Through the cracks: Solidarity in Ramleh / Daniel Argo

"We have been deprive of the right for housing - We want to live in dignity", Solidarity in Ramleh, April 2011

The moring of evection’s day

Front yard. A strawberry tree. In its shade, chairs and sofas. Chicken run around, between the seated people. The garden is surrounded by a few shacks – a patch work of tin sheets and pieces that were probably randomly lying around before accepting their new role as the walls of someone’s house. Cloth lines that run across the length and breadth of the yard and the kids run between them, bumping into the women who sweep away the dust that piled over night, the cigarette buds.   

These daily chores are mechanically done, like they are every morning but it’s the silent body language that spells out the tension. Every sound coming from outside catches their attention and sends visible shivers down everybody’s spine. The bodies are clenched and stiff. So are the short conversations. Once the chores are done, each one to its own, at its own front door.  

The family has been living on this piece of land for decades. When they arrived it was a farming land that belonged to Ramleh of before 1948. They paid rent to Amidar – The Israeli state-owned housing company. But the modern Ramleh, part of the ever-growing real estate monster, surrounded the shacks until one sunny day someone in Amidar figured out that a shiny sky scraper, like the many that had sprouted around, might amount to a bigger lump than the one scrimped and scraped by the shacks residences.

And the evacuation notice came though the mail.  

The feeling here is the feeling of before calamity or natural disaster. A colossal force, faceless and unreachable is about to set its claws. Even if its representations on earth come in the form of police officers and Amidar’s engineers and inspectors, the force itself is invisible. Someone hit the button and unleashed the machine. The possibility of stopping the machine from here, within the shacks, seems like a bit of science fiction.  

At times it seems as though all hope is gone. For the past two days, the bags have been standing here packed while the rest of the belongings have surrendered into cardboard boxes. And now, a mere hour away from count zero all that’s left to do is wait. And alone, in the middle of the now empty living room that’s exactly what the mother does. Quietly.   

Now the activists arrive, from Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Ramleh and Lud – Arabs and Jews. Some know each other from other struggles, others meet for the first time. Rachel, among all, stands out from the crowd. An Amidar resident from a near by city, Rachel has been a victim of two evacuation attempts. Her expression spells out ‘I know what it’s like’ and while the rest of the activists stand around sombrely and awkwardly, she marches straight into the house and, without saying a word, sits down by the mother. The message is simple: you’re not alone. You are surrounded by friends and, together, we can try.

    

Midday

Police detectives start to show up wearing civilians’ clothes. They creep up from the alleyways, walk around the house, but their guns are noticeable. The kids spot them first. Now the police head of the Regional Arabs Division arrives and walks into the yard. This uninvited guest always shows up where people gather. He always walks to the men, only the men and always to the elder one. A hand on their shoulder, takes them aside for a short, quiet conversation. At times with a hint of a threat, at others, more than just a hint, sometimes he makes a promise, other times he keeps his promise but always, always, plants fear, doubt and feeling of helplessness in people’s hearts.  

A group of kids gather around him. Now the cameras join. That’s too much for him and he retracts for a secret consultation with his pack of officers. An Amidar’s contractor arrives, a chubby Russian fellow. For him, it’s just another day at work and his job is simple – he is there to board up the windows after the evacuation. In Russia, he was an engineer. These days, the only calculation he gets to do is how many bricks it takes to block a window. Only the bustle around him unnerves him. He is used to come once it’s all over and here, there are people, inside the house, behind the windows. It’s not his time yet. He leaves.  

Meanwhile, more activists gather in the small yard. Each of them has their own story, own battle. The people of Dahamash have been fighting for their unrecognised village for years, the youngsters of Hutawa – the daring youth group of Lud & Ramleh that has been leading a young revolution in the region in the past year, neighbourhoods’ activists, the Abu-Eid family who’s seven houses have been demolished nearly six month ago and that have been demonstrating weekly ever since, anti evacuation activists from the southern cities of Be’er sheva and Kiryat Gat, and the brave Sha’aban family that has only recently been released from a lengthy house arrest following a false complaint by the police and more and more people.  

The kids decide to draw banners and that simple transition from passive observation to action is refreshing. Suddenly all are busy: one designs, the other hangs, another photographs while others work on new slogans.  

The police have withdrawn and are now stood behind the fence. They look through, count the people and then suddenly turn around and leave.  

It’s 4pm and for the first time in that long day hope is back. To begin with, it’s a cautious hope, then relief and then the happiness. The yard is filled with people hugging, crying with joy.

The evening of evacuation  

A long table is set all across the yard, dozens of chairs huddled around it. The family members are lining up plates and pots full of food and everybody sits down to eat together. Night is setting over the yard but it’s not the change of light that makes it so different than in the morning. It’s the atmosphere. Instead of tensed silences, the conversation around the table is now vivid and cheerful. The weight of fear, loss and despair had lifted.

 

And suddenly it’s clear that something special happened here today. The picture is becoming clearer. Ten months ago we were worried about a demonstration of more than ten people but along the way we met more and more brave people that walked head on against that machine. All the despair and helplessness dissolve as we gather together.  

But more over, the true solidarity between people:  Arabs and Jews, activists and evacuees alike. This is what made the day so powerful. This is what gave the family the courage to do the unthinkable – to fight back. It was satisfying and so is the feeling that the here in “Solidarity Movement” we may have something to do with the growing bond between Lud and Ramleh. 

The political reality had changed dramatically in Lud and Ramleh in the last year only – as it did it East Jerusalem. If we carry on doing, carry on insisting, fighting and building what we’ve worked so hard to build in the last year and a half, we can make a difference – not just in Jerusalem, Lud or Ramleh but throughout the country. 

The day after  

It’s morning. I pick up the phone, lighting up that morning cigarette. “Say, did it really happen?” we did it.

Solidarty Against house evactuation, Ramleh, 7th of April, 2011. Photo by: Oren Ziv, Activstills



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