Do not sit under the olive tree

Today I travel to the village of Asira, north-west of Nablus. Asira has a population of 12 000 and a high level of adults have studied in Higher education. Now the village is surrounded by roadblocks and getting around is increasingly difficult. I meet my host Kanaan and we go for a short walk.

A few 100 metres outside of the village, we come to an olive grove and some roadblocks. I take a photo of the roadblocks, and we carry on. Kanaan is talking about his childhood, and places where he used to play. Suddenly there is the sound of footsteps, we turn and see four Israeli soldiers, guns trained on us.

The sergeant starts yelling at us in Hebrew. I tell him that I only speak English, and ask him what the problem is. He demands that we lift our jackets. I repeat that I am from England, and why does he want me to lift my jacket. He asks what I am doing here, and I say walking with a friend. “You came all the way from England to go for a walk?” he asks. “Is that against the law?” I ask.

He takes Kanaan’s ID and then demands my passport. I hand it over. “Move off the road” he tells us. All the time the soldiers keep their guns trained on us. He reads the ID and passport numbers into his phone. I try to talk to Kanaan and am ordered to shut up.

After about 15 minutes of standing there we are are ordered to follow them, guns trained on us all the time. They lead us into the olive grove, where there are another four soldiers lying on the ground, around an olive tree, guns trained on us. We are ordered to sit under a tree. The first four soldiers make off again, taking our documents with them. For an hour we are held there, guns trained on us. The one with his gun aimed at me stares at me continually, and I stare into the middle distance, humming.

Eventually I decide that I have had enough of his stare. I ask to phone my Embassy. I am refused. I then get into a staring competition with him. He stops looking so cocky and is the first to break eye contact. My phone rings, I stare at him. He gets agitated and orders me to turn it off. I do. The second phone rings! Same procedure. I turn them off and put them in front of me.

He gestures for me to put them into my pocket. I tell him I only speak English and don’t have a clue what he’s on about. Another one gets up and gestures as well. I repeat the statement that I only speak English and don’t know what they’re doing. I ask again to phone my Embassy, and ask whether I am under arrest. It’s getting really cold and I’m fed up. I start asking them if they are doing this because they have big guns. They tell me to shut up. I ask them if they want me to shut up cos they have big guns. The original quartet returns and hands me the passport and Kanaan’s ID. We are free to go.

Kanaan is really apologetic! I assure him that I am fully aware that this is the Israeli Army playing Bully Boy. When we get back to his house, he cooks some spaghetti bolognaise! A weird meal after so much humous and falafel, but very enjoyable.

I ask him if it has ever happened to him before. “Many times” he tells me. Today was the easiest. The worst was one summer day when he was returning from Nablus. He was detained in the morning and kept till 1am the next day. He was ordered to say “I am an ugly Palestinian”. He refused. He was beaten and forced to strip. Again he was ordered to say “I am an ugly Palestinian”. Again he refused. He was forced to sit on thorns. For hours he was pressured to say “I am an ugly Palestinian”, he continued to refuse. At about midnignt a tank arrived. He was forced to lie on the road. He was told that if he didn’t say the words, the tank would roll over his head.

Slowly the tank rolled forward. He continued to refuse, even though by now he was convinced he was about to get killed. The tank treads stopped within 15 cm of his head. After another beating, he was rolled down a hill, still naked, where there were lots of thorns. He was left naked on the road. People from nearby houses who had watched the whole incident came out with a blanket, and he was taken to a clinic where a doctor and friends spent 2 days pulling the thorns out of his body.

He contacted some Israeli friends, who contacted Members of the Knesset. Their enquiries met with the reply “This is a security matter!” Still he wants peace and maintains his friendships with Israeli friends. He is busy raising funds for a childrens’ centre in the village, to provide activities for the village kids, to bring some positive things into their lives. I don’t think he’s an ugly Palestinian. He’s a brave, dignified Palestinian.