Our territory is inhabited by a number of races speaking different languages and living on different historical levels…. A variety of epochs live side by side in the same areas or a very few miles apart, ignoring or devouring one another…. Past epochs never vanish completely, and blood still drips from all their wounds, even the most ancient.
—Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
About 20 minutes south of Hebron, the land of the West Bank becomes noticeably more arid, the olive groves sparser. Around three miles before the border with Israel the concrete carapace of an army post floats by, then a last hardscrabble village whose dusty children scatter quickly on sighting a car with Israeli yellow plates. After that point clusters of shacks and tents begin to appear on the surrounding slopes, some more than a half-mile adrift of the road. As you progress past turnoffs for thinly spaced settlements, red-tiled roofs and agro-industrial cowsheds poised on surrounding hilltops, the places slide in and out of view behind folds of scrubland, until they are finally gone. A few minutes later, you come up to the border terminal, with its booths and pylons straddling the road. The last bit of Israel’s fence curves up from the west and knots here, leaving open the hills which rolled past you on the way, clear down to the Dead Sea. It’s like looking back over the edge of a world, and if you read power only in what it constructs, in concrete and steel, you might briefly think that here the order of things somehow fades. Then you might recall those encampments, and how you never passed a single paved exit road or a single place sign.
One way of describing the hills wedged in between Route 317 and the southern border of the West Bank, an area also known as Masafir Yatta, is to say that they cover some 3,600 hectares, an area roughly the size of a US county. It could also be said that they take at least two hours to cross, what you would need to traverse many US states by car. It’s the sort of observation that brings to mind how the former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, John Dugard, caused such a stir in 2007, when he said that the segregation of roads in the West Bank between Arabs and Jews was unheard of even in apartheid South Africa—how he was speaking of those parts of the West Bank where there actually are Arab roads.
Visitors who come to narrate the conflict in these parts are frequently struck by the barrenness of the landscape and the poverty of its inhabitants. For this reason Masafir Yatta is often described as being both physically remote and as belonging to a different time—as seeming to hover, in fact, outside of time. It is a place where the conflict acquires, according to one New York Times journalist, “a distinctly biblical feel, like the flimsy tent encampments and dank caves in which some local Palestinian farming families dwell,” confirming that biblical mise-en-scènes remain a staple of certain kinds of Holy Land reporting, but also adumbrating a community—the “cave dwellers” of the south Hebron hills as they are otherwise known—who afford that kind of narrative a rare, live ethnographic prop.
The Times was among a number of news organizations that made the trek down country in June, after an attack by Israeli settlers on one family of cave dwellers was recorded with a digital camera lent to the family by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Noting the primitive ways of these sudden cineastes—“there is no electricity. Water is drawn from a well, milk is kept in sheepskins, bread is baked in an outdoor stone oven”—the story is not so much of people clashing as of eras colliding. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the journalist never thinks to ask why these people live in “dank caves.”
What is surprising is that hardly anyone else asks, either.
Narratives of Masafir Yatta propounded by human rights organizations, chiefly the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), B’Tselem and the Israeli Association for Civil Rights, exhibit many similarities, among them a shared conservationist idiom, in which circumstances otherwise legible as an index of hardship instead figure as an ethnographic category. According to B’Tselem, “In the southernmost West Bank, some one thousand Palestinians have maintained the way of life of their ancestors: living in caves and earning a living from farming and livestock.” OCHA argues that “families forced to move away from southern Hebron lose their traditional lifestyle and means of support.”
In their disparate fashion, these narratives are about accounting for violence, and time, in a way anticipated by the video captured in June. Broadcast a few days later by a number of news networks, the jerky footage shows four masked settlers, truncheons in hand, approaching by foot across a parched field, an older woman standing in the foreground. A farmer suddenly steps into view, the men launch themselves at him and, as the woman cries out, the camera veers wildly; there is a glimpse of someone on the ground, truncheons coming down, screaming. Not surprisingly, it is in that brief final blur of violence that the media found its pathos. The New York Times article is accompanied by a screen capture of the masked settler, club poised to strike.
Those who watched the video carefully, however, could have noted from its time track that some 30 seconds had been edited out—imperceptibly so, because of the shaking of the camera—between the moment when the settlers appear and the moment when the first blow falls. From a forensic perspective, this edit may have been inconsequential; in television time it would have felt like years. Precisely for that reason, however, those seconds also pointed to a different understanding of what has been done here. It’s the difference between the dramatic texture of something sudden and almost immediately lost from view, and the chronicle of a tragedy foretold. Scroll back to those men walking across the field, without hurry, coming, still coming, as if they had all the time in the world.
