Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dangerous Ducks

We stepped out of our building and there surrounding the chicken man and his cart piled high with cages of pigeons were four Israeli soldiers in full military gear. We stood for a moment observing, too surprised to think to take a picture. I turned to my teammate, "Those must be some very dangerous birds!"  We laughed and kept watching from our doorway. Were the soldiers actually surrounding the birds?  We still couldn't tell, but we thought it couldn't possibly be true. Surely it was just coincidence that they happened to be standing around the birds. They must have stopped there while doing something else.

The bird man moved forward with the cart, headed towards his place around the corner where he sold the birds. The soldiers moved forward.  We thought there must be more going on than we had seen.  But as the cart moved, so did the soldiers. They looked at us.  We continued watching and following.  Finally, the bird man reached his spot in the market and the soldiers moved on.  We asked the bird man what had happened.

"They told me to move the birds!"

Our apartment is across from an Israeli military base. To the left of our door is a fence put up by the Israeli military, about 15 feet of ground, and a tall concrete barrier also courtesy of Israel.  The barrier blocks access to Shuhada Street, the street that was the main commercial area for Palestinians until 1994 when the Israeli military closed over 300 shops following a massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque by Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein.  The Palestinian shops along Shuhada Street were closed to protect Israeli settlers after 29 Palestinians were killed by a right-wing extremist settler. Despite numerous Israeli court cases rulings in favor of reopening Shuhada Street over the years, the shops have never been reopened. Palestinians cannot drive on Shuhada Street. Palestinians cannot even walk on most of Shuhada Street. As as international, I am allowed to walk on Shuhada Street. It makes my heart ache to see the metal bars that the Israeli military welded across shop doors; no shops, no way even to access the wares in them. The street is called a ghost town for good reason.

When Shuhada Street was closed down and later when the concrete walls were put up, many nearby Palestinian businesses were unable to survive  Our street used to be the main chicken market.  Now there's only one bird man left in the area, our neighbor.

Every day, he lets his ducks, quails, maybe a rooster or turkey, maybe some chickens or geese, and currently two bunnies out into the street. Since our street is blocked and mostly deserted, there is little to disturb the animals and little they can disturb.  They often waddle, walk, or hop to the area between the fence and the concrete wall, where they are even more sheltered from unwanted attention.  They forage, seemingly contentedly, through the weeds and trash.

Today, for not the first time, the soldiers told the chicken man his birds cannot enter the mini-No Man's Land; as far as I know, they said nothing about the bunnies. I guess that means it's supposed to be a No Man's/No Bird's Land (Bunnies OK).

Why the Israeli military would send four soldiers in full gear to issue orders restricting bird movement is beyond my comprehension. These kinds of actions point to the lighter side (if there is one) of the absurdity of the Israeli Occupation. Something we can laugh about.

The heavier side of absurdity happens most mornings when tear gas or sound bombs are launched at children. We don't laugh about that. Today, when a sound bomb exploded on the other side of the checkpoint we monitor, we watched both a mother with two young boys and a father with two young girls, stop.  Could they walk their children safely to school? The father waited a few moments and went forward.  The mother waited a few moments, turned around, then turned back again and finished walking her boys to school. These are not decisions parents, or unaccompanied children, should have to make on the way to school...or ever. Here in Hebron these are decision some parents, and unaccompanied children, have to make on an almost daily basis.

I wish I could say that the military attention given to the ducks meant that less attention was given to throwing tear gas or sound bombs at kids. But it's not the case. Thankfully, today during our hour-long school run, we witnessed only one sound bomb, though we heard 3 other bangs from somewhere else. I am not thankful that "only one sound bomb" is good news.

It is nice to be able to laugh sometimes at the craziness of what happens here.  Too often the situations here merit tears. Today I will continue to laugh about the subversive and dangerous ducks in the neighborhood.

May tomorrow bring reasons to laugh not out of cynicism, but out of sheer joy. 

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