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Occupation

by Kim Farleigh

Artwork, “Life Drawing 1” by Louise Francke


Between Ibrahim Qutub’s olive, almond and fig trees, whitish, fist-sized rocks covered his land’s dark, red-orange-brown soil, his sheep, chewing white-straw stalks that rose between the rocks, producing a musical mastication that heightened the silence’s tranquillity.

The olive trees, of equal height, with their trunk pillars, formed an auditorium for those rhythmical sheep melodies that deepened the peace by exaggerating the quietude.

The photographic-positive impression that white against dark red-orange-brown creates increased when the sunlit straw glowed like filaments, the sheep’s golden eyes also shining iridescently, like the straw, the two shining as if made to attract each other, enhancing the grove’s natural harmony.

The olive-tree branches contained buds that grew to sustain life. The branches’ shining leaves, with their horizontal, dark-replica shadows, suggested symmetrical balance, no need for alterations. Blue, in the boughs’ gaps, resembled sapphire cut smooth by a genius of sculpture and placed over the world, a final touch to a masterful creation of peace.

Standing on a ladder, Ibrahim shook an almond-tree branch, almonds falling upon a green tarpaulin sheet that Ibrahim had placed under the tree to catch the falling nuts. Afterwards, he rolled up the tarpaulin sheet, placing it in a saddle bag that was hanging over his donkey’s back.

He dug a hole that he placed an olive-tree sapling into, stamping the ground around where the sapling now stood, its leaves blissfully jewelled, as if its planting had given it the joy of life. It faced a battleship-grey, concrete lookout tower that stood on the hill beside a new settlement. A chalk road, running into that settlement, resembled bone inserted artificially into a fertile creature.

Fizzing stirred, contracted and erupted in his temples when military vehicles started coming down the chalk road. Sunlight flashed across an approaching windscreen like gunfire from a muzzle, pronged brilliance gleaming wildly as if ferocious thoughts, metamorphosed into light, were ripping through the windscreens to supernova with blinding savagery. Dust, flying up from the vehicles’ tyres, became illuminated clouds of iridescent dirt, the steel beasts inside those gilt mists driving those blinding sparkles on.

Ibrahim sense of his identity disappeared before the approaching steel that exuded the primeval amorality of arachnids, Ibrahim’s sheep chewing, consumption their only concern, their woolly bodies ringed by light.

The vehicles parked beside the hamlet where Ibrahim left his sheep every night. A stone wall of cellular granite, the granite plucked from the land itself, surrounded the hamlet. Following the land’s contours, that wall’s creators respected the world’s shapes. The hamlet, also made from the land’s granite, resembled a natural magmatic uprising of the earth that man had decorated with green shutters.

The settlement’s Roman-grid regularity opposed the land’s contours.

Against the granite constructions’ delicate strength, the parked, green military vehicles’ cold, reptilian indifference reminded Ibrahim of carnivorous spiders waiting to pounce. Amid the bestial creatures was a bulldozer with two-metre-high tyres. Its driver, invisible behind bullet-proof glass, could destroy with his anonymity guaranteed.

Pain pierced Ibrahim’s intestines. His heart pounded. His hands shook. The feeling that rights were only theoretical abstractions struck like a chilly wind; the stability that makes us feel that justice prevails disappeared before that steel, whose round, glass eyes glared with unpredictable coldness in the heat.

One of the vehicles’ rear doors opened with a metallic sweraaack. Ibrahim felt surprised: an educated-looking person, the unit’s captain, emerged from that bitter thing, difficult to believe that anyone with feelings could have stepped out of that metal hide from which gun barrels were protruding through holes ringed with rubber.

The captain said: “Sorry. We have to do it.”

“Why?” Ibrahim asked. “I don’t disturb anyone.”

The captain’s black-framed glasses matched his curly, black hair that sat under a helmet whose curving magnitude made his neck look thin. His brown eyes’ sensitivity belied the menace created by the steel he represented.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s because of the settlement.”

“But, there’s nothing around here. It’s ridiculous.”

“I agree, but….”

“Disobey orders!”

“I did yesterday; but the settlers know my commanding officer.”

“Kneee-ohhhh!”

Ibrahim’s epicentre eyes got engulfed by shock-wave lines.

“I’ve put all my money into this land,” he yelled. “Everything! Thirty years of work!”

The captain studied the ground. His sense of justice was being challenged by idiotic circumstances.

“Sorry,” he said. “Really, I am. You can’t know how sorry I feel.”

“You hate these people, too,” Ibrahim said. “Everyone hates them. They’re insane!”