Consider the family, trapped in the frame.
Excavating That “Biblical Feel”
The first reliable map of the south Hebron hills to appear in the modern era was published in 1883, being one of 26 sheets included in the Survey of Western Palestine, produced by the British-based Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). Copies of the Survey can still be found in the Hebrew University Library in Jerusalem, showing the names and locations of each of the hamlets in the area, the surrounding wadis, some of the hills. Over a century later, these names appear neither on Israeli road maps nor on the first maps of the area produced by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Planning. Cartographically, Masafir Yatta became over the intervening period a terra nullius, an act of disappearance all the more poignant because it began with the construction of that first map, and with it, what might later be termed a “distinctly biblical feel.”
Founded in 1865 under the patronage of Queen Victoria and notables in the Church of England hierarchy, the PEF charged itself with “investigating the archaeology, geography, geology and natural history of Palestine”—whose religious significance was bringing it closer into the European orbit, though it was at the time a part of the Ottoman Empire. Closely allied with imperial interests, the PEF was to play some part in strengthening the gravitational pull. The British War Office seconded a succession of officers to carry out the organization’s survey work on the doorstep of a weakening Porte. Half a century later, as World War I came to the Levant, the maps that Claude Conder, Horatio Kitchener and T. E. Lawrence had prepared would unlock the southern gates of Palestine for the British army, moving up through the Naqab desert to take the Ottoman garrison in Bir al-Saba‘—today’s Beersheva—by surprise. Long before that, the ground had been prepared in other ways.
When, in 1875, the London publishing house George Phillip and Son published Lt. Claude Conder’s Tent Work in Palestine, an account of his surveying in the Holy Land, it tapped deeply into a burgeoning colonial curiosity. The book was part of series on “The World’s Great Explorers and Explorations,” also including titles such as Livingstone and the Exploration of Central Africa, Mungo Park and the Niger and John Franklin and the North West—a region where the US surveyor appointed to America’s brief and abortive answer to the PEF, the Palestine Exploration Society, had himself worked, surveying newly pacified Indian Territory. As with the Society, interest in Conder’s account, which became a bestseller, was leavened by a religious curiosity, famously both satirized and reinvested by Mark Twain’ Innocents Abroad, which married the thrill of exploration with the fantasy of faith.
In mapping the territory of the Holy Land, a region which, unlike central Africa, had already been well-charted by Europeans, the PEF sought to recoup its terrain for the religious imagination, retrieving the original map of the Bible from the place-names of a predominantly Arab and Muslim country. The idea, as Nadia Abu El Haj puts it, was that “contemporary Palestine would ultimately be brought, through mapping, back into a historical geography they already knew.” Yet in chronicling this process the PEF would also do something more, literally reinserting Palestine, a land thought lost to civilization and progress, into the stream of time. Readers of the organization’s Quarterly Statement would accordingly find interspersed, among essays on “The Royal Canaanite and Levitical City of Debir,” “The Empire of the Hittites” and “Scenes from David’s Outlaw Life,” articles like “Colonization of Palestine,” submitted by a former US consul, which plotted in minute detail the future development of the country through colonization by European Jews, a group which by then had emerged as a likely candidate for the redemption of the land.
As elsewhere in Africa and Asia, the march of progress was not something that the natives themselves were going to lead, languishing as they were outside of time. That very attribute, however, also marked them as subjects of a new ethnographic tradition, exemplified by Conder’s dispatches, which, in retracing King David’s peregrinations across the southern Hebron hills, fleeing the wrath of Saul, sought reference in “the custom of the modern Bedawi, whose tents in winter are on the sheltered plains by the Dead Sea shore, but in summer on the hills at the verge of the cultivated districts.” For it was not only the landscape that held clues to the past, but also the people, because of the place-names they preserved in their speech, but also because they were thought to be living links to biblical lifestyles.
