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Haj: Arrival in the South Hebron Hills

(Tariq Al-Hathaleen, February 11, 2022, 9:08pm, Courtesy of author)

I set out from Jerusalem for Umm Al Khair with my eight Hineinu comrades later than expected two Fridays ago. I rode shotgun. Along the way, I took photos through the windshield with the idea that I would create a montage for the Center for Jewish Nonviolence social media. The sky was infinity blue. Above us, a smattering of small, light gray clouds. On the horizon, below the late afternoon sun, sat large, dark rounded masses, edged in white. In the winter, in the northern hemisphere, the sun sits in the southern sky, so as we drove, I kept flipping the car visor down and to the side, down and to the side.

I had control of the Bluetooth and was playing songs from the “Intercontinental Love Affair” playlist that I made for my fianceé Clarissa before I left. As we crossed the Tunnels Checkpoint, “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man was on.

​​Can’t keep my hands to myself

Think I’ll dust ’em off, put ’em back up on the shelf

In case my little baby girl is in need

Am I coming out of left field?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now

I been feeling it since 1966, now

Might be over now, but I feel it still…(1)

It wasn’t until we passed through the checkpoint that I felt that we had actually entered the West Bank. In truth, we had crossed the invisible Green Line (aka the 1949 Armistice Line) several miles earlier, and from the viewpoint of international law, we had already been driving in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

When we arrived in Umm Al Khair, our Palestinian partner Awdah Al-Hathaleen greeted us right away with cups of extremely sugary black tea, as is the Bedouin custom. Ahlan wa sahlan. Welcome. As the sun set, Awdah toured us around the village of squat corrugated steel structures and tents made of breezeblocks and black tarpaulin. Warm, golden light washed over the land, from the mountains of Jordan in the east to the tan, pitched-roof facades of the Israeli settlement of Carmel perched on the hill just above Umm Al Khair. I zipped up my jacket.

As Awdah shared anecdotes about the struggles of the people of his village—about home demolitions in the middle of the night, chicken farms next door that emit a foul odor that envelopes the village for days on end—I was looking past him and across the valley to the bare orange and pink ridges of the Jordanian mountains. I’ve heard these tales too many times, and I’ve already cried too many times this week. When you are constantly reading about the Israeli occupation and meeting regularly with Palestinian activists, all of the stories start to mush together, like a soggy bowl of cereal. But aren’t I here precisely to listen to people like Awdah and absorb what he tells me, even if I want to turn away?

For dinner, the women of Umm Al Khair served us mansaf, the national dish of Jordan. It was a royal welcome. One can prepare mansaf with a couple different kinds of meat. Tonight, they used chicken along with some funky goat yogurt, both village products. Below the bed of rice sat the signature bread of the Bedouin, shrak, which is thin, elastic and really delightful for dipping in olive oil and za’atar.

After the meal, we transitioned to the communal tent and warmed ourselves by the firewood stove. A stovepipe extends from the firebox out the entrance of the tent, but with the firebox door open, some smoke gathered in the tent, and I worried, probably needlessly, about carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tariq Al-Hathaleen, Awdah’s cousin, slowly entered the tent. CJNV staffer Oriel Eisner stood and greeted him with a smile. Oriel remarked on the fact that Tariq’s hair and beard had grown, and I think that Tariq muttered something about needing to get it cut.

“How is Eid?” someone asked. “He is still sick,” Tariq replied.

Tariq sat down in a comfy study chair and Awdah handed him a cigarette. Tariq then began to speak about his uncle Suleiman, a local leader who died last month after being run over by a tow truck as Israeli forces confiscated unregistered Palestinian cars in Umm Al Khair. (I wrote about Suleiman and his killing in a previous blog post).(3)

I recorded the speech and am now transmitting it with permission.

~

Tariq Al-Hathaleen (February 11, 2022, 9:08pm)

(The following has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Tariq Al-Hathaleen’s eulogy for Haj Suleiman Al-Hathaleen

Friday, 2/11/22 9:08PM • 30:03

00:00

Suleiman was close to my heart. Honestly, we are in a situation, me and all of us here, of a big sadness, of sorrow at the loss of Uncle Suleiman. I’m not in a very good place. When my friends and family ask me how I feel, I tell them, “I’m blind. I can’t see life.” Suleiman was my eyes in life. Allah yerhamo—what we can say? yani. He is now in the other life, and inshallah he is at the top of the heavens. Inshallah.