The captain avoided commenting on such matters. When he turned around, Ibrahim grabbed him by an arm, saying: “I planted the fig trees a year ago. They’ve only just started producing fruit-just last week—”

The captain, pulling his arm away, headed towards the vehicles. It was like finishing a relationship with someone whose feelings you don’t want to hurt, but much worse because this was a life’s destruction, no scope for emotional regeneration and the captain knew it.

The sheep continued chewing, consumption their religion. They reminded Ibrahim of dumb Israelis.

Two soldiers passed the captain to stop Ibrahim from approaching the vehicles. They pointed their guns at the old farmer who screamed: “Knee-ohhhh! It’s ridiculous! You know it is! Knee-ohhhhh!”

Ibrahim’s voice ricocheted through the valley that the new settlement looked over from the top of the white-chalk road that shone like artificial bone inlaid into an old creature that time had moulded into lovely shapes, shapes now being disturbed by a fantastic perception of history that the settlers had brought with them from elsewhere. Upon that land, the stone walls, following the land’s contours, like extensions of the land itself, were being rearranged by a dream of possession so surreal that battleship-grey observation towers, bulldozers and bullets had to be used to sustain that dream’s injustices-a dream of eternal recompense built on murder and robbery. And the captain detested it. He had enlisted to defend his country. But where were his country’s borders? How can you defend a country if you don’t even know where it is? What was he really defending? An entity that just expanded and expanded thoughtlessly against every precept of justice?

“Jesus!” he muttered, as the bulldozer revved its engines and entered the grove.

“Just because of those crazy freaks up there,” he added. “Because of them!”

The two young soldiers he said this to looked as sheepish as the sheep. They just wanted this day finished, to go home and to consume-just like the sheep. This wasn’t their problem, they thought.

“I didn’t enlist for this,” the captain said, as the bulldozer felled an olive tree, destroying a past and a future simultaneously, scattering the sheep, Ibrahim falling to his knees and screaming: “Knee-ohhhh!”

His voice cut into the captain’s temples, like a knife.

“This is happening,” the captain said, “for people who weren’t even born in this country. Incredible.”

The bulldozer reversed and shunted forward and charged, tree roots, like broken wires, now scattered over the grove, the white stones mixed up with the red-brown soil, like bone mixed with blood.

Ibrahim’s mouth froze into a rectangular grimace. Shock-wave dimples expanded out from his frozen lips. An unearthly howling, like a bird being tormented by a cat, sang out through the valley from that rectangular opening, the sheep staring confused, their gentle souls shocked by that monster that roared and revved and reversed and advanced, crushing all before it, destroying beauty, roaring like a self-imposed creator of the law, the captain saying: “That’s it. I’m out. No more.”

He had fought in Lebanon in a conflict that at first had made sense; now he understood why rockets had come over from Lebanon and Gaza. You didn’t have to be a genius to understand what occupation causes. But it was surprising just how stupid people were; and even more amazing was how cynical the manipulators of all this were as they made a fortune from selling stolen land while others suffered.

Ibrahim was now on his knees, his face in the land that had once been his love and his life. Tears, mixing with the soil on his face, left red-brown streaks upon shock-wave lines of despair. Sobbing out cries of disbelief, he clutched the precious soil in both hands, tightening his futile grip on what he had lost. The soil slipped out through his fists like reddish air. He now had no future, just a permanent hollowness of despair, all hope crushed by the Zionist mechanism that detested anything that detested its racist ideas, Ibrahim’s life’s potential destroyed by a mechanism that could convince itself of anything-absolutely anything-to sustain the dream of omniscient blessing.

Defending what? The captain thought: An entity that continually expands against common sense and justice? How can anyone, thinking reasonably, condone that?

The captain later heard his commanding officer say: “They’re now going to put the wall on the other side of the hamlet. We didn’t need to destroy the grove.”

The commander’s lips stretched. He couldn’t restrain his smile. Big, white teeth glowed in his face.

“I’m going to the press,” the captain said, “and I don’t care what happens.”

That wiped the smile off the commander’s face. One of the commander’s hobbies as a junior officer had been beating up Palestinians at checkpoints.

“A wonderful sport,” he had once said.

Ibrahim lay in the soil until sunset. His sobs and cries got absorbed into the world’s impartial beauty, the world carrying on oblivious, as it always did, the hamlet’s owner picking him up and saying: “Ibrahim, oh, Ibrahim….Oh, my God. What pigs! They have no soul!”

Ibrahim heard a voice and nothing else. The liberated wanderings of his consciousness had been violently halted. He gulped, tears mixing with the soil that had given him such hope and dignity.

“Thirty years of work,” he howled. “All my money—gone.”


Published inFictionChapel Hill