This piece was published in Haaretz on February 9th.
Jinba, South Hebron Hills —
“They came on Tuesday, and destroyed it. The Jews,” said the boy, Hamudi, holding a jagged block of concrete in each hand, and looking at me, “Curse their fathers.”
I took the blocks from him, and tossed them into the back of the tractor’s cart, on top of the other deformed blocks.
“We’re Jews, too, you know,” I said softly, in Arabic.
Hamudi’s 13 year-old face scrunched, eyebrows knitted like two small caterpillars. Then his hazel eyes widened: “Oh! You know Ezra?”
I nodded, taking another two blocks from his small hands.
Hamudi’s younger sister, Aseel, who had reddish hair and who didn’t stop laughing all morning, chimed in: “Ezra was arrested because he cares about Arabs.”
“So you’re not going to tell the other Jews,” Hamudi looked at me, grinning, “to come destroy our house again?”
I laughed and told him that those Jews didn’t like us much, either, so not to worry.
And then my heart crumbled like house-dust swirling around us yesterday morning, deep down in one of the beautiful valleys of the South Hebron Hills.
They came on Tuesday, and destroyed it, soldiers carrying out the orders of the Jewish State.
The house that Hamudi and Aseel shared with their parents and nine siblings was one of the 23 homes in Jinba and the neighboring Halawa reduced to rubble by IDF bulldozers early last week. As Amira Hass reported in these pages, these demolitions were carried out because Jinba and Halawa are two of 12 Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills around which the IDF intends to create a firing zone, Firing Zone 918.
We came on Saturday, 22 or so Jews affiliated with Ta’ayush, some in their 20s, some in their 70s, to help the people of Jinba clear away the rubble. To bear witness to the tiny pair of Crocs sandals and the old blue shaving razor buried in the pile. To stand with Hamudi and Aseel, their mother Layla, their aunt Zayna, as they cleared, with bare hands, a broom, a few crumbly buckets, what had until five days ago been their home.
After a few hours of working, and despite our protests, they offered us clementines, and we took a break and ate together, balanced on the stump of a former wall. Aseel laughed joyfully at our jumbled Arabic phrases. Hamudi asked if we would want to sleep over.
On the way back, a dear friend of mine, Jacob, said to me that there is something jarring about being so close to evil, about clearing away someone’s demolished home with your bare hands.
And that is what it is, at its most basic and pared down essence: Evil.
Evil descended from the hills and stole Aseel’s and Hamudi’s home from them.
That is not to say that the soldiers who carried out the demolitions were evil: They weren’t. Most of them were probably sweet, brave, well-meaning kids. They were just acting as automatons, programmed to do, doing. In other words, they were just acting as soldiers.
It’s not even that those who gave the orders were evil. They weren’t. Most of them were probably serious, law-abiding men, who had convinced themselves, in the pretzeled logic of the Greater War, that these demolitions were necessary for the security of the State of Israel, for the safety of the Jewish people.
So the people who made the decision, and those who carried it out: they were not evil people. But evil was inarguably carried out. And this evil has a name, and its name is, said over and over again, and still, though, not enough, is occupation.
This evil is replicated in the threat of erasure that hangs over the nearby Susiya. It is replicated in the destruction of Palestinian homes rampant throughout the Jordan Valley. It is replicated in orders for demolition threatening the residents of Umm al-Kheir, who live in the literal shadow of the settlement of Carmel. It feeds off of inertia and indifference and fear. And it is growing. We can all feel it, even if we didn’t hold Jinba’s rubble in our hands this Shabbat.
But in the meantime, rather than moan and shiver and await the next catastrophe, members of Ta’ayush are out there every week, in the South Hebron Hills, clearing away tiny bits of rock, sharing sweet clementines. When I told Hamudi that we wouldn’t be sleeping over, he asked if we’d at least come back soon. I said we would.