A night in Bil’in

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On April 4th, I read Hamde Abu Rahma’s article (“Israeli Forces Raided Two Houses in Bil’in at 1:30 a.m.” ) on the most recent night raids in Bil’in. One of the raids was conducted in a house where I stayed for four nights, and it prompted me to recall one of my experiences.

Photo by Haitham Al Khatib 

On the 2nd of January, I was sitting in the Popular committee office, Facebooking and hanging out with Hamde and his brother Khamis, when one of them got a phone call. Someone who had been keeping watch had noticed Israeli military jeeps coming into a nearby village. What I heard was, “The army is coming.” My first thought was, this is a night raid. My second thought was, this has something to do with Jawaher Abu Rahma, who had died just the day before.

I knew a little about night raids. I’d watched the videos that our friend Haitham had taken; the raids usually involved the military declaring someone’s house a “closed military zone” and arresting someone inside for throwing rocks at a demonstration, or incitement, or something. In a lot of the videos there were international activists trying to get through the soldiers to help the family inside. There would be some arguing, some pushing, some gun-pointing.

I didn’t know where I saw myself in this chain of events. Maybe I would watch from a distance, or maybe I would be one of those internationals who stood up to the soldiers. A week earlier, I wouldn’t have put myself in that situation. But since then I’d been to three demonstrations, gotten yelled at, pushed around, gassed and sound bombed. I was so mad after that sound bomb landed next to me that I locked eyes with the offending soldier and mouthed a well-meant “f*#k you.” That was the angriest I’ve ever felt.

So things had changed in the last week. I wanted to show the soldiers I wasn’t afraid of them. And tell them how cowardly it was to follow orders without thinking. And how stupid they looked in those mesh camo hats.
After we got the news, I followed Hamde and his brother out of the office and started across the village toward their house. I didn’t know what their system was. I didn’t even know there was a look-out system, but seeing as we were the only ones out, I assumed these guys were it, and we were about to find out if the army was coming. I was wearing three layers, but it still took me a minute to realize why I was shaking uncontrollably. I tried not to think about the soldiers and instead tried to listen to the guys talking and laughing as we made our way through the olive trees. Once we were settled in Hamde’s room, Khamis got out his argheelah and started smoking, and Haitham soon joined us with his camera. They would follow the soldiers and videotape the raid as they had done many times before. Hamde brought us pita bread and avocado mixed with olive oil and salt for dipping.

I usually eat anything put in front of me, but I felt strangely queasy as I tried to force down bits of pita. It must have been obvious, because Haitham stopped his conversation and asked me if I was afraid. I lied and said no, it was just new for me.

Hamde told me if the soldiers came, they would go and I could stay here. I told him I wanted to come with. “Walla?” Hamde said, incredulous. I knew I’d have to fight a little harder if I meant to go. We forgot about it for a while. We talked about filmmaking, Haitham’s new camera, traveling, the drama between Khamis, the girl he wanted to marry, and her disapproving father, known affectionately to the family as “Doctor Donkey.” I sang the only Arabic song I knew (Ana Ayesh by Amr Diab) for the thousandth time, for Haitham’s camera. We hung out, three Palestinians and one American, and it was in those moments that they made me laugh and forget my nerves that I fell more in love with Bil’in. What could I, with my American passport and freedom to come and go from Palestine as I pleased, understand about life under occupation? I couldn’t eat, sing or crack jokes without shaking in anticipation of the raid.

So how did the children feel when their doors were broken down by armed soldiers? How did the mothers feel when their boys were bound and taken to the back of an army jeep? How did the fathers feel when their houses were invaded without their consent, and they could do nothing about it?  

As it happened, the soldiers didn’t come to Bil’in that night.

It’s been three months, and I just learned from Haitham’s Facebook post that Khamis’ house was raided last night. Khamis owns the house where internationals stay, where I stayed for four days. Haitham’s video shows the soldiers poking around cabinets and under the sink where I brushed my teeth.

For those familiar with the IDF’s attempts to undermine non-violent demonstration in the West Bank, this image isn’t anything new. This desperate attempt to paint the demonstrations as inherently violent, hate-fueled and semi-militaristic has sanctioned several unfortunate practices, such as blackmailing families with sick children and making young boys sign statements in Hebrew that implicate leaders of the Popular Committees. Of course they think the internationals are hiding something in their quarters. But when I think of how my experience there strays from the IDF perception, it almost makes me laugh. Almost.

That was where I smoked argheelah with Hamde and his brothers and cousins on New Years Eve, learned about their boyhood days in Bil’in, then stayed awake most of the night battling mosquitoes. I woke up there to the news that Hamde’s cousin Jawaher had died from tear gas inhalation, and witnessed the village in mourning. For three days I packed and unpacked my bags because every time I tried to catch a taxi to Ramallah, someone would invite me into their house for lunch or tea or coffee, and the idea of leaving became less and less possible…and desirable. I would always come back to Khamis’ house. One night I sang songs to Hamde’s cousins while he took care of Haitham and made him ginger tea. I lived in that house for four days, and I knew when I saw Haitham’s picture of a soldier coming out of the side door that I finally had to tell this story, which is just the story of a foreigner on the edge of Bil’in’s story. But as a guest of that house I too feel traced, invaded, implicated, and I don’t think that anticipation will ever cease to make me queasy.

Posted in www.filisteenola.blogspot.com

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