Water and infrastructure Palestinian communities go for days without running water in summer months And for those who have tried to collect rain water for lack of a water supply there is another law which forbids the digging of new cisterns for collecting rain water or even using historic cisterns dug before the Israeli occupation. Israeli law is also comprehensive enough that it regulates the right to pick traditional Palestinian edible wild plants. These restrictions were enforced and resulted in 26 criminal prosecutions. Villagers and traditional cooks are not alone, the lives of University student and faculty are also subject to laws made by others as Israel decides which foreign lecturers it will allow to teach in Palestinian universities.
Some times the decrees are delivered by army officers culturally sensitive enough to announce them in Arabic or left on a building slated for demolition. Other times decrees are not announced but years later the lack of a timely appeal can disqualify a land owners attempt to appeal against a confiscation.
About 20 minutes after arriving at the plot which was a few hundred meters from Yitzhar, the would-be olive pickers were under attack by stone throwing settlers. IDF soldiers standing next to them, asked the settlers to stop but did not intervene physically, let alone detain them. When it comes to Palestinian throwing stones, Former Israeli prime minister Benjamine Netanyahu said that they should be shot dead and recent legislation has relaxed IDF regulations which will make that more likely. The settlers chased the retreating farmers and volunteers down the hill and assured the soldiers that they are “on their side” and “trying to help” them. The attacked lasted for about 10 minutes of a continuous barrage of stones with farmers and volunteers retreating down the hill.
Before the attack began they did manage to get in a few minutes of work. One of the volunteers was turning a handful of olives between his fingers, every olive picked marked a few seconds, a tangible sign of temporary security. The bottom of the olive bucket was hardly covered with one layer of olives when he had to turn his attention to the stones flying in his direction. Holding on to the few olives he did collect, he tried to first get a safe distance from the stones and then from the stun grenades thrown at the farmers by the soldiers who had joined the settlers’ attack. One middle aged farmer was hit in the head by a stone and taken to a hospital. Another man got a direct hit on his right side of his chest and another has a rock bounce off the rocky hill and hit him on the lower stomach. Another man was pushed down the steep rocky hill and injured his back but did not need to be taken away. After the farmers and volunteers retreated down to where they left their cars, higher ranking army officers arrived. Army brass announced that there would be a compromise by which the settlers would stay in the Palestinian olive grove and the farmers and volunteers would retreat further down the hill. As a further concession by the army, a smiling army officer from the District Coordination Office (DCO) unit (which is tasked with contact with civilian population) discussed with a town official a possibility that a limited number of farmers would be allowed to pick olives but it would have to be on a different day. DCO officers like the one who offered the concession are almost always native Arabic speakers and always smiling. The DCO smiles are so constant they seem like they are a standing orders. When pressed by the town official for specifics about how and when they could access their land the DCO officer explained that “he has no influence over the army”. “But,” said the town official “ Isn’t that a military uniform you are wearing ? And if you have no influence why are we speaking ?”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the outside volunteers, especially the Americans spent time checking in with each other about how they were handling the attack and what they were doing to care for themselves. Some decided to not return to the West Bank for a while and others sat in a group to discuss their feelings about that day and some wanted to write about it … For the Palestinians who were there, including the ones who were physically injured, it was not so much that they did not think in term of trauma or being triggered, they did not seem to think there was anything to process.
Back in the relative safety of Burin, for the novice city-folk, a day of agricultural work provides, a glimpse of folklore and manual labor. The latter involves a rare direct physicality in the life of city-folk. They directly experienced how rest is required after work and how food is fuel for more work rather than a comfort. The combination made for an unforgettable lunch. First: fatayer- a traditional savory pastry typically filled with cheese or spinach. As the fatayer was being eaten a small camp-fire was started in order to make the main dish. A pile of about 10 kg of tomatoes were sliced and put in a large pot together with hot peppers then stewed swimming in olive oil till the tomatoes disinterested into a spicy greasy paste. The last remaining corona precautions were abandoned as the group double and triple dipped bread in a the large shared plates of stew.
