“We are being slaughtered with a rusty knife
With Isa and Eid in Nabi Samuel النبي صموئيل
By Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran 27.11. 2012
One clod of earth after another, tirelessly, the occupation forces try to remove the remaining inhabitants of Nabi Smauil from their land. And successfully, at that.
Despite the sumud – holding on – and the village myth about the dog of Hajje Shukriya who wouldn’t leave the house in spite of the bulldozers that demolished it and was buried under the rubble, and despite the heart-rending determination of Isa and ‘Id and all the rest.
On October 31st, in the morning, the occupation forces came again to demolish at Nabi Samauil, destroying ‘Id’s storerooms and his uncle Isa’s sheep pen.
We drove there on the morrow, coming from Jerusalem on road no. 436 and turning right towards the village. At the junction stands a sign saying ‘Tomb of the prophet Samuel’, with an arrow pointing uphill. No sign with the name of the village, Nabi Samauil. Every few years the villagers do try to put up a sign naming their village, and the occupation forces inevitably take it down. Perhaps if the village will have a name, the authorities could not claim it doesn’t exist.
We climbed on with the road and reached the lot where Jews coming to Samuel’s Tomb park their cars. Through the gate the mosque of Nabi Smauil is visible. This was the heart of the village in the past, until nearly completely ruined in March 1971.
We turned right again towards the present village. On our left, a large handsome house – home of the village elder, mukhtar, who collaborates with the Israeli authorities. The road to the village is a shambles and filled with potholes. The villagers have tried time and again to repave it. But the occupation forces do not allow them to do so. Again and again they demolished the infrastructure, and confiscated materials. Now, after the villagers have been forbidden to leave Nabi Samuil in their private vehicles, they no longer even try.
‘Id welcomed us. A soft but bold man. He sits next to the grocery shop of his brother Kamal who died last week following failed heart surgery. Fills his place.
Tamar and I first made the acquaintance of Kamal and Id and Isa and Hajje Shukriya several years ago. Since then we have been there close by and witnessed the demolition of Isa’s son’s kitchen, and then the house-roof of Mohammad, Kamal’s nephew.
We were also there when the occupation forces appeared one night and counted all who were present at the village at the time, and removed all the rest from the inhabitants’ list so that from that moment on they would not ever be allowed into their homes again.
We accompanied Kamal, furious and pleading, his heart breaking time and again, when time and again his vegetable stand was destroyed where he tried to sell at the village entrance. At a certain point he reached the hospital, after soldiers turned all of his green ware to the ground, because he yelled “No!” and looked straight at them. And then the soldiers beat him until he fell. So Kamal died last week after undergoing heart surgery. One person less on the village roster, the village the authorities are tirelessly determined to wipe off the face of the earth. The village and the villagers.
They came last night at nine thirty, Id told us as soon as we sat down beside him.
The DCO, with soldiers of the Border Patrol and Shabak (Secret Service), maybe ten jeeps. As usual.
No, we were not notified.
I was sitting at home, and suddenly heard cars. I looked through the window and saw jeeps, and soldiers walking around. Some were already standing at the back of my house. Some on the way. But I wasn’t thinking of demolition at all. I thought they came to take me or my son. So I hurried out and they said, “What’s the problem?”
They’re in my own yard, and they’re asking me what’s the problem…
I asked who the officer was, but before they answered I saw Micha. When I saw Micha I knew… Micha, he’s their guy in charge of house demolitions. I went to him.
He said, “Is that nice?” pointing at the horse’s stall. “Does that look nice, like that?”
He keeps saying that in our village. Is that nice? Is that nice? Making fun of us.
What has nice got to do with anything? If he thinks something doesn’t look nice he should give us a permit, we’ll build in marble.
Two free cows approached us and stood still. And left again. They seemed restless and it was strange. Their stall has been demolished, ‘Id explained. So they have no shade. Poor cows. They’re looking for shade. It’s a mother and a daughter, he added. And you could really tell.
They don’t let us work, ‘Id continued, they won’t let us have an entry permit to go to work. And they won’t let us build a home for our animals. After all we keep animals in order to eat. Because we have no work and no livelihood. That’s what I told Micha, too.