Yet in narrating as palimpsests the land—and lifescapes—of Palestine, the PEF’s accounts were also peculiarly transformative. Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography and Archaeology, which accompanied the Survey of Western Palestine, deconstructed what its authors deemed to be the salient components of the landscape and captioned them according to toponyms—the names of villages, ruins and hilltops—obtained from the communities that they visited. And in that imaginative mingling of lifescape and ruin a curious elision took place. The sites that the PEF surveyors passed through were living communities, replete with people, sights and sounds. This is an excerpt from the archaeological section of the Memoir, about the south Hebron hills:
Khurbet al Fekhit (L x). — Traces of ruins, and a cave
Khurbet Jedeibeh (L y). — Traces of ruins
Khurbet Kueiwis (L x). — Traces of ruins.
It is only occasionally, in lines like “there are many rock cisterns all round the village,” that the reader is reminded of a living landscape hovering over this vast necropolis, if only as an ethereal trace. It was a way of reading the land that deconstructed as it reconstructed, one in which other pilgrims to Palestine at the time were well versed. Fond of making meaningful displays of their guns when encountering Palestinians, Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad had patience for the natives only when they were felt to evoke biblical stock characters; if possible, they preferred to get straight at the hard foundations of their faith. Describing a visit to a Galilee mosque on an apocryphal biblical site, Twain recalls how “we entered, and the pilgrims broke specimens from the foundation walls, though they had to touch, and even step, upon the ‘praying carpets’ to do it.” It was the dawn of a new era of discovery, at the peak of which Conder could report that the PEF had “recovered more than three quarters of the Bible names,” and were “thus able to say with confidence that the Bible topography is a genuine and actual topography.” In that act of recovery, however, something else had begun to happen.
Once Were Villagers
A few years ago a man old enough to remember things took me on a walk around the hamlet of Jinba, a dozen tarpaulin tents and sheep pens scattered over the foot of a craggy, mile-long escarpment, overlooking the desert. “We owned all of that land, all the way to Arad, and the Dead Sea,” he said, pointing out across the lower-lying hills, now part of Israel. From a distance they look all but empty. The Jahhalin Bedouin from whom the people here say they once bought the land are now gone; most were expelled to Jordan, some shunted to unrecognized villages and government “development towns” in the northern Naqab. The others live on a rubbish dump outside the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem.
What happened on this side of the border has been taking more time and it was that time we were searching for. Having talked a bit, the man took me around the encampment, trailed by curious children and scurrying fowl. The downy grass that briefly covers the high Naqab in spring had long ago withered and dust puffed up around our feet as we picked our way around the tents. “Here,” he would say, sometimes stomping lightly, and I would bend down to look, readying my notebook. Sometimes it was a slight indentation in the ground, other times shallow pits filled in with gravel, a meaningful regularity in that pile of stone. Sometimes there were just his words to go by. Then we came on the remains of a standing wall, the emptiness of a window still set in the masonry.
The standard historical narrative of Masafir Yatta is that the ancestors of its present-day inhabitants first settled the area in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and that they were farmers from the village of Yatta, today a large town dominating the southern reaches of the Hebron mountains. Their descendants will show you Ottoman-era tax receipts and sometimes ownership documents, proving their title to some stretch of land. It is thought that the migration occurred because of pressure on existing land reserves around Yatta; in many instances, it was of a seasonal variety, the farmers setting up camp on their lands in wintertime, sheltering with their families in tents and caves, which they successively built out or improved with stonework.
The lands that were settled enjoy only modest rainfall, marking the cultivable margin of the desert frontier, but in their own fashion, with the means that were then at their disposal, the arrivals from Yatta made the desert bloom. Today the agriculture of Masafir Yatta is about shepherding and the sale of derivative dairy products like cheese and ghee. In addition, there is dry-land farming—entailing the rain-fed cultivation of grains, pulses, fodder and olives—and smaller-scale cultivation of vegetables and tobacco. In that respect, you might think that little has changed over the past two centuries, barring the addition of tractors and plows. You would be wrong, perhaps not surprisingly so. In the historical accounting of things around here, it’s usually the middle bit that’s the problem.
A couple of miles east of Jinba, similarly situated below the ridge line of the Hebron mountains on the 1967 Green Line, lie a collection of ruins, the remains of modest houses and small built-out caves with masonry doorways still peeking out from underneath folds of terrain. The site is just a hundred yards or so off the road that leads down from the terminal in the wall, hidden behind the overhanging ridge, and into the towns of the Naqab. Masked as it is by a low rise of land, it is easy to miss, but ask people around here, and they will tell you these are the remains of the village of Kureitein. Standing on its ruins, you can overlook the military firing range that the Israeli army operates here, marked by a lone rusting tank and concrete slabs spray-painted with warnings to passing shepherds, all the way to the tips of the high-rises of the Israeli town of Arad, and contemplate the alternate future of Masafir Yatta.
