I didn’t always think the way I think today. I was, what I label a “couch-leftist”. I sided with the Left, but thought they tend to exaggerate and above all tend to promote conspiracy theories and paranoia. I cannot recall exactly how I got up from my couch. I only know that it was a slow process, burdened with excuses.
For years I wanted to join the olive harvest. Every November I asked a good friend of mine to come with me. And when he didn’t show up, I had a great excuse, “I have no one to go with.”
I got up from the couch about four years ago in 2005. I joined the demonstrations in Bil’in. A harsh dissonance, familiar to any Israeli peace activist – when Palestinians started shouting Allâhu Akbar, I wanted to go and stand by the soldiers, to ask for their protection.
Bil’in was too violent an experience for me as a beginner activist. In one of the demonstrations – when I was no longer straddling at the back of the procession – as we were approaching the Wall, shrapnel from a smoke grenade went in my eye. When I came home I knew I was not going to give up, but that I was going to look for something else. I thought of MachsomWatch. I didn’t believe I could fit in, as they seemed much older, “a bunch of grandmothers.” But the checkpoints intrigued me. A few weeks went by. One Friday morning on Ben-Zion Boulevard I saw a group of the Women in Black organization. I asked them about MachsomWatch. This is how I met Alex. I arranged to meet her on a Sunday.
Alex and Susan picked me up by Hassan Bek Mosque in Tel Aviv. At the time I was living in Kerem ha-Teimanim. We started at Jubara and from there we went to Anabta (Tul Karm). It was December. I was shivering. A group of some twenty Palestinians was waiting on the side for the car inspection to finish, for the soldiers’ signal – a small gesture of “come here.” I went to stand by them. Even today, always when it is possible, I stand with them.
But ultimately, they remain in the corrals and I leave for my return to Tel Aviv, to my comfortable life on a sunnier side of the world.
We moved in to Beit Iba, west of Nablus. We stood for three hours behind the corrals. From there we went to Jit Junction, and from there to Za’tara at Tapuah Junction. In the evening, after saying goodbye to Susan I went walking in the alleys of the Kerem. It was cold and it was late, but I didn’t want to go home. I was living alone at the time.
A few weeks later I called Susan. I was at Beit Iba checkpoint. A Palestinian who caught a ride with her forgot his cellphone in her car. She told me – she says this often – “I didn’t think you would come again. You were really trembling.”
It is hard to describe the process that I have been through. It is a complex, sad, painful, aging and sobering process. I do not always fully understand it. But today I know that the Left wasn’t exaggerating. These are activists who went to see things for themselves, who were exposed to Israel’s backyard and who returned with some insights. It is worth listening to them.
We have seen something, which you have not.
To read more of Ya’ara’s work, visit Israel’s Back Yard