He said to me, get a permit. I told him, I’ve been in your office twenty times, and got no permit. You are in charge here: give me a permit.
You see? They never have. All my life I have not received a single permit for anything. Not for a roof. Not for a barrack. Not for a room for my son. Since they demolished the village they never gave any permits. Since 1971. Only to the Mukhtar.
We already know from the past that only the collaborator and his family can build without the occupation forces demolishing their houses. The one who sells the others for his own gain. Counterfeits claims on the land.
Only he got a permit. (Id’s mouth trembled as he spoke). We didn’t. None of us. Nothing at all.
So we’ll go on building. What can we do…
It was hard this time, he added. We’ve grown accustomed to everything, and then it gets harder. There was teargas. They gassed us. Not exactly gas. It was that yellow stuff. Pepper. Straight in our faces.
You were gassed?
What happened was that many of my family went outside. My brother, and his kids and the kids of my older brother. And the kids of my sister Aida. And Raida’s kids. And the soldiers said not to get close to them. That’s forbidden. So we didn’t.
And then Isa came. And the tractors. And they started. First they destroyed the horse’s stall. It’s been there for six years already. And another shack that has been there for two years. And while they demolished, we did nothing. Just looked on.
For a moment he paused, as if conceptualizing it all again. His eye is very red. He saw our look and said, this is from yesterday. From the pepper spray. For another moment he collected himself, and continued. So after they demolished my stall they went to Isa to destroy his animal stall. Isa started yelling at Micha and swearing at them. So the soldiers began to beat Isa up. I was further away then so I ran over. And so did his daughter. And my brother’s kids. We all tried to protect Isa. Because Isa has had heart surgery. The kind Kamal died of. And he gets very excited. Just two years ago Isa had his animal stall demolished. And just then it snowed so the animals gave birth in the snow, in the water, and all the young ones died. Remember? And we nodded, remembering. We also remembered how hard it was for Isa back then too.
So he is angry. And not young, Isa… And the soldiers jump him. We tried to move the soldiers away. Just to stand so he wouldn’t be beaten up. So they started beating us all up. And they started with that gas. Everyone who the soldiers noticed got gassed in the face. Pepper like.
It is horrible, that gas. Right away you can’t do a thing. You fall to the ground, and it burns. You feel you’re losing your eyes. And you can’t breathe. And it hurts. Terribly.
I didn’t know such pain existed.
And then I don’t know, I was on the ground, and my vision started coming back. And suddenly I saw that another of my relatives was being beaten up by four or five soldiers.
I got up like crazy. I went over there and made them leave him, let him run away from the soldiers. The soldiers wanted to gas me again but I threw myself on the ground so they’d leave me alone.
And the soldiers hit with their hands, and also with their guns. And everyone’s shouting.
They broke my older nephew’s arm. With the butt of a gun. He spent the night in the hospital. In Ramallah. They cut his arm and broke the bone too. And the pepper stuck to the skin of his whole body. I talked to him now, this morning. He can’t see. Can’t move. Has pains in his arm.
Isa just arrived and sat beside us. His eyes too are still red from yesterday, from the pepper spray. Eight people were hospitalized yesterday from what the soldiers did to us. All family, ‘Id went on. Yes, Isa added. My daughter too. Poor girl. She had it bad. She was sprayed too. Went to the hospital yesterday. The older one who takes care of her mother. My wife went too, says Id. Yes… But we didn’t stay there in the hospital. Only my nephew. But now it’s better, added these determined, polite people.
And then Isa asked us how are things. And we talked about the state of things in general. About the occupation. About the weather and his health. And other things. And we were also quiet. And he said, they’re slaughtering us with a rusty knife, not a sharp one.
And he raised his hands in the air in a gesture that led nowhere. And then his hands sank again.
Some more time went by, I don’t remember with what we filled it, and then we got up all of us and went to see for ourselves what had happened. The devastation hurts the eyes. Both from bygone days and from yesterday.