After lunch a Palestinian organizer from a village in a different district said they heard from their contacts that there is a demonstration not far at Beit Dajan and those who wanted are invited to go there instead of picking olives. Whether out of bravado or laziness, four car-full of men decided to go to Beit Dajan. The first two cars were full of Palestinians who were leading the way and behind them two Israeli cars. The direct way to get from Burin to Beit Dajan is to take road 555 east but that is one of dozens of roads on which West Bank Palestinians are controlled or completely prevented from driving. Instead they drove through the outskirts of Nablus and crossed a military checkpoint manned by a handful of young soldiers. A short distance after the checkpoint the road they took connected back to road 555. The driver of the lead car hesitated, not sure where to go and then turned east on 555. The Israeli volunteer driving the last car saw a soldier waving to them and they were driving off but since they were already some distance away he did not think it mattered. After driving east for about 5 minutes it became clear that the convoy took a wrong turn, they should have turned right to reach the road to Beit Dajan. The road had very narrow shoulder so the three cars had to look for a spot where they could see far enough in both directions to turn around on the road. As they made their turns the order of the cars was shuffled in the process of turning on the road and now there was one Israeli car in front, two Palestinian cars (identified by white colored license plates) and another Israeli car (yellow plated) was in the back. As they got close to the turn (and the checkpoint) from the vantage point of the Israeli car in the back, the soldiers could be seen running from the checkpoint across the intersection towards road 555. They ignored the first Israeli car which continued driving, and after it passed the soldiers stepped onto the road, lifted their rifles and pointed them at at the drivers in the Palestinian cars. The first thing the soldiers yelled was ‘Wakef !’ (Arabic for stop). The driver of the first car, a Jeep Wrangler spoke fluent Hebrew and said ‘what’s the problem?’. ‘Wakef!’ the lead soldier said still pointing his gun. The driver could not be sure that the lead soldier could hear him since the windows were not fully open. He had to make a choice, if he decides to open the window to make sure the soldier could hear him he would have to move his arms which could be seen by the soldier pointing a loaded gun as disobedience or a threat. The driver also realized that on some level the soldier probably does not distinguish between the two. The other option available to the Wrangler driver was to remain frozen with the window nearly closed and be unable to deescalate by talking to the soldier.
At the same time a second soldier approached the second car which stopped behind the first. He walked to the side of the car pointed his rifle at and yelled ‘Wakef!’ at the passengers of the stopped car. The occupants of the second Palestinian car raised their hands and said nothing. By that point the Israeli car following them stopped about 10 meters behind the second Palestinian car. The driver opened his door and got out. The two soldiers yelled ‘Wakef!’. ‘put the guns down’ said the driver of the Israeli car, counting on his Israel accent to keep him from being shot. ‘Wakef!’ said the two soldiers, ‘its ok, I know them, we work together, everything is ok’
Five minutes later, the three cars were parked by the side of the road not far from the concrete guard posts of the soldiers. The occupants were standing outside and every one who had them, was smoking cigarettes. One of the soldiers was on the phone with a higher up looking for instruction and the other soldiers were chatting with the Palestinians. The lead soldier who might have been called Ron and was probably 19 or 20 years old wanted to know if the Jeep the first Palestinian driver was driving was a 2020 model. ‘No’ says the Jeep’s driver, it is a 2019 mode, but it is the same type which officers have. Once at a checkpoint the soldier thought I was an officer’ said the driver. ‘you can’t tell !’ said Ron. ‘Even I myself look a little like an Arab, and can even speak a little bit’. ‘really ? How do you know Arabic’ asked the driver. ‘You know,’ said Ron ‘…I picked it up on the job’
After being released by Ron and the others, the small convoy of cars drove south east through Beit Furik and turned north east towards Beit Dajan. The road passed through alternating olive groves and commercial strips and within a few minutes Beit Dajan became visible on a hill to the right of the road. The road to the center of the village was a steep climb with some blind turns on narrow streets lined with tightly packed houses and faded red communist flags on electricity polls. At some points on the road up the hill to the center of town, the streets were so narrow that one driver would need to move to the side to make room for the oncoming traffic. When reaching the center of the village and the central mosque it became clear that the Friday prayer would not be at the mosque. After making a call, the driver of the lead car headed down the hill towards the agricultural lands of the village. Soon after getting down the hill the houses were replaces by a mix of olive groves chicken coops and then an open field in a small valley between a hills to its east and west. The field seemed to have been upturned for the end of the season, perhaps in preparation for planting later in the fall. A group of about 100 men and boys were arranged in neat lines a few meters apart. They were facing south to mecca and listening to a sermon being delivered by a man in a white jelabiya (A traditional robe-like garment). The speaker was speaking through a mobile PA system which reverberated between the hills to the east and west of the field. While some of the teen-age boys in attendance were sitting together with their friends, the younger boys were sitting next to their fathers. On the hill to the east and up the field to the north, clusters of 3 to 5 soldiers were arranged there by their commander.
