Monday, November 21, 2011

West Bank Notes, continued

I met a friend in Jerusalem, to spend the afternoon walking around the city in neighborhoods that drew me in tight enough to start asking about rents.  At the Waffle Bar we discussed getting to her settlement south of Hebron.  She said we could take the bus to Kiryat Arba and hitch home, was I OK with that, or we could have someone pick us up at the bus stop.  I was OK with hitching since she did it all the time, no need to disturb anyone.  I'd hitched all over Israel many years ago and across the US, when I too was in my twenties. She said she often stayed at her sister's house at the settlement rather than by her parents ever since the recent terrorist murders, because there were bars at the windows and she felt safer, and I asked, why then was she willing to hitchhike? She said she didn't mean to frighten me, we could take the bus, it's bullet proof. We're taking the bus, I said. But when we got to the outskirts of Kiryat Arba, it was clear that hitchhiking meant waiting at the bus stop with several others also waiting for rides, and that, out there, passing cars always stopped. Jewish cars. We got a ride.

There was an agreement between me and those I was visiting not to discuss politics.  I didn't bring up the causes of violence, or the substance of fear.

The settlement is a beautiful cluster of homes for 100 families, with hilly streets that seem coiled around like a big challah roll. At the edges, the landscape falls away into the vast expanse of the South Hebron Hills, now brown with winter coming.  Nothing seemed to be growing in the far out-thereness, no animals grazing, but it was a spectacular view nonetheless, especially in the morning mist and at sunset.   But inside the cozy leafy planted watered settlement, with playgrounds and schools and synagogues, I was actually reminded of my parents neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo in northern San Diego, though here much smaller, of course, hillier, and less affluent. One other distinguishing characteristic: the settlement has for its nearby neighbors a few Bedouin families in their alarmingly poor ramshackle dwellings on the other side of the fence, at one point not more than a few yards away.

One water pipe leads from the settlement to the village, all its valves on this side. Water is the symbol and the actuality of the tensions in the West Bank.  Many people say that future wars will be fought not for oil but for water. Here the rumbling is already audible. At the table inside the house someone who I know is sensitive to all suffering complained that we were wasting water, and someone else replied Use all the water you want.   No need to talk politics, the air was subtly quietly saturated with it, at that moment at least.

As we walked to the synagogue Friday night Bedouin boys were playing soccer in a part of the fields closest to the settlement.  I was happy to see that.  In the synagogue, the women were separated from the men by a wall.  When asked on Saturday morning if I was going again to the synagogue, I said no, I was not happy behind a separation wall.  My message was perhaps missed in the moment and taken to refer only literally to the separation of women, but I'm sure it was discussed later on. This is the only time I can ever remember being grateful for the women's section.

It was in many ways a wonderful shabbos, with many people who I was delighted to meet, or meet again after a long time.  At suppertime, someone brought an M16 to the dining room and parked it near him against the wall.  Ordinary, I was told.   He is a member of the security patrol.  I discovered, though, that the doors of the house were never locked, and everyone went out for walks alone or in small groups at all hours.  On Saturday everyone napped for a few hours. What really are the contours of peacefulness, and what is the motivation of fear?

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