I don’t know where to start. Are there questions that you want to ask me? I know that Awdah explained all of it. But if you are curious to know more, if you have questions for me, or an idea where I can start, please tell me. If you asked me what I would like to talk about, it would be Uncle Suleiman. But I don’t want to stick to this topic. You can tell me what you would like to know. And then we can start.

02:09

[Sally, 25, a Hineinu participant]

If you want to talk about him, I think you should talk about him.

02:12

[Tariq]

Wallah, I will be talking about Suleiman for the rest of my life and people will continue talking about him for three generations. He was a great person—a leader, actually, even though he didn’t like to be in the leadership. He always sat in the back. Subhanallah, he was humble. When he passed away, thousands of people came to honor him. But they didn’t come to give us their condolences. They came to congratulate us for Suleiman’s life’s work. It was something that we never saw and I’m sure that we’ll never see again; that is, unless we choose to be like Suleiman.

You know, he was the father to everyone he met. He dealt with the people in a way that nobody else ever did. He was too humble. I’ve heard and I read about people from everywhere. No one, no one, even came close to him. Honestly. And I’m not just saying so because he is my uncle.

For example, at a wedding, people usually sit in a tent, like we are doing now, and when folks enter, they shake hands with only the adults. They will not shake hands with the kids, only with the old people, and then they’ll find a place to sit. Suleiman refused to sit until he shook hands with everyone, including the children, whose hands he would kiss.

By his behavior, Suleiman was trying to tell us not to be fake in this life. Just live as you are.

Suleiman was a school. Maybe this description does right by him.

Suleiman never disrespected anyone. He never said to anyone, “Don’t come,” or, “You are not welcome.” He always welcomed everyone.

When Suleiman was mad with others, he could be very impassioned; but people understood that when he was mad, he was not really mad with them. He was mad at the situation. Sometimes he would go crazy in his words and actions. But he never lost his mercy.

Oh, his mercy! When he heard in the news about the people in Syria or Africa—about their lack of food and shelter—he would hardly sleep that night.

I was very close to Suleiman. Even his deep secrets in life—he gave them to me. I was really special to him. And he is honestly, yani… he was my dearest. He is my most beloved person in this life. I loved him more than my father.

Now my father—he was also a great person. He was the first teacher in the whole region of the Bedouins in South Hebron Hills. My father was a principal for a school that produced generations and generations of educated people in this area. He was a great man. But I loved Suleiman more than my father.

I lived with my uncle Suleiman for longer than I lived with my father. My father passed away in 2009. Suleiman, 2022. Suleiman was a very caring and loving person. He never made me sad about anything. We fought, sure, but as friends fight about things, with all of the love and respect between each other. Love is something that you don’t control. It’s in your heart. You do not control it. After my father died, we never felt his absence because Suleiman was still here. We became orphans after Suleiman died. I see in the eyes of the people of Umm Al Khair that we are all orphans now.

And that is another thing about Suleiman—Suleiman, the activist. Maybe some of you have heard about him before…

09:40

Yani, no one stuck to nonviolence to the extent that Suleiman did. Here is one short story that very few people have heard. Only I, and maybe one or two of his children, know this story. You will be the first people outside of the family to hear this story.

The occupation forces and the settlers—they are our enemies. No doubt about it. The latest settler raid occurred in Tuba, a village just south of us. You heard about it and, inshallah, you will get the opportunity to visit there. You will meet the children who walk through the settlement there with an army escort.

The settlers came to graze in agricultural land plowed by the [Palestinian] people. The settlers came to graze their sheep there. The people pushed them back, and the settlers immediately complained to the police and to the military. Then the settlers descended from Havat Maon with their guns, and they stormed into Tuba.

When the news hit Umm Al Khair, Suleiman and one of his children immediately drove to Tuba. As always, he tried to stand in the face of his enemies without any weapons in his hands. He never thought about bearing arms. He believed in resisting the occupation with nonviolence. It is the technique that makes the occupation very small in the eyes of the onlookers. He analyzed all of the mentalities around the world. He always told me, “If they hit me in front of cameras, this is a shame on them. I am an old man. This will cause them more trouble than if I killed one or two or three of them.” He’d tell us, “I don’t need you. Be away from me. I’m an old man. If they hit me, shame on them. Let them hit me. Be away from me.”

