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They arrested me in the night, he said.

What I’m about to tell is but a crumb, nearly devoid of color and meaning, in the sea of troubles that is Abu Omar’s. A crumb that has already been trampled and forgotten under the blows that immediately followed. I insist on telling it, although, it is indeed an almost non-thing. The thing that happens before something happens, a blink between horrors. A part of the most routine, inherently obvious – under occupation. That has no lesser part.
“Were you afraid, Abu Omar?”
“No, I wasn’t. I knew they did not come for me. And also… Sometimes, Aya, I get tired of it.”
“Of being afraid?”
“Yes… Sort of…”

It was on the day when a young man from Tul Karm stabbed several people in Tel Aviv, and was shot. I was in Tel Aviv that morning, visiting my mother. Abu Omar phoned, his voice concerned.
“I just heard from my friends that a young Palestinian stabbed people,” he said. “Are you alright? And Naomi, and your mom, and everyone?”
Meaning my sister, my mother and all my loved ones.
"Yes, we're fine", I said, and we exchanged another few words on the subject.
“And how are you?” I asked him, after we were done speaking about that incident more deeply.
“Uh… Soldiers arrested me last night”, he said.

And once again I thought about him, Abu Omar with his big, wide heart, and his ability to see the other, contain without a shadow. And so, over the years, to be glad for me and my privileges, the ones he does not have, and to be concerned about me and my shadows and sorrows, alongside his.

“When were you arrested?” I asked again, hardly able to conceptualize that he had been arrested a few hours earlier and was calling me and not mentioning it immediately but rather asking about me and how I was…

“I went to the mosque, at night. It was five, or a quarter past five a.m, when we finished praying and I was walking home, with another fellow, a neighbor of mine. We were approaching home and my neighbor said, Abu Omar, I see soldiers. I looked, and yes, there they were. I continued walking – what could I do, where could I go? And then they came upon us, 10 soldiers, and dogs… large and black. The soldiers stood and pointed their weapons at us, shouting ‘Stand still!’ and ‘Shut up!’… They gripped us by our shoulders and one of them went ‘Whoa!!’ Yelling at us, and then they grabbed me by the neck, from behind, dragging me, and yelling ‘Come here!’, placing me against the wall. ‘Stand here!’ ‘Shut up!’ It all happened fast… I didn’t want to speak Hebrew. I said to them: ‘I’m just going home’. I knew my wife would be worried. So the soldier said "Be Quiet". You know how they talk, with that voice… So I said nothing more.
Suddenly one of the soldiers said, ‘Listen, whose house is this?’ I told him I don’t know, perhaps the Khatib family. He asked, ‘How many children does he have?’ I said I don’t know. Like that…

So they took us and put us somewhere on the road nearby, and three soldiers with weapons stood guard over us.
‘Sit down over there. On the ground!’ one of them yelled. So we sat on the ground, where he told us to. Then another guy came out of the house, a worker, leaving early for work. They caught him too, dragged him down… So the three of us were sitting on the ground, and the soldiers stood guard, pointing their guns at us. And ordering us to keep silent…

Now they went over to Khatib's house, and suddenly I heard noise. The door… You know, they have that machine, to break down doors. So they broke down the door, and the soldiers standing on the road, when they heard it, they too ran to the house.

There was a lot of yelling. I heard his kids crying. He has small children whom I sort of know, really little. And there was an officer, talking Arabic. I heard him. ‘Open up, this is the Israeli army!’ and then he said to Khatib, ‘Where is your weapon, you’re done for. Where is the weapon?’
Khatib answered, ‘I have no weapon’.
And I kept hearing his children yelling. Crying. Little children. Very little…
And I don’t know what else happened there.

Then on the walkie-talkie the officer told the soldier, ‘Take them…” Abu Omar continues. “Immediately they pushed us with their legs, and one of them said, ‘Hands on your heads!’ At first I didn’t do it, and then he yelled at me and his weapon moved in his hands. ‘Put up your hands!’ So I did. The soldiers were nervous… They took us a bit further away.

Another two soldiers came and stood over us with their weapons and told us, ‘No one says a word!’ They were yelling at us the whole time, even though we said nothing.

Again we sat on the ground. Another two were brought there. You know, workers on their way to work. And time went by.

So I was joking a bit, telling the fellow next to me, my neighbor, my friend, what I just told you – ‘We’ve been sitting here so long, perhaps someone will serve us tea…’
And he answers me, ‘Oh, Abu Omar, but we do have tea here, what do you think…’ Just so we wouldn’t have bothersome thoughts.
And then the soldier yelled at us, ‘Shut up!’ as if… Just like that.

So we were sitting there on the ground for an hour, or an hour and a half, until they finished their business.”

“Finished?” I asked.
“You know, taking the man aside and breaking down the door and trashing the house inside, that’s what I heard. And smashing things.”
“Then I heard over the walkie-talkie how the officer told them, ‘Let them go’. And they said to us, ‘Beat it, go home.’

There were soldiers right by my house, but I went there.
‘Hey, where are you going?!’ they yelled.
I said, ‘This is my home’.
They answered ‘Get back, don’t go into your home’, and they raised their guns in the air, towards me I mean.
I said: ‘I want to get into my house.’
A soldier said, ‘Shut up!’ It was like that the whole time. Shut up. And with their weapons. Yelling.

Right then at that moment they brought him to the road, the guy they came for, Khatib. They dragged him, gripping him by the neck, with plastic cuffs, and blindfolded, you know… They said, ‘Get going!’ and left… walking… And then children came along and began chasing them and throwing stones at them. There was a lot of yelling and all. I simply ran, so I wouldn’t get stoned, I ran away… Got away from them, uphill. From where I was I heard them shooting live ammunition, and teargas, and one person was wounded in his leg, that’s what I heard later…

It all went on for about ten minutes, I think.

