Two Sides of The Road

Gideon Levy

... the road climbs a hill until it ends at a heap of rubble. That is what is left of the home of the al-Atrash family, 12 souls, which was demolished a week ago for the third time by the Israeli Civil Administration...


21 June 1998

   Imagine that you were born in Hirbet Qilqes. If you were born on the south side of the road, you might now be an orphan; if on the north side, you might be homeless. In the last few days, this farming land south of Hebron has witnessed all the injustices of the occupation, distilling them into a fiercely concentrated experience that few Israelis could cope with. Anyone who wants to know what the Palestinians are really undergoing under the Israeli occupation, how difficult and dangerous their lives are, after Oslo as before, should visit Hirbet Qilqes.There is no sign of Oslo at Hirbet Qilqes, which remains occupied territory in every respect, in Area C, an Israeli buffer zone between the outskirts of Palestinian Hebron and the Jewish settlement of Beit Hagai. About a kilometer before Beit Hagai, an unpaved, rock-strewn road branches off to the north. Almost impassable, the road climbs a hill until it ends at a heap of rubble. That is what is left of the home of the al-Atrash family, 12 souls, which was demolished a week ago for the third time by the Israeli Civil Administration.

If you look below from among the ruins, toward the south side of the road, just across the way, you will see a group of houses in the valley. One of those houses was the home of a working man, Abd Almajid Abu Turki. Last Tuesday, he was walking along the road on his way home from work, minding his own business, when boys from Beit Hagai murdered him with a chunk of wood. The killing was at first termed a "prank." Now it turns out that it was premeditated and that settlers from Beit Hagai knew about the incident after the fact, but did not report it.

At week's end, piercing laments emanated from two houses on both sides of the road, only a few hundred meters apart. A mourners' tent had been erected for the dead father at one house, while at the other the people sat in the shade of the Red Cross tent and bewailed their destroyed home. A bereaved house and a house of rubble, and Israel responsible for both.

But there is more to the saga of agony and grief that Israel is causing these people, most of them hardworking laborers or peasants. A few dozen meters from the house of Abu Turki stands the skeleton of another building. This is where the 600 residents of Hirbet Qilqes wanted to build a school. For years, every day, in heat or rain, their children have had to walk about six kilometers along a busy highway to reach the nearest school. Yes, the mothers and fathers at Hirbet Qilqes are also worried about their children's safety and fear for their future. They too would like to have a school within a reasonable, safe distance from home. 

But to the Israeli Civil Administration, which is mandated to look after the welfare of the population, such distress is of no concern. A school? That's an illegal structure, it won't be built. What's left? The skeleton and the dream. The settlement of Beit Hagai, just over there, with its 56 families, naturally has educational institutions and transportation arrangements.

Have we addressed all the misery? Far from it. This modern road, which was built for the residents of Beit Hagai Ñ compare it with the substandard road that leads to Hirbet Qilqes, whose residents have lived here far longer than the settlers Ñ of course lies on land that belonged to Hirbet Qilqes. There is a certain macabre irony to the fact that Abu Turki was murdered on a road built on land that belonged to his family until it was expropriated. And let us not forget the difficulties of earning a living, the daily humiliations and the deprivation of freedom of movement. These people, most of whom are devoutly religious, are prohibited, for example, from worshiping in Jerusalem. A cornucopia of suffering.

Abu Turki leaves six daughters and six sons. There are also 12 people in the razed house across the way. They will carry a traumatic memory. But the lives of all the Palestinians here are difficult and dangerous. The view from this road makes one understand that "security needs" are not exclusively Israeli, as we like to think. A few days before Abu Turki was murdered, settlers threw a Coke bottle at his nephew on the same road. A Palestinian mother has good reason to wait anxiously for the safe return home of her husband and children. For some Palestinians, the way home is no less dangerous than it is for Jews. Some Palestinians have no place to live, but Israel will not give them a permit to build even on their land. For the lawbreakers of Ateret Cohanim, who build provocations, the state sends guards; for the illegal houses of the Palestinians who build to alleviate an impossible housing shortage in the absence of a lawful solution, the state sends bulldozers.

Abd Almajid Abu Turki is already dead, the home of Yusef al-Atrash lies in ruins for the third time, the school will not be built and the settlers' road has long since been paved. You won't find much justice on this bleeding land, and building peace out of all this will be no easy task either. 





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