After the sermon was over the actual prayer began, the prayer only takes a few minutes but before it was over a tear gas canister was fired by soldiers on the hill to the east of the worshipers. The canister landed about 60 meters north of the line of worshipers. It seems to have been directed at a few young boys standing there. The soldiers might have considered the boys presence there a provocation, perhaps the boys disobeyed instructions by the soldiers. Perhaps the boys disobeyed what the soldiers considered implicit instructions such as not to get closer to them than the group of worshipers.
The teargas drifted south towards the worshipers but the wind and the fact that every single person in the crowed was thoroughly experienced with tear gas, allowed the praying to continue. The continued praying might have been taken as further provocation because seconds later an officer was heard yelling ‘shoot tear gas at the worshipers’. The gas was delivered by a rubber gas canister probably US-made by combined systems and marketed under the name Tear Ball. It has a range of about 40 meters when launched from a gun-mounted launcher. The first volley of canisters landed a little short of the group of worshipers in the middle of their prayer. Some of them managed to hold on and continue their prayer despite the heavier amount of tear gas. The officer ordered the soldier with the launcher to get closer to the worshipers and the soldier started to walk down the hill. He might have been somewhat reluctant to tear gas worshipers or else did not want to rush down a rocky hill. ‘Run ! don’t walk’ ordered the officer, the soldier obeyed with not further signs of reluctance or caution.
The second volley, shot from an improved vantage point landed at the feet of the last remaining worshipers still at the center of the field. They too were forced to move south and west to the beginning slopes of the hill opposite the soldiers. With the field cleared, it would not be possible to complete the prayer let alone march up the road to demonstrate.
The wind carried the tea gas, if it has been blowing in the other direction no one would have been tear gassed. Not only that, but someone in authority said it should be done. And someone in even higher authority would surely be pleased to hear of it. Yes there are people who had to escape from the gas but it is not a total surprise: Who else gets tear gassed in the middle of prayer other than the sort of people who get tear gassed in the middle of prayer.
The only people remaining in the valley between the two hills were about a dozen youths scattered beyond the cloud of tear gas. Some of them were slinging stones at the soldiers by spinning stones in a sling and releasing one side of the sling at the right moment to propel the stone in a desired direction.
The use of such a sling is a specific offense under military decrees which can land a first time Palestinian teen-aged defendant a year in military jail. In a nod to tradition and biblical stories, the sling used by Palestinian youths is called in military terminology a ‘David sling’.
Unlike the soldiers the day before, the soldiers at Beit Dajan (who might be the same ones) took seriously the prime minister’s injunction that stone throwers should be killed. Five months later on March 19 2021 Atef Yusef Hanaisheh, a middle aged imam at a local mousque from Beit Dajan was shot and killed on that hill overlooking the field where people attempted to pray. Since he might have been throwing stones no further investigation was needed or offered by the army. The IDF used to have a policy of investigating the circumstance of the killing of every Palestinian by its soldiers. The policy was poorly executed and about 20 years ago the IDF announced that it would only investigate in exceptional cases. As a result the number of investigations dropped to nearly zero.
Starting at around 1450 English radicals and reformers lived out their lives in defeat. According to Christopher Hill, Paradise Lost is Milton’s “attempt to to come to terms with this defeat: to rethink his whole position in order to be able to ‘Assert eternal Providence/And justify the ways of God to men.’ “
The vindication of their political ideas centuries later was no help Milton and his contemporaries. At the time, they had no hope of realizing them. This experience can only be described as the experience of defeat and there was only one way out of it – to join the winning side and support the monarchy. Some did, others chose personal risk, poverty and ridicule instead. Satan, appears in Paradise Lost as a complex and relatable character, could it be that it was his political work which led Milton to depict such a Satan. And what would the serpent whisper to a Milton devastated by the Restoration ? Resisting those whispers is a form of struggle which continues even in defeat. In fact that is how the long stretches of struggle are experienced. The question is for how long.
