John 4:5: So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
Sunday, 2 January 2011
A village, A Well and Two Graves.
In this story these three nouns are the centrepiece; the beginning, middle, and end. They are the where, the why and the what. They explain everything.
In a normal story these three nouns could only be connected through location; they may exist together in the same place but no other connection would be feasible or meaningful. But this is not a normal story; a normal story would be located within a normal context, a normal setting and it would be subject to the general constraints that our lives are. This, however, is a story set in a place where a well can be a catalyst for death and destruction, where an entire village can be hounded and harassed because of it and how two young boys can be shot dead because of it.
This is clearly not a normal place. And I do not mean to blame the well for the tragedies which I shall disclose to you in this story; it is of course an inanimate object and unable to be a cause in and of itself. It is rather what the well represents that will emerge as the villain of our story, as the prime antagonist, as the murderer of two young boys.
And so to begin.
The village is called Iraq Burin. It’s a small village, a cluster of houses nestled atop a small mountain. In another time and place the village could be considered beautiful; surrounded by steep hills on one side and by an even steeper drop from the other, the views are truly incredible. But it is not the aesthetic value of the place which makes it of interest; it is rather its location.
This village is home to hundreds of Palestinians and has been for over a century. The surrounding hills and the flowing fields below have provided the inhabitants of that village with sustenance and commerce since its inception. But the village is also home to another, allegedly far older than even the olive trees planted by these Palestinian farmers’ years before- a well.
If you ever, per chance, stumble upon this small village you would certainly be forgiven if you did not in turn stumble upon this well. It is not signposted, there are no tour guides waiting eagerly to show you it or too teach you of its historical importance, waiting to bore you with a lengthy monologue on the style of architecture it exhibits. It is a simple, small, concrete block protruding from a hill facing the village; nothing more. Despite its relatively unimpressive looks however, this well is believed by some to be Jacob’s Well, immortalised by its mention in the bible and holy to Jews and Christians alike;
These poor villagers! Little did they know that this entire time they have been living on the very sight that Jesus (pbuh) once sat and drank; where he preached a message of brotherhood between Jew and non-Jew. We could perhaps forgive them for never making the connection however, particularly in light of the fact that the villagers claim the well was built in the 60’s. We might also forgive them when one discovers the fact that a short drive away in Nablus a colossal church sits atop the sight that most Christians and Jews believe Jacob’s Well to actually have been. A church which itself has witnessed the brutality that a well can cause, but that’s another story.
But nonetheless, the scene is now set and our tale can begin to unravel. A village of Palestinians living atop a Judeo-Christian religious site; of course it must be made open to worshipers. As Christians (and the rest of the world) believe the site to be in Nablus, it will only be Jewish worshipers who will come to pay homage. If they are to journey down and pray at the Well there must also be a place for them to rest, store their prayer materials and so forth. Of course, these worshipers must therefore have a plot of land around the well in order to have such a place to rest.
And so the trouble begins. Land atop the hill is appropriated and turned into an ‘outpost’, a place where Jewish worshipers can rest, store their materials and protect their holy site. Of course the appropriation of land owned by the villagers of Iraq Burin will not occur without protest, thus more land must be taken in order to establish and IDF Security Zone. The outpost naturally grows as more and more Jews flock to pay homage to the site of religious significance, more and more land is appropriated atop the hill, and the Palestinians at the bottom grow more and more agitated.
Animosity is high, over 100,000 square metres of the Villagers land has been appropriated as a result of the discovery of a Jewish religious site in their village. The entire hill is now a Security Zone, prohibited to Palestinians to access. The Palestinians are envious of their new neighbours who have large, well maintained homes with decent access to water, nice cars and their own roads- far more direct and safe than the winding, pothole ridden roads designated for the indigenous inhabitants. They are angry that these people, most of whom having arrived recently in the continent from Eastern Europe, have taken the lands there fathers and grandfathers farmed and loved without so much as a courtesy note.
One day the settlers walk down the hill, accompanied by IDF soldiers, and violence erupts. Some say it was Palestinian stone throwers, others say the settlers attacked a Palestinian man who was trying to graze his flock of sheep, this part of the story is unclear. Perhaps a Palestinian wished to expel the invaders from his land, perhaps a settler wished to push the Palestinian further from it.
The reaction is predictable. IDF soldiers flock into the area in order to protect the settlers; they impose a curfew on the entire village. Armoured cars, soldiers with state of the art machine guns, children with rocks; the reality of conflict descends upon this small village atop the mountain. A jeep proceeds down the hill, it is hit by stones from nearby youths. Muhammad Qudus turns to run from the advancing soldiers, the 16 year old boys heart racing at the excitement; he finally gets to confront the enemy, he can finally vent his anger, showcase his machismo to his friends. He stops. The rock in his hand drops to the floor, he soon follows. Everything goes blank. A bullet entered his back, travelled through his abdomen and erupted out of his stomach, taking with it all of young Muhammad’s dreams, his anger, his hate, his life.
Muhammad’s cousin, Asaud, see’s his kinsmen fall to the ground. He sees the massive hole in his cousin’s stomach; he watches the blood pour from it like the tears of a bereaved mother. He run’s to his cousin’s side when his world too goes blank. A bullet from an IDF rifle pierces his skull and enters his brain, nestling there like the village atop the mountain. Asaud is rushed to hospital, but there is nothing that can be done. Just as the village will not disappear at the behest of the invading settlers, the bullet will not disappear at the behest of the doctor’s scalpel.
So Muhammad and Asaud now lie together in an eternal sleep; their new, clean, white graves surrounded by flags and flowers bringing life to the graveyard.
The village, the well and the graves; all connected in this abnormal and abhorrent course of events.
And so we see that it was not the bullets, or the settlers, or the IDF that really killed these young men. It was the well and everything it represents. It’s assertion that my past is greater than your present; that my religion trumps your existence, that my needs are greater than any of yours, that I am greater than you. The religious observance at this well should not be mistaken with a real attempt to honour ones religion and God; it is the inverse. It is the perverse use of religion to facilitate the illegal annexation and occupation of another’s land. It is the opportunistic attempt to delegitimize the existence and claims of another to land by usurping them with blatantly false claims of historical significance.
The well is Israel; the logic which drives the settlers to steal land from the Palestinians, to live on their own in communities exclusively for Jews, with Jew-only roads and Jew-only water; to exclude and harass the Palestinians and to in turn create a ‘Jewish’ utopia. It is the logic that drives the settlements and drove the Nakba; it is logic of Zionism. So what if you live here, if your father lived here, if your grandfather lived here; Jews once lived here and therefore this land is mine. My claim is greater than yours.
The inability of Zionism to acknowledge the legitimacy not only of Palestinian claims to land but of the Palestinian people is the driving force of this conflict. The story of Iraq Burin is the story of any settlement, of any outpost, it is a case study of a settlement in its embryonic stage. A historical claim, an outpost, a settlement, armed action in the Palestinian village, a gradual exodus of non-Jews, the Juadisation of the West Bank.