My wife, you know, she knows exactly when I come home from prayers. I didn’t. She was worried. And just then my brother Abu Mussa called her, because he heard there were soldiers in the (refugee) camp. He'd called me first and when I didn’t answer he called my wife. ‘Where is Abu Omar?’ he asked. She said, ‘He is not back, what happened?’
He told her ’There are soldiers in the camp, perhaps they took him.’”

I’d like to make a little comment here, about the fact that Abu Mussa told Abu Omar’s spouse he may have been taken by the soldiers.
It’s not that he thought for a moment that Abu Omar had done anything, not even in terms of the occupation. Not even that the soldiers necessarily came there looking for him. As it is customary for the occupation authorities to pressure people to supply them with lists of names. And people invent names, just to fill the quota that is imposed on them. But for Abu Mussa it was none of all that. He simply knew that if there were soldiers, they may have taken him.

For that is what Abu Mussa, and not just he, learned from his own experience, in all his years at the camp under occupation. No matter what you do or do not do, in terms of the occupation and its agents, there is always the possibility to take you, shoot you, rob you and harass you – and not because of your deeds, but because of your identity. That is the harsh, the horrible lesson that he and others learn. And that there is no way to expect or control what will happen, no matter what you do or how private your dealings are. There is no way to protect yourself, and your loved ones…
Therefore - regardless of how and why they came to arrest Khatib, or what Khatib had done in their opinion, or because they saw him (just as I did) with his silly uniform on facebook and his tiny son on his lap, a man bragging with a rifle he possessed for his job with the PA, and most probably thinking it was so manly and festive and impressive to be photographed that way – they harassed several people, on their way to work or back from prayers – such as 50 year-old Abu Omar and others just as old, and older, without any special intention in this case, without suspecting them or accusing them of anything in particular.

But all this does not keep the soldiers from speaking roughly to Abu Omar, gripping him by the neck and dragging him, pushing him up against the wall and threatening him with their guns, because he joked to his equally-old friend about drinking tea.
For as far as the soldiers are concerned, they are all guilty. Khatib, and his little children, and Abu Omar and his neighbor, and the other worker, and all the rest. A-priori. They are guilty not of deed but of identity.
That’s all, in a nutshell.

After telling me everything I asked Abu Omar how he was. He said he was okay. That he was back at work. And the kids are alright too. They did not have time to be afraid and worry, it all happened so fast. And that his younger son was not home, fortunately, but staying with his uncles in Bituniya.

“Be careful”, Abu Omar added…

A moment before we hung up, I asked him: “Abu Omar, were these young soldiers?” For suddenly I really wanted to see whether I could envision what he had seen.
“Yes, young ones”, he said. He was silent for a moment, as if visualizing something inside, conceptualizing it, and then he added, “like kids, you know. 18, 19-year olds. Kids.”

Usually, I don’t like applying the word ‘kids’ to occupation soldiers, for it implies an intention to exempt them from personal accountability, and that I cannot accept. But this time I didn’t make an issue of this point, and asked further – “How do you understand them, Abu Omar? What do you think they tell themselves?”

“You know, I think that what they tell themselves concerns their uniforms and their guns. As if this makes them like 30-year olds, not 18. It’s the show. Being manly. Yes, the show. To feel like real men.
Here, we heard in the camp, we saw on TV too, those soldiers who were in Gaza, that afterwards, when they saw what they had done; the houses, and everything, they shot themselves in the leg, because their hearts were broken. Because after Gaza, and all those uniforms and show and manliness and all, without all of that, at home, watching TV and seeing what they had done, their heart couldn’t take it any more.
That’s how people are.
People, like any other people”, Abu Omar told me.

Unlike Abu Omar, I don’t think that the emotional collapse of most of the soldiers who suffered breakdowns after the Gaza massacre resulted from understanding what they had done, and regretting it. Such things will happen, of course, to a few. But perhaps it will only happen when society will be less approving of bombing humans, and smashing their homes over their heads with the excuse that it is alright because perhaps some Hamas guy had breathed there earlier, and that they are always right and good, no matter what they do.

Right now, at this point, I don’t see any contradiction between those soldiers’ values and deeds. The breakdown they experience is a result of other things most probably,, of personal issues, perhaps traumatic confrontation with the fear that their society does not allow, or of being inadequate.

On second thought, who could possibly be adequate for serving in an army whose values are blind obedience and violence… And who knows, perhaps these are indeed the first cracks in the previously firm belief in the occupation’s way, some budding islands of guilt... I will not take away from Abu Omar his grace of hope, his need to believe in people…

Abu Omar has survived this event without being harmed. He, his children, his spouse have undergone far worse.
And about what still lies ahead for them, I cannot tell here yet/yet tell here.

I shall, then, make do with summarizing this short episode of the coming sequence, by saying that perhaps it is his own dissidence, Abu Omar’s: this religious, traditional, impoverished man from Qalandiya refugee camp.
And that perhaps his dissidence, his subversiveness, and the unique humaneness of this man is his refusal, his individual refusal to see people, whoever they may be – privileged Israelis, occupiers, soldiers who harass him – as a theoretical entity, a symbolic principle, devoid of a face, and name, and lacking any personal identity.
In spite of the flattened, symbolic and transparent way in which many of them see him and his family.

This is his dissidence, his morality, and his power, and his beauty – Abu Omar from Qalandiya.

Aya Kaniuk, February-March 2015
Translated by Tal Haran

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