A walk with men from ruins

STORY – FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE

On one particular time I was visiting a historical site in Sebastia, just outside Nablus in the West Bank. A man approached us with a warm and open heart, offering to take us on a journey through life amongst the ruins. He treated us like family before he even knew us, and because of this we felt like family very early on. His trust and compassion seemed to come from a sense of collective purpose and direction, which made me feel connected and included. All this from a man living through what I can only describe as a challenging environment for himself, his family and his community.

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Books will detail remains of a thriving empire thousands of years ago, but history was being created here every day. Where rich Romans sat in lavish palaces and amphitheaters, now stands the giant red, green, white and black symbol of resistance guarding over valleys, fields, villages and cities throughout the West Bank. Its symbolic importance reaffirmed by its methodical deconstruction by those against its reasons for standing.

Wit, and a sense of humour
Bonding over food cooked in the ground
Livelihood made in ways the West judge as wrongful
Family raised, changes seen
Dreams
Disadvantaged, but strong and resilient
Community

Night after night young heavily armed Israeli soldiers enter the ruins to topple it, whilst local villagers re-enter night after night to raise it. They are careful to burn tyres as a smokescreen to protect against Israeli bullets from a nearby settlement. Ancient stones from the historical site are laid across the road to slow armed vehicles that will come up the hill.

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Earth and jeeps, Sebastia, 2016. Elkew

I felt this place to be one of change, a living, breathing entity for the local people. It had an urgent meaning far outweighing any defined by history. It had a powerful story in the present.

Our friend points to where farmers will experience rocks being thrown at them from Israeli settlers on nearby occupied hills. Settlers also move into the valleys to cut the olive trees.

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Settlement, Sebastia, 2016. Danielle 

“Those trees were here long before us. They gave us life. I understand them stealing the fruit, but why kill the trees.”

He recounts his experience living through the second Intifada, and how he sheltered inside a large hollow olive tree to escape Israeli forces. “Each tree belonged to a different political group and jumping in the wrong tree could be worse than being caught. This was mine. I call it my Intifada Tree.”

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The Intifada tree, Sebastia, 2016. Elkew

After walking, we had a rest in plastic chairs where a local restaurant patio once looked out over the valley. They provided a temporary solution for rebuilding a restaurant the Israeli army destroyed a month ago. Local men took the opportunity to share their worries, explaining how they struggled to regain a sense of safety and security while attacks like this were happening. A pain less visible began to surface.

Sunset brought local men hovering around and looking edgy, anticipating moving into the ruins for a different reason. They explore the old structures in hope of claiming ancient pottery and jewellery.

One man shares a rumour of a big find, while handing us 3000 year old Greek coins. These artefacts were granting power to people in a time limited jobs. “We don’t need money, we need cows. Cows provide long term jobs for everyone in our village. We can do it ourselves, we just need the cows.”

Our friend offered to drive us back to Nablus, showing us an ancient Ottoman train line that once carried pilgrims to the holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. We were forced to follow along the concrete wall of the settlement running parallel to the main road, but as our friend began sharing the successes of his children and their hopes for the future the wall began to fade.

How can I feel connected to all people back home?  How can I assume the best of everyone? How can I see all people as family? These are questions I was left with, and for this new perspective I thank our friend and guide in Sebastia.

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