This morning we went to visit our friends the Tamimi Family and their kids in Nabi Saleh, in the west bank about 40 minutes from Tel Aviv.
As it turns out this weekend village residents and Israeli peace activists had planned on marking International Day of Peace (Sept 21 actually, but hey, we do things fashionably late around here…).
The event was supposed to include whitewashing walls in the village, planting olive trees, and covering the sign placed by the military that reads “Israelis are not allowed to enter” with a sign that reads “All people welcome”.
We soon discovered that in anticipation of the days events the army issued a military order declaring the village closed off. (Yes, its that simple, a piece of crumpled paper and you’re locked in for the day). We parked the car outside and tried to walk in through the fields with our friends. Within about 3 minutes a Jeep with soldiers in full battle gear showed up and threatened us with arrest if entered the village.
When I asked the officer in charge if locking in a whole village made sense to him his reply was he’s just following orders and I should thank him because thanks to him I was safe in Tel Aviv.
Our friends suggested that instead of coming to their house as planned we just sit in an olive grove about 150 yards from the checkpoint and have a picnic. The officer in charge said, we can have our picnic right under that checkpoint tower, or he’ll personally arrest me.
At this point we decided we had enough of belligerent uniformed young men with weapons so we went with Ibrahim and 4 of his kids to a forest near by. His wife and the other children couldn’t make it.
We found a picnic spot and the kids were soon playing frisbee, making paper airplanes and decorating the surroundings with colorful chalk. The lack of a common verbal language didn’t seem to slow them down too much.
Not an hour went by before a military jeep storms in kicking up a dust cloud a soldier comes out and takes a long look at what we’re doing, hops back in the Jeep and takes off.
Throughout the morning including the events near the village and the uninvited visit by the soldiers to our picnic Ibrahim is the epitome of stoic calmness. I’ve seen calm people but this mild-mannered teacher is simply un-rattled. I don’t know how he does it, years of practice, I guess. The whole family was able to enjoy their outing as if everything was just fine.
On our way home we called Ibrahim to say that we had a lovely time and to invite them to a reciprocal visit. (They can’t – Israelis can enter the West Bank but not the other way around). Ibrahim calmly told us that his older daughters on their way back from high school in the nearby village were turned around by the soldiers and told to go back from where they came from. Its 8pm and I still haven’t heard if they were allowed to go back home.