On our way we saw the room Isa had built for his son and was destroyed by the occupation forces two years ago, and the ruined kitchen roof, and then we saw the fruit of the latest demolition. What used to be barracks. Embarrassed piles of stone and tin and planks. One could not possibly imagine what had been there. Suddenly we detected a part of the sheep-feed device, and shifted our gaze for a moment. For the reality of it all struck us in one blow. And then we looked again.
What do you want from our life? That’s what I said to Micha, ‘Id said. But Micha didn’t answer. And he wouldn’t. But I know what they want. They want us to leave here.
And we didn’t say a thing, Tamar and I. For it’s true, after all. It’s all geared to one thing only. To remove the three-hundred villagers who remain in this village in every way that history allows.
Here, look, Isa pointed at another crushed pile. More unidentified rubble. What do they care about the fence. This surrounded the animal stall.
I didn’t start up with you. They did. They came to me, not I to them. His voice contains a despair that seeks meaning.
This is a green fence. Look, it’s actually green… After all they declared this area a national park. So we wouldn’t build. It’s not a national park for the settler, only for us. But if it’s a national park, isn’t green right? Why would they destroy the fence? I don’t understand. It cost me more than the barrack.
And they didn’t just demolish, they crushed it all. The tin, again and again. So we won’t be able to use it ever again. And we saw. Whole piles of ruins. Crushed, wrinkled pieces of tin.
How much effort, we thought, exerted to deny people food. To exhaust them. To make them miserable. How much determination and dedication. Sense of purpose. How tireless, this sinister job.
Here was the pipe. Isa pointed at some other crushed object. When I realized they were going to destroy the sewage pipe I stood facing the tractor. What do they care about the sewage?
They won’t let us have sanitation in the village. It’s forbidden. We’re forbidden to build a sanitation system. They say it’s a nature reserve. But if we are not allowed to have sanitation, then we build this way, above ground. Can people live without sanitation?
I told the tractor, don’t run it over. So he did. Ran over the pipe. So I began to curse: Whores, idiots, thieves, murderers, may you die, I’ll ruin your own house. Not a swearword was left unsaid. You see, when you get so mad you don’t know what you’re saying. I don’t even remember what I said yesterday because I spoke so much. So then one of those criminals said about my swearing: “We speak respectfully”.
I told him, go to hell with your respect.
They speak respectfully but do things disrespectfully, Tamar says.
Exactly, Isa laughs. He respects me with words and disrespectfully ruins my place.
He says how are you Isa and thinks that’s fine and then demolishing is also fine.
Only swearing is wrong, for him.
So don’t honor me. Don’t even get close to me.
I don’t want to know you.
And we all laughed.
Finally we all went back to Isa’s place. We drank coffee that one of his daughters-in-law brought us, wife of the son who was in jail not long ago because he was caught trying to work in Jerusalem. And now he’s already out.
We sat there some more. They, who are caged in. We, who can enter Nabi Samauil as often as we like.
We, and not Isa’s daughter – who married and was registered with a different address in her ID so she can no longer enter the village to visit. While we, who are not Palestinians, can. Precisely because of that.
They don’t want us to live, that’s their point. Not to be… No longer to exist in this world. Isa’s voice was withdrawn. It was difficult to look at him. With his strong body. The body of a man who has tilled the land all his life. And his strong, calloused hands.
And I wondered, not for the first time, how long will Isa be able to go on saying in this obstinate innocence of his that they will never make him leave his land.
What hurts me most in my heart is that they turn us into thieves. They make us criminals Said Isa after another pleasant silence in which we sipped tea quietly and dreamt. If they would give us permits of course we would request permits. If they would let us work we would use their way to go work. But they don’t. They won’t let us build nor work and I do what I can so I’d have food in the village with my animals but they don’t let me do that either. They do it on purpose. To get us away from here. They know that we’ll build even though they don’t give us permits. And they wait for us to build. Because we have no other choice. And then they will come and demolish by their law what we built. They will demolish our village and our lives, by their law.
The last sight of Nabi Samauil was of the two cows. The older and the younger. Moving back and forth in this miserable village, looking for shade, and there is none.”