A game of cat and mouse in the Jordan Valley

Playing cat and mouse with a bulldozer, the Jordan Valley 10/12/2016. (Photo: Guy Hirchfeld, Ta'ayush)

I found myself standing in front of a military bulldozer.

It was 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in the Jordan Valley. We went for another day of work and accompaniment with the villagers who face constant harassment from Israeli authorities, and we happened to be there when the Israeli Defense Force came to demolish a gravel road, the only access road to Al Hadidiyye, a village which has no water supplies except for the overly priced water tanks delivered on this gravel road.

Ro’i, the neighboring Jewish colony, receives subsidized water. Their main industry is fishkeeping. Yes, they grow ornamental aquarium fish in the desert like this:

Clownfish, image captured from a YouTube video promoting the Israeli fishkeeping industry.

A quick search in the online Israeli “Yellow Pages” reveals that some of the fish they grow is exported via businesses which are registered in Jerusalem and Rosh Ha’ayin, on the other side of the ’49 armistice line. Just an example showing that the boycott movement should focus on the Israeli economy as a whole, and not attempt the logistically impossible task of differentiating settlement products from products produced in so-called “Israel proper.”

Back on the gravel track. I happened to stumble sideways when the bulldozer turned its claws to reach the gravel road from a different direction. We ended up playing a weird kind of cat-and-mouse game, with the bulldozer playing the role of the mouse. The mouse has to reach the cheese – the gravel road – on the other side of the cat. If the cat stands in the way, the bulldozer has to stop, reverse, and try a different route. The problem is that in this version, if the bulldozer stops a moment too late, the cat turns into crushed human flesh. A similar kind of game resulted with the death of Rachel Corrie. The bulldozer operator was playing with a big smile on his face, dangerously testing the limits. Unlike Rachel Corrie, I am a Hebrew speaking Israeli Jew, so the next time he stopped I came by to try to converse with him, at which point he opened the door like this:

Israeli military bulldozer operator. (Photo: Guy Hirchfeld)

And yelled at me to get out of the way. I said that my conscience doesn’t allow me to abide by his venerable orders, and I mentioned Rachel Corrie and how he wouldn’t want to have a similar incident on his conscience, and I advised him to stop the engine and relax and have a smoke until the police arrives. He had heard about Rachel Corrie, and after some cordial yelling, he turned off the motor. His colleague, wearing a glowing yellow vest over his uniform, came to converse with me.

“Bro, are you out of your mind? Do you wanna get hurt?” He said.

“You know that they don’t have running water in this village?” I asked.

“Why do you answer a question with a question?”

“A rabbi was asked why do Jews always answer questions with questions. ‘Why not?’ said the rabbi.”

They chuckled.

“Seriously,” I said. “A couple of months ago they connected water pipes to ‘Atuf nearby. They installed water meters to pay for it and everything, but you came and destroyed it.”

“They didn’t get permission for it.”

“It’s a basic human right!”

“They shouldn’t be here. Why don’t they go to Jordan?” he said.

I’ve been trolling the Israeli military for years, and I still haven’t gotten used to these common revelations that simple bottom-of-the-pyramid soldiers are harbingers of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. When it comes to the army, the tree doesn’t fall far from the bad apples, as this deranged culture is deeply embedded throughout the chain of command.

The last time I visited Al Hadidiyye, our host Abu Saqr took us on a tour to see water cisterns which were demolished in the early years of the ’67 occupation. Some bureaucrat actually sat and mapped all of the water cisterns used by Abu Saqr and all other Palestinians in the Jiftlik-Tubas-Tamun area, and ordered to systematically destroy them all. What that war-criminal understood in his sick mind was that if you deprive a people of water and livelihood, you can quietly displace them in a way that is invisible to international media. “Before 1967 there were over 2,000 of us in Al Hadidiyye,” Abu Saqr told us. “Today we are 98.” Al Hadidiyye is like a microcosm of the Jordan Valley as a whole: as shown in this OCHA report, between 200-300,000 Palestinians were displaced from the Jordan Valley since ’67. And still people look at me like a loony doomsayer when I talk about an ongoing process of ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

But then something quite incredible happened. The bulldozer operator, having been listening to my trolling, apparently decided he’s sick of serving an apartheid system that literally deprives children of drinking water during the hottest year ever measured, turned the bulldozer around and back up the hill, lowered the blade and plowed through the military base until no structure stayed standing, then went back to Al Hadidiyye, gave Abu Saqr all the cash he had on him, advised him to connect a pipe to the nearby Mekorot water drilling facility funneling drinking water from the traditional wells for the settlement’s swimming pool and ornamental fish aquariums, told him that if anyone comes to mess with the pipe he’ll return with his bulldozer to teach them a lesson, and then drove off to the horizon, blade up high, far away from the suicidally racist regime that sought to rob him of his youth and turn him into a war-criminal.

Just kidding. He didn’t do any of that. Actually, our dialogue ended with him yelling “What do I care?!” while waiting for another military unit to come and push my lanky bones out of the way so he could resume the work of turning Al Hadidiyye into a ghetto.