The boy on the horse

Israel/Palestine
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Video 21 0 00 50 44
A settler boy on his horse points at Badia Dwaik: “He’s an Arab”

I visited the divided city of Hebron two weeks ago. There I met Badia Dwaik, a Palestinian who works for the group “Youth Against Settlements.” Today, Hebron, the largest Palestinian city on the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) is divided along religious and ethnic lines. Palestinians are permitted only in certain areas. In theory Jews are also restricted to their areas. But the reality is much different. 

While Badia was showing us Shuhada Street, the former and now completely shuttered commercial center of Hebron, Phil Weiss had his tape rolling. The video is seven minutes long. At 0:50, a settler boy rides into view from the distance. The words he calls out to an Israeli soldier are, in Hebrew: “hoo aravi, asoor lo lehiyot po.” (In English: He’s Arab, it’s forbidden for him to be here”). 

Who’s in charge? During the entire seven minutes we were in full view of a checkpoint perhaps 50 meters away (you can see it around the 2:30 mark, after the car almost mowed us down), and the two soldiers manning it didn’t object to Badia’s presence. There was no issue until the boy rode up on the horse.

Must the soldiers always back the settlers, even when the issue at hand is absurd? What are the rules? Nothing more than what any one settler or soldier decides they are? The settlers don’t obey the rules when the rules become inconvenient for them. The “rules” allowed Badia to be there on that street. If Israeli settlers can’t accept the outcomes of rules that overwhelmingly benefit them at the expense of Palestinian rights, then what would a fair-minded person suggest the Palestinians do? Badia stood his ground in a dignified and peaceful manner. His calm and entirely rational responses to the boy and the soldier constituted an act of nonviolent resistance. 

Badia was a rational man standing in an irrational situation. The “problem” that agitated the boy was illusory. The irrationality of the odd event Phil and I witnessed that day in Hebron was in fact the backdrop the boy emerged from, the backdrop of an utterly distorted system.

A system can become so distorted that meanness itself takes over; injustice itself takes over. People are human, but if you keep them in a system that is absurd, the framework of life becomes so distorted that they cannot avoid doing harm.

This is true of all people, and all distorted systems. It has nothing to do with being a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian. The person has no channel and no outlet for fairness, for simple human back-and-forth, when the system is unjust and absurd. 

An unjust system backed by one-sided force is like a foolish boy on a horse. Something childish driven by something powerful.

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