The police don’t like him. They know him and they don’t like him. All of the settlers across Palestine and Israel knew this man because of his steadfast resistance.

One day, after forcibly arresting him, the soldier put him in a military vehicle. He was nonviolent, so there was no real complaint against him. For that reason, they could not take him to the police station. So then what were they doing with him?

Sometimes the only way that the army could cool down a situation was just to take Suleiman away from the place. If they wanted to stop the fighting and the shouting, they would put him into a military vehicle and drive away.

Tell the world about Suleiman! Tell the world about Suleiman! The mercy of Suleiman, the personality that he had in this life! After detaining Suleiman, the driver of this military Jeep, a soldier, got sick. He got out of the Jeep and left Suleiman sitting there in the back still in handcuffs. Suleiman saw this soldier throwing up and got out of the Jeep himself and helped the soldier.

You will never find a person like this person in your whole life. If you find one, come and tell me. There are great people in this world. No doubt about it. But none like Suleiman.

After the Israeli commander arrived on the scene with the sick soldier, he drove Suleiman back home. I was here in Umm Al Khair when they arrived, and I took a video of the commander helping Suleiman get out of the vehicle. At that moment, the Israeli commander saw that this man was not his enemy. This is a person who was demanding his rights.

Suleiman didn’t tell this story to many people. I am a curious person and I’m always ready to learn, especially to learn from Suleiman about his approach to this life, so I’d come and sit with him. You just need to come with a question and he would tell you everything. You just need to be ready to listen. That’s the only way that I knew about this story.

14:37

This anecdote very clearly illustrates to you that this human being was simply a real human being. That’s it. He behaved as any other normal human being. You know, the people who occupy another people are the people who went out of their humanity. If you come back to your humanity, you will not hurt others. This is true for all human beings. We are the people. We are people in this world, meant to love, to care, to interact with one another. There is no need for any kind of violence.

[Asher, 61, a Hineinu participant]

Amen.

[A tall Palestinian man enters the tent and walks over to Tariq. Tariq stands and they greet each other in Arabic, kissing one another five times on the cheek.]

16:21

[Tariq]

That was my brother in law, Ahmad. Ahmad is Awdad’s cousin, a close cousin. We were in university together. We are brothers.

17:12

So that’s the story of Suleiman. Who will be the next Suleiman? I don’t know. I try every day to live like Suleiman. It’s impossible.

Ah—there was also Suleiman’s diet. Suleiman did not know about the veganism movement, but he chose not to eat meat. He mainly ate milk products. If you had seen him, you would notice that he had a very frail body.

18:36

Days would pass without him eating anything.

I’d like to tell you another story from the days just before “the accident.” Do you know about the [Palestinian] hunger strikers and prisoners? Suleiman was highly educated and he always followed the news by listening to broadcasts on a small radio that he owned. He understood Hebrew 100%. He listened to the news on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, and even sometimes to the BBC. One day, when he heard about a [Palestinian] hunger striker, he came to us while we were sitting, and he said, “Imagine that this person is your brother, your father, your son… You will eat? You will sleep normally at night? You will live your life normally?” I told him, no, I could not.

He often did not sleep very much. He would go to sleep at Isha, the last prayer of the day for us Muslims, and then during the day, when he became very tired, he would sleep for a few hours. He would wake up in the middle of the night when no one else was awake. Just him and Allah. And he would ask Allah for the hunger strikers’ freedom. And all of his prayers came true. The last one was Hisham Abu Hawwash. You all heard about him? Suleiman prayed for Hisham a million times. He asked Allah for Hisham’s freedom. And, in the end, Hisham went free.(5)

20:49

The night before Suleiman’s accident, he forced me and one of my friends to help him with a Facebook Live video on the page that we made for him. He didn’t know how to use technology, only his radio. He congratulated Hisham Abu Hawwash on his freedom. He said that we should all stand with the hunger strikers, prisoners held without charge, and all of the oppressed.

