Dreaming of Paradise
"I had a dream last night," Shaadi told my teammates and me while we sat munching sliced tomatoes and olives one hot afternoon. Shaadi told us that in his dream he had climbed to the top of one of the pine trees at the edge of the Havot Ma'on Israeli settlement outpost. Below him, Shaadi said he could see Israeli settlers stealing the fodder that he uses to feed his sheep.
"Come down here," one of the settlers called up to Shaadi. "No, no" he said. "I'll up stay here." But the settler reached up into the tree and pulled Shaadi down to the ground. "They tried to kill me," Shaadi told us. He put his hands around his throat to show how the settlers had chocked him. "And then I woke up."
Shaadi says that his children often have nightmares like the one he described. They used to have even more, he told us, but now his village is more organized and more successful in nonviolently resisting the attacks of Israeli settlers. Still, to get to school in At-Tuwani, Shaadi's children have to walk through an Israeli settlement, along a road where adult Israeli settler have attacked them with chains and stones. Seeing Shaadi's children greet me with smiles and laughter is a delight, but also it feels strange, like a dream.
A week ago, I looked out on to Havot Ma'on from on a hillside where I had never sat before. As I saw on the settlement outpost from a new angle, I found myself filled with jealousy. Before me on the wooded outpost, in adjacent valleys, and in the neighboring houses of Ma'on settlement, settlers moved around freely, without inhibition. "They have so much space!" I thought. I envied all of room they had in which to walk without fear of attack or arrest. Certainly, the settlers of Havot Ma'on are afraid. But theirs are fears that born of prejudice and hate. And whatever their feelings, they are not enough to change the insistent reality of the South Hebron Hills – it's Palestinians, not Israelis, who run through the hills afraid for their lives.
As I sat watching dusk fall on Havot Ma'on, I thought back to another day I spent with Shaadi and his family. Shaadi asked my teammates and me to watch as he, his wife, oldest daughter, young son, and tiny baby made their way from to Magher Al Abeed. Sure enough, as Shaadi feared, as the family climbed over the hills a car left the settlement and speed after them. I called Shaadi to tell him that settlers were coming. "Thank you, thank you!" he said. Over the cell phone I could hear him calling to his family, telling them to run home. "What a nightmare," I thought.
Rarely do dreams of Israeli settlers and soldiers disturb my sleep, but I lately find it increasingly difficult to put my faith into a dream of a better future for Shaadi and his family. A taxi driver recently quipped to me, "If we have peace, we are in paradise." Sitting on a hillside watching the sunset stain the sky, I often imagine what at-Tuwani will be like when the occupation is over and Shaadi's family can walk over the hills without fear. Paradise is certainly the word for what I see. But everyday the Israeli government seems to have even less will deal with the extremist Israeli settlers who terrorize Palestinians like Shaadi. The longer that I live in Palestine the less certain a future of peace and justice feels to me.But sometimes when I meet the children coming to school in the morning, Shaadi's daughters Manar and Diana catch my eye. They are still in elementary school, but the girls walk with commanding dignity. I stand beside Diana as she explains to the Israeli soldiers who escort her to school that they arrived late and did not met the children to the correct location. "You have to come by 7:30," she insists. And as I watch this little girl speak to the soldiers with such conviction, my sense of despair eases. For a moment, I stop wondering, "When will this nightmare end?" and begin to think, "How much longer can this injustice possibly continue?" In the face of Palestinian children dreaming of a better tomorrow, surely today's horrors cannot stand for long.