Postscript: A few kilometers south of Burin a young photographer from Beita Wahj Bani Mufleh, reports on the young men and children of his village who are killed or injured trying to resist the construction of a settlement on a hill called “Jabal Sabih” their land.
6 eyes were extinguished by the soldiers on “Jabal Sabih” in Beta…
Alaa Adili is hiding his tear, as he sees his son Rayan pouring tea outside the cup during the morning breakfast. The child, not 12 years old can only see through his right eye after a fragment penetrated his left eye, after the explosion of an object left by the Israeli occupation soldiers. On “Jabal Sabeih” in the town of Beita, which cost 6 of its sons their eyes in confrontations resisting the settlement, they also cost them 10 martyrs, thousands of wounded and dozens of detainees. Five of the eyes of “Jabal’s Guards” in Beta, were extinguished by the direct soldiers ’bullets, and the sixth was due to the waste that the soldiers left behind, so that the child Ryan Adili woke up with one eye, from a surgery to remove a fragment that penetrated his eye and led to the damage of his left -wing retina. Rayan, who insists, that “the mountain deserves more” says that he was accompanied by his friend in one of the winter evening in 2021, when something exploded, and everything suddenly darkened, in front of him. He did not know what happened with him after that, until He woke up inside the hospital. “The presence of a boy with one eye in the home is very difficult,” says Alaa Adili, Ryan’s father. Adili added: The matter “affected their psyche”, and they are making a double effort to meet the child’s daily needs, in light of the psychological crisis that he went through, and reflected his behavior due to the injury.
Not far from Ryan’s house, there is Bilal Jihad Hamail (25 years old), who also lost his left eye after being hit by a sponge bullet fired by the occupation soldiers from a few meters away, and caused fractures in the bones of his skull, this happened during a morning raid on the town, in of the days of Ramadan. After the operation during which his eye was lost, Bilal woke up to the impact of another news that was no less painful; At that moment, Fawaz Hamail was announced dead, a day after he was shot by an exploding bullet, the bowels of his stomach were torn. Fawz and Bilal were close at the time, and they were transferred together to the hospital. These days and after the pain intensified, and the blackness of the world increased in his face, Bilal thinks of “climbing the Israeli wall, or smuggling in some way into occupied Jerusalem, in hopes of reaching a hospital where he could complete the treatment procedures, and the installation of a cosmetic eye, but he fears that he will lose his other eye in the process, in light of the occupation’s refusal to give him an entry permit.
The injured witness: Bilal was a witness before his injury and the loss of his eye. The young Fayez Hamid Bani Mufleh (20 years old), who also lost his right eye after he was targeted by an Israeli soldier with a rubber coated metal bullet, while he waved the flag of Palestine on “Jabal Sobeih” in November 2021 . Fayez says about the day of his injury, which he will not forget: His comrades carried him almost two kilometers, so that they could reach the ambulance. A few minutes later, a pictures of Fayez started spreading. He is first seen with the flag of Palestine, followed by his image putting his hand on his eye, while the flag he was waving, is still on his back. Mufleh says: This image contributed to the delivery of his message to the world, and that the occupation soldiers deliberately target the eyes of the youth because they carry the Palestinian flag on the hills in demonstrations against settlement, and that sympathy alleviated the pain of the loss of his eye.
Continuous efforts: The activist in the popular resistance, Hisham Dweikat, stressed that efforts are continuing to support all the injured in the battle of the mountain, especially those who lost their eyes.
Six Eyes: In addition to Rayan, Bilal and Fayez, the young Alaa Awad Hamail (27 years old) also lost his eye in the confrontations with the occupation, in addition to the jihad of Talal Abu Zaitoun (42 years old) and his nephew Muhammad Akram Abu Zaitoun (17 years old) who appeals to officials to expedite the issue of transfers and permits Medical because his last visit gave him a glimmer of hope that the light could return to his eye after the process of re -linking the tissues that were cut after being hit with a rubber bullet below his right eye. Despite the terrible losses, the people of Beita are still resisting settlement with all the power that they have lost under the slogan, we will not come down from the mountain in compliance with the commandment of the martyr Issa Barham, who uttered his last breath while repeating, “Do not come down from the mountain, do not come down from the mountain.”
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