In his final days, Haj Suleiman knew that his death was not far away. He was almost 70 years old. He could feel the moment that he would go to Allah coming. He knew that it was very, very close. During each of the five daily prayers, he said to Allah, “Allah, if it pleases you, take me as a shahid [martyr] in defense of the future.” And Allah gave him his wish.

Suleiman always dreamt about blocking the highway and shutting down traffic in the face of the settlers in order to show them that we are here, that we exist here, that we have rights, that we have the right to live as any other normal humans. And you know what? In his funeral procession, thousands upon thousands of mourners shut down the highway in the face of the settlers and the Israeli police vehicles, from the hospital all the way to Umm Al Khair. His wish came true. All of his wishes and prayers came true.

Those are a few words about this very humble spirit. He was a loving, caring person, a great leader, a great practitioner of nonviolent resistance (for me, the greatest). People who never even met Suleiman, and only read about him later, cried at his passing.

24:50

Thank you.

26:13

[Me]

Can I ask you a question? In your eyes, what would justice for Suleiman’s death look like?

26:20

That the person, the criminal, who ran him over will get his punishment. This is the first thing. The second is for the occupation to end. It is only because of the occupation that this man died this way.

The same day that they killed Suleiman, the police said in their Telegram channel that it was “an accident.” It’s very clear—we have the video—that after the driver hit Suleiman, he fell under the truck, and everyone was shouting, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” You can see in the video that the driver slowed down a bit. He could have stopped at that moment, but he chose to continue. It is very clear in the video. But even if we show the Israeli authorities this evidence, they will not believe us. They will not charge the driver with anything.

In fact, two or three days after the accident, we went to the police station to file a complaint against the driver, and the police told us that the driver is considered part of the military force present that day, so we could not file a claim against him as a civilian truck driver. I know enough about the occupation that I was not surprised by this response.

28:44

I can imagine a day when a drunk settler, or even a sober settler, will bring a gun and kill me and all of my people. I can imagine this. And I expect that the authorities would not hold the settler accountable.

30:03

~

I woke up at 5am with a painfully full bladder. The call to prayer was ringing out from the mosque on the adjacent hilltop and up into the clear night sky. As I quietly exited the Umm Al Khair guesthouse, I gazed up at the stars and recognized Orion. On a walk in our neighborhood in Asheville, North Carolina a few weeks earlier, I had told Clarissa that if she felt lonely at night, she could look up in the sky and see Orion or the Big Dipper and know that I too would be able to see those same constellations when darkness descended on the Levant.

Walking to the bathroom, the visions of my previous dream state rushed back into view. A big, thick snake was shedding its brown-and-green splotchy skin. As I looked closer, I noticed that this first snake was being bit by another snake! A third black snake, with two blue stripes running down its back, slivered out from behind them and lifted itself above the pair and toward me, moving in that uncanny and seemingly unnatural way that snakes do. At that moment, my father, who was beside me, reached for the second snake to try to detach it from the first; and as he did, the third snake prepared to strike him. I warned him to look out, but it was too late. I lurched forward, and the snake bit me instead.

~

Three days later, Katie, Asher, and I were in the kitchen finishing breakfast and preparing to accompany Sagar, one of the Palestinian shepherds, when Awdah texted me: “Hey friend, don’t go with Sagar. An Israeli demolition convoy was spotted at Zeef, near Umm Al Khair.”

I called Oriel to share the intel. He said that he would call Eid Al-Hathaleen, Haj Suleiman’s son and a documenter of demolitions.

I’d barely hung up the phone when then there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and he was standing there, wearing a black surgical mask that accented the wrinkles on the corners of his eyes.

“Hello, I am Eid. We need to go. Who will drive?”(6)

A Fatah party poster commemorating the death of Haj Suleiman Al-Hathaleen in the home of B’Tselem researcher and CJNV partner Nassar Nawajah. From left to right: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Haj Suleiman, the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat

(This blog first appeared on my substack, Field Notes From Palestine)

About the Author
Zak Witus is a writer, whose work has appeared in The Forward, +972 Magazine, and Truthout. He is also community organizer with IfNotNow, a movement seeking to end Jewish-American support for Israeli apartheid. Zak earned a master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago (2020).
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