An "international"(how foreign solidarity activists are referred to here) can learn a lot by taking a walk from the village of Hares where I am staying to the next village, Kafl Hares. As I and two other internationals walked along many children greeted us by saying "Shalom" (Hello or Peace in Hebrew) and we in turn would answer "Marhaba" or "Salam Aleikum" (Hello or Peace be with you in Arabic). In this small interaction they recognized us as connected to their occupiers and we distinguished ourselves as friends. The extension of peace in both greetings is obviously sadly unreflective of the situation at hand. My appreciation of why Linguists are so political increases by the minute here.
As we walked further, in a mix of Arabic, English and non-verbal communication, a group of men told us they were planning a demonstration at the upcoming roadblocks on Friday after Prayer. We said if they wanted us to join them, we could. We shared contact information.
The road that connects the two villages roams through fields of olive trees. Our surroundings slowly turned from being cement homes and children playing to trees, at first mixed with a garbage dump of sorts, but in the distance more and more trees in dry rocky landscape.
Then, in the middle of the road we hit a big heap of rubble- cement, rocks and garbage blocking the road. If I didn't know it was true, I wouldn't believe that this was an "official" military roadblock (this is not a checkpoint for those who don't know what those look like, I will hopefully write about that soon).
As we approached the road block, we saw a group of men sitting beside the road. One got up to show us that the military had recently come to broaden this roadblock so that cars could not get
around the original mound. In doing so, the
military vehicles had damaged nearby trees and we could see the branches on the ground and the fresh wood exposed on the trunks.
None of us spoke Arabic, so we couldn't understand exactly what he was telling us, but what I understood was that he wished we could help move the roadblock. And indeed it felt like we should grab some shovels right then and start digging. But then we knew soldiers would see us from a watch tower nearby.
As we walked we hit two more similar roadblocks.
Why these roadblocks? I am not 100% sure. But here’s the information I have— Settlers use this road to reach a site that is religiously holy- both for Jews and Muslims. The story another volunteer at IWPS heard is that there may have been a settler car on fire, but we’re not sure how or who set it on fire; and there may have been a bottle thrown. Whatever happened, less than a month ago, it precipitated a reaction by the military to “protect” settlers by stopping free movement of all Palestinians who live here to travel between their villages. Something that surprises me to no end here is the State of Israel’s vast disregard for legal due process and giving punishments that are in no way reflective of a crime.
On the way back from our walk, we met another man who pointed to the second roadblock and explained with only a few English words how the roadblocks had affected his life. His son was hurt in the leg and they needed to get him to the doctor. They could not drive because of the roadblocks and had to carry him the very long way.
Almost back to the IWPS house, we met a man named Asif. He asked for our help on a different road-problem. There is a lot of building going on around here- lots of new settler-only roads amongst other things. Asif said there is a section of road that divides the village from his agricultural lands. There was word that a bridge was to be built for safe crossing of people and animals, but that was two years ago, and now there is no bridge. He said there have been many accidents and he wants our help to get a safer crossing of some kind. Like always here, we gave him our information and we took his. We said we’d look into it and do what we can. I am not sure that’s much.
It was getting dark and we got back to where the village looked familiar to me when a military vehicle appeared driving through the narrow streets of the village. I got alarmed- why was it there? The longer term IWPS volunteers answered that the soldiers are probably just looking at people and checking that the roadblocks are untouched. The military vehicles of occupying forces do this (but then again so does the NYPD- but those comparisons will wait until another time). And again, there really isn’t much we can do, so we turned forward and walked on.