As the sun set on Netiv Avot tonight, it was still possible to see a column of smoke rising from the hilltop to graze the low-lying clouds above from Elazar’s sister city of Efrat. This smoke was from the fires set to dissuade police from removing the crying teenagers and adults, who, in the end, left peacefully as they had been instructed; no one was hurt. Well, no one was hurt physically, as I was told this evening. But many are now hurting in their hearts. Angry, disappointed and sad that all our efforts did not save the workshop of the carpenter who couldn’t even protect it himself, as he was protecting the country by going in for his reserve duty.
I also couldn’t stay at the scene this morning just when the fires started and the police moved in, tractors at the ready behind them climbing the hillside from the valley below. I had to do my own service, and go to class to be faced by students who informed me that they could see the smoke from our classroom window, and to ask me to explain. I did not have any answers; I could not pass their test. But I did tell them that already, there is talk of saving the other homes, or at least some of them so far. I told them that they could use their own voices; one voice may blow away like smoke on the wind, but a great many makes a sound like we heard today, sirens, whistles, protest songs and tears. Keep trying, I told them, don’t give up. It isn’t over until it’s over, I thought, even though I knew we had lost part of the fight today.
Despite feeling heavy-hearted, I took my own advice, and this afternoon managed to hang the Stop the Destruction posters in Efrat. They were hung up previously, but then taken down; even for something as important, and clearly timely, as they were, these things had to go through the proper channels to get approval. After that, I went back to Netiv Avot with trepidation to see the destruction for myself, to be yet another witness to the state’s inability to overturn sentences that are inherently an injustice as well as a double standard. While there tonight, I heard someone explain the situation to obviously a newcomer. He said that what the people should do is to sell their homes to terrorists, for as we have seen, the court is less likely to destroy a terrorist’s house than someone who built in good faith, told they could live there, who put their savings into buying a plot of land that they thought was legal to build upon, unwittingly buying a place that was only okay as long as certain people didn’t say hey, let’s be fair, it might belong to someone else, and we’ll keep looking and destroy your homes in the meantime even if we have no proof and the land will go ‘back’ to no one. Also, instead of being able to give remuneration for the land, both in money and in more land elsewhere, the owners are told no, destroy it, for nothing, even if (like the carpenter who now has no business) you remove that small amount of your home or business that is possibly questionable.
So I went back to the hilltop, and yes, I saw the destruction; I am witness. But I also saw something amazing. I saw adults and teens, and even small children, cleaning up the mess.
Yes, they are still wearing the blue sweatshirts which read ‘Second Class Citizens,’ but they were there, as they have been in the past few weeks, to give all they could and do all they can. There was also a father of two small children, telling them where to put the slates of the former building; the little ones happily helping. There were older teens and adults dragging the big pieces that they could, and also a few directing—that piece is salvageable, put it over there, that wood is not, put it on the bonfire. Because the fire I saw burning from Efrat was not the tires left from the protest, but what was left of the structure. And the people I saw were not so broken as I felt when I saw a video of the destruction, and when I saw that a policeman was taking down the flag itself, but they were ready to turn this around, to clean up, and to rebuild. I stayed into the dark as the tractor came back, this time to help clearing a new spot of land.
This land is absolutely and unquestionably on the map of state land, and these amazing, inspiring people, were not just cleaning up what was left of the owner’s means to make a living; they are planning to start (and may even now be) rebuilding his whole workshop.
I know that there are people in this story whom I would never want to meet, because I don’t know if I have enough self-control to do what was advised about the protest, like not cursing, but there are people here who I am honored to call neighbors, whose ability to get up out of the dust and keep going just puts my heart back in its place and reminds me again, it’s not over. We have our voices. We have our hands. We have our land. We can take all these blessings and use them for good. Let us remember that it’s still not too late.