“Khurbet el Kureitein (K y).—Traces of a large ruin and caves. Apparently a large town.” The future excavated by the PEF was once a settlement on the road connecting Bir al-Saba‘ with Hebron and Jerusalem, also founded by migrants from Yatta. According to the people of Jinba, it was destroyed in an Israeli raid just before the 1967 war, a date they remember well, because Kureitein’s fate was almost theirs. The same raid demolished 13 houses in Jinba. Today, the story of Kureitein endures largely as a folk tale among the people of the Naqab and the southern Hebron hills. It is a place about which there is otherwise very little information; on the website Palestine Remembered, which catalogues interviews and information about Palestinian communities destroyed over the course of the conflict, no entry exists under that name.
Kureitein was testimony to a diversity of ways of understanding the Hebron hills that has since been ironed out of contemporary discourse, a diversity of pasts, as well as possible futures. For while it may be the case that the early migration to the area was seasonal, and that those who lived here sheltered in caves, in improving these shelters, adding walls and, finally, fashioning them into houses, a tipping point was in some places reached. Today, transcripts of such development can be found in nearby towns like al-Karmil, closer inland to Yatta, where the old houses, often surmounting the original cave, serve as feed storage units or animal shelters for families who live above them in modest, but otherwise modern concrete houses. Unlike what happened in al-Karmil, however, time does not always go forward.
Aerial photographs of Jinba, dating from 1945 to the present era, chronicle the deconstruction of a community and the incipient emergence of a shanty-people. The first image shows numerous houses, clustered together and surrounded by extensive orchards outlined in neat rows. The old man taking me around the hill said that there were some 30 to 40 houses then—many built out of natural caves—as well as two shops and a mosque. In the next photograph, taken in the 1960s around the time of the border raids, the trees are gone, along with a number of the houses. In the final image it is still barely possible make out a community, some rudimentary structures among the rock and gravel of the otherwise barren frame. In the intervening period, Israel had conquered the West Bank, and a few years later, in the 1970s, established Fire Zone 918 on the lands of Kureitein and Jinba. There, the Israeli air force and army would continue to reenact a conflict that had begun well before 1967 and was now to enter its redemptive phase. The Innocents had returned, this time with bulldozers.
Walking me across his hilltop 40 years later, the old man had little trouble remembering the names of the people to whom the rubble had belonged, most of them being his uncles or cousins, many of whom were still living here, among their own ruins. Pinning down the years was more difficult. Mostly he talked in terms of periods: “1982–1984,” “before the 1980s” or “the early 2000s.” Sometimes, because of intermittent repairs, a single structure had taken time to erase, requiring several demolitions, over many years. Sometimes it had become something else. “We built that from the remains of the house,” he said, pointing to a rocky pen covered with tarpaulin and chicken wire. We spent the better part of an afternoon on the hillside and during this time I made 32 entries in my notebook: What would have been houses, in what was once a village, now were mounds of stone and sand, seeking a form.
Remaking the Map
The mapmaker whom I met in a Jerusalem coffee shop years later was a congenial man, balding and a bit paunchy, with the reassuring air of a middle-school teacher, leaning in and smiling when I asked him questions. He got started, he said, as a young officer in the Israeli army with a penchant for Bible history, flying over the southern hills of Hebron with Ariel Sharon. “It was in 1981, and I was sent to settle the Nahal camps in the Hebron area. There were no settlements in the area then. So I came to the commander of the Nahal. He said to me you will have a tour in a helicopter with the general director of the Ministry of Defense and when I came to the airport, he was there also, and said, ‘I want to come too.’”
The colonization of the southern hills began over a decade into Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Sharon, who that year went from being agriculture minister to defense minister in the government of Menachem Begin, was the chief architect of this renewed land grab. As in many other locations around the West Bank, settlements were established on sites commandeered by the settlement brigade of the Israeli army, but the underlying map from which they were working had been laid beforehand. “We talked about Jewish history,” recalled the mapmaker, “the archaeological sites, the Bible stories everywhere. I was very knowledgeable about that.” And like everyone else he had a favorite story. “There was the one about King David, the time that he was fleeing King Saul….”
