As the CIA-brokered cease-fire went into effect, I received an anxious call from the village of Aboud, on the western slopes of Samarian hills. The village was raided by the army, and two men were shot. Today I went there, to see the village and to feel the cease-fire.
Aboud is surrounded by the new Jewish settlements from all sides. A brand new Jewish road leads to the area. It forks off to Aboud some three miles away from the village, and there the road is blocked by cyclopean heaps of earth. We tried our luck at the other end, with the same result. Eventually, we found a narrow dirt track the peasants broke in this morning, and drove in.
Aboud is one of the prettiest Palestinian villages, strongly reminiscent of Tuscany. Its time-mellowed stone houses grow on the gentle hills. Vine climbs up their balconies, leafy fig trees provide shadow to its streets. The prosperity of this well-established village is seen in the spaciousness of the mansions, in the meticulously clean roads. The old men sit in a small and shady, walled enclosure, on the stone benches, like the aldermen of Ithaca gathered by young Telemachus. That is the biblical ‘gate of the city’, or a diwan. Kids bring them coffee and fresh fruits. Local people are not the refugees of Gaza and Deheishe; here, as in a time warp, one can see the Holy Land as it should and could be.
Three millennia old Aboud received the faith of Christ from Christ himself, says the local tradition, and there is the church ready to prove it, one of the oldest on earth, built in the days of Constantine in the 4th century, or maybe even older, as some archaeologists claim. The church is a dainty thing, carefully restored and well taken care of. The Byzantine capitals of its columns bear the image of cross and palm branches. They recently discovered a plaque in old Aramaic script immured in the southern wall of the church.
Aboud has more than one church: there is a Catholic, a Greek Orthodox and an American-built Church of God. There is also a new mosque, as Christians and Muslims of the Holy Land live together in great harmony. On December 17th all of them, the Muslims and the Christians, go to venerate the village patron saint, St Barbara. She was a local girl who fell in love with a young Christian and was baptized. It happened in the rough days of Roman emperor Diocletian, and she was martyred in the persecutions. The ruins of the oldest Byzantine church of St Barbara are still seen on a hill a mile away from the village. At the foothill, there is her burial cave, and there the peasants lit their candles and ask their wishes to be fulfilled.
It is a good place to understand the complete lunacy of the prevailing Jewish view of Palestine as of the ‘land without people’ sparsely inhabited by the Arab nomad latecomers. Archaeologists have proven that this village was never destroyed or abandoned since the time immemorial, and our eyes agree with it. Age-old olive trees cover the hills, confirming the deep roots of Aboud and providing it with olive oil, its main staple food and source of livelihood.
Just outside a village, there were two giant American-built Caterpillar bulldozers slowly devouring the olive trees. They were huge, covered from every side by armour plates. They appeared impregnable, like moving fortresses. They towered above the landscape as the mechanical monsters of Evil Empire attacking Ewocks in the Star Wars.
The peasants stood on the heaps of earth blocking the entrance to the village and looked at the machines destroying their livelihood. They could not walk towards them, as they were not allowed to leave their village, their prison. There was a tent, and a few soldiers with a machinegun on the hill above the entrance, and they were there to keep the people in. Last night, on Sabbath eve, they opened fire on the villagers who ventured out, and wounded two men. The rest run back in for safety. Then the army went in, in their jeeps, driving through the village, met by stones of the kids. The Jewish settlers and soldiers sprayed windows and roofs with their bullets and drove away, apparently feeling their Shabbat duty fulfilled.
I was allowed to cross the invisible line, as it was for the Palestinians only. There was an Israeli officer in a jeep, a wide American Hummer, who oversaw the devastation. Why do you do it, I asked, don’t you know there is the cease fire? Say it to Arik (Sharon), he replied, we are just following orders. But he, and the other soldiers, and the bulldozer drivers were not despondent about these orders. These age-old trees meant nothing to them, as the village and two millennia old Church, and the people meant nothing to them. Just something to be devoured and destroyed.
Palestine never was the deserted land the first Zionists claimed they found at their arrival. But it will become one, unless we stop these machines.