Hebron Ridiculous (Neighbors + Soldiers = 1 State Social Contract)


This story made the rounds last week.You can watch both video here.

Scene 1: A settler in Hebron, of course he’s religious, gets caught in barbed wire as he tries to climb up to remove a Palestinian flag from the rooftop of his neighbor (yes, let’s call them that: “neighbors” because that’s what they are). You can see it on video. The Palestinian homeowner is basically asking what the settler thought he was doing. All the settler can do is mumble that “this is his country,” or something like that. The Palestinian homeowner’s Hebrew is pretty good. The settler’s Hebrew is awful.

Scene 2: Three young soldiers, armed, confront the Palestinian homeowner on his roof. There’s a video of this scene as well. They order him to take down the flag. The homeowner refuses. The soldiers insist. No guns are actually pointed. The homeowner continues to refuse. When the soldiers threaten to arrest him, the homeowner insists on seeing an order, which he knows the soldiers don’t have. He refuses to go. The soldiers understand that whole episode is being videotaped. One of them mutters, “Totally fucked up” (dafuk l’gamrei). They soldiers leave.

Benign, not benign, these kinds of encounter are interesting. From the look of it, the entire encounter is more ridiculous than malign. The soldiers are more like bumbling idiots than Nazi stormtroopers. They don’t point their weapons. They don’t beat up the householder. Their argument with him appears more intimate and familiar than actually threatening. As for the settler, his appearance is unbelievably cretinous. On both sides, the tone of voice is subdued and rational. With the soldier, the argument shifts from Hebrew to English to Hebrew. The homeowner’s assertions stand.

Thinking about it some more, what makes me wonder is if this is how a 1 state solution actually begins to happen from the ground up, the amalgamation of one society (Jewish-Arab, Arab-Jewish) out of two separate societies (Arab and Jewish, Jewish and Arab). In this episode, no political principles or ideological claims are staked, apart from the settler’s claim to ownership to the land that he himself undermines in his attempt to assert it. What strikes me watching the video is the very intimacy and familiarity of the encounter. Perhaps it’s the staging of the encounter in front of a video camera that blunts what might have been a more violent episode. Instead, drawn out is the on the ground familiarity with each other of the parties representing two sides of the conflict. Maybe this is how societies meld together as new social contracts are formed out of conditions marked by territorial realignments, violence and inequality, and the strange and mediated interpersonal cum social contacts that they make possible.

In the epilogue to the story, as reported in Haaretz, more soldiers, including senior officers returned to the scene and took the Palestinian flag down. But apparently, it was on condition that the army release a neighborhood teenager who had been arrested for stone throwing. Again, in this story, deals get cut between the occupier and occupied in the process of social contract formation. In my book, the hero of the story is the Palestinian homeowner who stood his ground with calm and dignity. Its catalyst is the settler, caught in his own rhetorical design. I’m glad no one got killed.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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