There are at least two ways of narrating what happened in the years following that helicopter-borne reconnaissance. Taking one community as an example, one could say that the hamlet of Susiya, situated north of Route 317, had the misfortune of being close to some Byzantine ruins familiar from nineteenth-century maps, leading a team of Israeli archaeologists in 1971 to conduct excavations that unearthed an ancient synagogue. Thereafter, “the settlement of Susiya was established in 1983 about two kilometers southwest of the synagogue. The area was declared as a National Park in 1985 and the community was evicted from their original caves in 1986. The evicted Palestinians settled in an area south of the original village. When the IDF built an army base near the synagogue in the late 1990s, the villages found themselves trapped between the base and the settlement. A series of demolitions took place beginning in 2001 prompting a series of legal proceedings.”
The latter part of the above paragraph is culled from a brief on vulnerable communities in the south Hebron hills, prepared by OCHA, and is easily obtained by any journalist seeking information about the area. I write this because in June, the New York Times, in covering a certain videotaped attack on the village of Susiya, would tell its history of excavation, displacement, demolition and expropriation as follows: “Ancient Susiya contains the ruins of a synagogue dating from the Roman period, attesting to a long and robust Jewish presence here. Jewish settlers started moving in again after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.”
It was not just the Times that developed problems with the middle bit. As history was welded together across the southern hills, with new roads, houses, electricity pylons, water pipes, sprinklers and bus routes, something very different happened out in Masafir Yatta. Between 1985 and 1987, the IDF demolished 40 caves, 20 houses and one mosque in the place known once, and yet again, as “Khurbet Janbah (L y).—Traces of ruins. Foundations and heaps of stones.” Government policy and the local settler population ensured that the stones would stay in heaps. In 1991, Jinba and its surrounding hamlets invested some 120,000 shekels to pave a road that would connect them with Yatta. Settlers closed the road the following year and remaining work was aborted. The next year, the Oslo accords were signed, an agreement that promised new autonomy in the urban population centers of the occupied territories, but left most of the territory as Area C, in which construction required permission from the Israeli Civil Administration.
The mapmaker fondly recalled those times. “Yasser Arafat used to call me Abu Kharita, Father of Maps,” he likes to tell journalists, “but it is a joke because there is another Arabic word which sounds similar which means ‘nonsense.’” What that would mean for the residents of Masafir Yatta would be inflected by the work of another kind of mapper, a young reservist who had completed his research in the previous decade, and published his ethnography, Life in the Hebron Caves, in 1985, courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces, which had for some reason taken an ethnographic interest in the area, or perhaps only thought it worthwhile that someone did. Ya’acov Havacook’s book would gather dust on the shelves for the next 15 years, but its readership picked up thereafter.
“A Unique Way of Living”
The first evacuation of Masafir Yatta took place in October 1999, and for a few days it might well have seemed as if history was repeating itself. Everyone was herded onto trucks, men, women and children, some 700 people in all. Caves were sealed and belongings and sheep packed off, some dumped as far the northern Jordan valley. “We had to pay 50 shekels per head to ship them back,” said the old man in Jinba. Not since the villages of Latrun were emptied after 1967 war had so many people been forced from their homes in the West Bank, and if the army had had its way, the outcome would have been the same. Further evacuations were carried out in November, and still they sneaked back across the hills. “The soldiers said we are like rats,” related the old man, grinning. By then, however, another appellation was also swinging into fashion. The “cave dwellers” of the south Hebron hills had emerged.
The first petition to allow the residents to return to the area was filed on behalf of four local families by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in January 2000, and never has the road back to a dark, dank place been paved with better intentions. The lawyer, a Jew of Arab descent from Yemen, had, as she put it, “been involved in the issue of cultural rights inside Israel,” and it was that experience that gave her the idea of making the ethnographic argument. It was also a humanizing strategy, she added later. “Israelis never think of Palestinians as having culture,” a form of condescension she herself had experienced. As she put it, the ethnographic argument was “a decoration” on the core of the petition. “There are so many violations, you want your case to succeed, so you have to make it special.” Yet the choice at hand in this plea would ultimately prove far from incidental. “We could have said, ‘Some Palestinians were deported’ or ‘Look, a poor people, living in caves.’”
