What follows are sections of an account written by Professor David Shulman, who took part yesterday.
“No settlers anywhere nearby, no soldiers, nothing will happen today”— Ezra keeps reassuring our Palestinian friends on the cell phone as we drive down to south Hebron in the early morning. By the time we reach our meeting point near Samu’a, a good group is in place: some twenty Palestinians and another eight or nine Ta’ayush activists. Most of the Palestinians belong to Samu’a, and the fields we were heading toward through the wadis belong to them, though they have no access to them any more. The “illegal outpost” of Asa’el, one of the uglier and more malignant in this area, has stolen them. …
We begin working with pick-axes and our bare hands, and as always there is the joy of doing it and especially of seeing the rightful owners of this land returning, at last, to care for it. I’m especially moved watching a middle-aged Palestinian woman working, face partly covered, hands heavy with thorns and stones, beside me. Of course we can’t remove all the rocks, but the plot is looking more inviting by the minute, and soon we drift to the next terrace up, and the next one, getting closer at every step to the outer perimeter of the settlement on top of the hill. Naturally, we haven’t gone unnoticed. A heavy-set settler in his Shabbat white is staring down at us, and beside him there are soldiers, first only a few, then more and more, and in less than an hour, with the horrid sense of inevitability that so often signals human folly, they are clumsily descending in our direction. They are proudly waving the piece of paper that can only be the order declaring this area a Closed Military Zone.
The senior officer, bearded, young, opaque, reads it out: “By the authority legally vested in me, etc. etc.” He gives us exactly ten minutes to desist from our subversive activity and to disappear. Well drilled in these rituals, we argue with him. If this is a CMZ and we are supposed to leave, we say, then why do those settlers on the hilltop get to stay? Ah yes, “by the authority vested in me, those whom I allow to stay can stay. You now have nine and a half minutes.” Amiel leaps to the occasion. He carries with him, always, the text of the Supreme Court’s ruling that local military commanders have no right to declare these closed military zones whenever the whim strikes them, and above all they are prohibited from using this mechanism to keep farmers away from their lands. Amiel reads out the text of the court’s decision. The officer is utterly unimpressed. “You have eight minutes left.”
We go back to work, and now each rock I pry from the recalcitrant soil seems to have some special meaning, as if defiance, however quixotic, were imprinted on it. The Palestinians also accelerate their pace. As always, the South Hebron hills are a good place for unexpected encounters. One of the soldiers, smiling, suddenly greets me by name. I don’t recognize him at first, in his fancy-dress costume—helmet, uniform, rifle—but he tells me his name: Spartak, a former student. He studied Sanskrit with me, wrote a very good M.A. thesis. I haven’t seen him for some years, but I announce at once to whoever wants to hear: “I don’t mind being arrested, but only if Spartak carries out the order.” It would be nice to hear his views on the task he is engaged in. “Seven and a half minutes.” By now a genial policeman whom we know well from many such occasions has also turned up and announced, in his mild-mannered way, that by refusing to leave the CMZ we are committing a crime, hindering a public servant in discharging his duty (shades of Judge Ziskind). I figure this merits a response, so I say to him: “And what about those settlers? Their very presence here is a crime by international law and by any ethical standard.” He smiles and nods. To my surprise, he agrees with me. “True,” he says, “but that’s not relevant now.” “How could it not be relevant?” “Six minutes left before we start making arrests.”
Soon afterward, three Palestinians were detained and five Israelis were arrested. The Ta’ayush members are held in the Kiryat Arba police station for about 8 hours before being released.