Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Rubble

Our friend, Jean Riesman is back from her 2nd summer working in Israel with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition (ICAHD).  The following is her account of the experience.

On Rubble

July 31, 2012

Rubble has become such a common feature of the West Bank landscape that it may seem almost geological. But it is not the output of a natural process over geologic time; it has an unnatural history. The shattered concrete, twisted rebar, mangled utility lines and shredded water tanks wherever the Israeli military has demolished a house are the wretched artifacts of human geography, the industrial waste of the occupation. Last year set new records for rubble production, with over 600 Palestinian structures razed and more than 1000 people displaced between the Green Line and the Jordan River, and 2012 is on track to exceed those numbers. If there is an analogy in nature, demolition orders are the state flower of the stateless, and the Israel's bulldozers are the lawnmowers. Rubble is what's left after the bulldozers are gone.

Some rubble doesn't stay rubble. As a serial act of resistance against the Israeli occupation, the Israeli Committee AgainstHousing Demolition (ICAHD) has rebuilt almost 200 homes in the West Bank since 1997. Every summer, ICAHD recruits international volunteers to work with a Palestinian construction crew on the original site and raise a new house from scratch in two weeks. Last July, I helped rebuild a home bulldozed in 2005, whose former residents – by 2011, including 10 children – since had been living under a tree and then in a neighbor's basement. While we were on the job, we stayed nearby at Beit Arabiya, or the House of Arabiya, now ICAHD's "peace center" (and temporary lodgings for the summer volunteers) but originally the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh and their children. They had survived four previous demolitions and four previous reconstructions.

Six months later, both buildings – the one that we rebuilt and the one where we slept – again were added to Palestine's gross domestic product of rubble.

Uma Omar
Rubble is not merely the residual byproduct of Israeli policy but its objective: systematic Palestinian displacement through ruthless physical destruction and psychological intimidation. That the two structures were targeted together on a cold, wet January night was no coincidence. They jointly stood as acts of civil disobedience against a regime that methodically manufactures rubble. More than the landscape is scarred. When Arabiya's house was demolished for the first time, she did not speak for a month, and still struggles for her equanimity; her youngest son ran into the desert, found later that night asleep under a rock but never to recover fully. Like many others, the family whose home we rebuilt last summer was reluctant to build again and run the risk of a yet another demolition. So ICAHD, its Palestinian construction crew, and its international volunteers returned to the task of reclaiming Beit Arabiya for the fifth time since its foundation first was laid in 1994.

Riyad At Work
Rubble at close range is discrete, local, utilitarian, intimate. Beit Arabiya had red desert rock and pale delicately-veined cut marble, the gray matter of crumbled cement and crushed concrete blocks, hunks of rebar and rusted networks of chain-link fence, fragments of floor tile and remnants of PVC pipe, laminated wooden drawers gone trapezoidal and shards of a lavender plastic laundry basket, sparkling broken glass and a kid's red-streaked marble, countless plastic soda bottles and flapping plastic bags. We were instructed to set aside the clean rock, marble, and tile (no clusters of cement still attached) for Riyad, the Palestinian mason. The rest we gathered by hand or hoe, often passed in buckets in a human chain to the pile downhill growing by the ton. It was heavy, but it was not passive. Rubble made me its apprentice, demanding that I learn how to assess its density and whether I could carry it alone, how to walk on rubble carrying rubble without losing my center of gravity, how to dump rubble without the wind slapping the lighter bits of trash back in my face. Rubble worked me hard, and after a few days I could dump a bucket high rather than low, even climb on the pile and toss my debris a little higher, overhand.

This rubble's story was not over. With the rock we retrieved, Riyad crafted retaining walls, some in double rows for new rose bushes, and low rings around replanted pomegranate trees. With rescued marble and tile he laid out walkways and stairways, level on the level. He turned marble slabs the long way for a kind of vertical paneling on one of the building's outside walls. A genius of geometry, he built deliberately, each element considered in its essential dimensions, assembled into a thing of cumulative beauty. The stones that the bulldozer rejected, in the rubble of Beit Arabiya, were sculpted into the rising home.

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