In expelling the residents of Masafir Yatta, the government argued, through the extended, and ongoing, legal process that ensued, that they were clearing an area that had been a closed military zone since Fire Zone 918 was established. The petitioners were not permanent residents, but lived there on a seasonal basis, and could therefore be evicted. Under pressure from the courts, and public opinion, the government soon offered to regulate the time the Arabs could spend there, allowing them to work the land during planting and harvesting season, and Jewish holidays. This way of eviscerating the meaning of being-in-place would not coincidentally be exported to the closed military zones sheared off by Israel’s wall. If the Arabs were not yet nomadic, in other words, the state intended to make them so.
ACRI’s case relied on arguing more or less the opposite. In this respect, Havacook’s Life in the Hebron Caves, the anthropological text that came to serve as the standard referent for the legal debate, contained something for everyone, and not enough for anyone. “It wasn’t so good for us, because he wrote that they only lived there part of the year,” recalled the ACRI lawyer. “But what was great is that you could see that the people were there from before; they didn’t just arrive there two years ago.” In actuality, Havacook’s book did suggest that at least some residents were permanent residents, but the case was already being tried in a bigger arena than the Supreme Court building.
Residents performed for the camera, acting out the emotional significance of the caves, something that played well with Israel’s culture vultures, as well as liberal figures within the political establishment. First into the fray was Israeli writer David Grossman, who accompanied then-Knesset speaker Avraham Burg on a visit to the southern hills, a declaration of conscience all the more notable because Grossman would, two years later, along with writers Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua, sign a letter to the Palestinian leadership in response to the outbreak of the second intifada, which vowed that Palestinian refugees would never be allowed to return to their homes in what is today Israel. But these were not “some Palestinians who had been deported.” “It is a unique way of living,” the lawyer emphasized several times and I believed she believed it, even as she added, as an afterthought, “unique enough to get to the heart of the judges.”
When the court finally acceded to the residents’ return, pending the outcome of an ultimately abortive mediation process, the lawyer felt that “it was an unbelievable decision. I never expected it to happen.” Yet it is not difficult to see how it did. The culture on display was not the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, but caves. In a sense, what was being promoted was the right of the southern hills residents to be ethnics, bearers of a culture outside history, one that is neither a product of nor reproduces national identity and its derivative claims. Such a role meshes well with the colonial sensibility about what and who Arabs are that has been under development since at least 1865. As the lawyer put it: “I think we explained to the judges who these people were.”
Drawing the Line
In his final commentary on a shaky video feed from a remote corner of the West Bank, a BBC reporter grasps for poignancy. “Violence against Jews as well as Palestinians has long scarred this place. Video may now be giving us a new and raw view, but for most people here, the only answer, a political deal, remains out of sight.” He need not have grasped. A closing line of sorts curves conspicuously over the hillcrest that overlooks Susiya and the Hebron hills. The mapmaker would have drawn the line elsewhere, he said, and at first he did. In 2004, the idea was briefly put forward to transfer the inhabitants of Masafir Yatta to a small plot on the other side of the fence. But certain considerations intervened. It will still take land, that is clear, but how much, and what does it mean, and for whom? I lost track of the number of times that he used the word “compromise” during our meeting. “It is very hard for me, every single centimeter. But I know that I do this job better than people who have no feelings about the land,” he told me.
Something about the compromise that prevails in Masafir Yatta feels pertinent to this closing horizon. Toward the end of our conversation, the lawyer told me that she had concerns about the repercussions of pushing a culture-centered legal strategy to its logical conclusion. “I talked to anthropologists and they said this should be declared a UNESCO site. I didn’t pursue it because you know what happens if you put people in a site like this. They will be unable to live there. It becomes a reservation,” she said. What she had forgot to mention, was that the Israeli Supreme Court did not allow caves to be repaired, or houses rebuilt. Time would not go forward. The people of the south Hebron hills have been ensured of survival, after a fashion, by being cast as a museum exhibit—and perhaps something else, as well.
Commenting on the success of its Shooting Back video project, a B’Tselem spokesman interviewed by the BBC introduced the protagonists as people “who all the year were used to being attacked and trying to avoid trouble, trying to go around the corner because they didn’t want [inaudible].” We never learn what they want, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. It is something modest and apolitical—that is clear. When they shoot back, the New York Times will be there to put it in context. Archaic ethnics are the most up-to-date of humanitarian subjects, model citizens of a country forever awaiting a political solution, stranded in time.