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In the Shadow of the Wall

by MATS SVENSSON

Today’s wall is longer, higher and it does not stop terrorist activities inside the West Bank. Houses are demolished, land is destroyed and people are dying.

It is night. He is dark and it is dark. The fear comes out of his eyes. He is being chased by dogs and behind the dogs are some jeeps and the men are shouting to the dog drivers to accelerate, it is going too slowly.

Yes, that is how I remember the beginning of the movie, the movie I actually did not want to see, and that I still wish I had not seen. The movie ”Mississippi Burning” remained within me and hit me in a way that I would have preferred to avoid.

It is the movie I once again began to think about when I read about one of the many terrorist attacks.

It was Sabbath, an ordinary Saturday in October 2008. A young man is out tending his animals. An ordinary event in Palestine. This was done during the time the village was occupied by the Romans and it is done today when the village is occupied by Israel. To get some peace of mind, I went down to Via Dolorosa to look at the old photographs that the Swedish photographer took in the late 1800s.

On Via Dolorosa there is a photographic studio, a shop that sells these old unique photographs. I compared the pictures with my own. The same rolling countryside, the same calm. The sheep are slowly grazing on the hillsides and in their vicinity is the shepherd. He has always been there. Close, protective and watchful.

And then I see within myself the next picture. The one that has not yet been published. The one that probably never will be published. It will never hang in the studio on Via Dolorosa since the picture was never taken. But the film ”Mississippi Burning” gives me lots of pictures. One just has to use ”copy”. A young man dies when a granade explodes. The sheep scatter and the shepherd is gone. The evening falls in the village. In the afternoon, a mother had prepared food to break the fast. Soon the family will gather for prayer and celebration. But a young man will be missing, a young man who has exploded.

What has happened? How did the granade end up there? How did a young unprotected man get a hold of this deadly weapon? Who talks about it, who follows up on it and who is silent.

It is not long before I read about the next event. I sit at my computer and constantly I hear beeps. I press ”enter” and see event after event. Reports from BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Svenska Dagbladet, Haaretz, B’Tselem… Everyone knows everything. I knew it before but it is perhaps only now that I really understand that everyone actually knows everything. Anyone who wants to know only needs to go online. This means that the government of South Africa knows everything, the State Department knows everything and the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs knows everything.

That time it was farm land burning. Farmers had once again just like previous years tried to grow wheat and barley. Around the village they had tried to cultivate the land that they owned, the land to which they were entitled. This had been done in the 1900s, in the 1800s, in the 1700s and even when the Romans went around rattling their weapons.

When I some time ago visited a place near the village I was struck by the fact that one basically used the same agricultural practices as in the Roman times.

Although slightly better tools, but still very simple and ancient techniques. I remember asking why, if there were no better technology available, I was told that they could not afford it, that the land and the tools would probably be destroyed or burned.

And that is precisely what I read about thanks to the Internet. I could no longer disregard it. I could have decided not to go and see the movie long time ago. When it comes to Internet and media it is not as easy. No one with knowledge about the Middle East and with an interest in diplomacy, international affairs, and above all human rights can stand on the side as an onlooker.

Together with the Foreign Minister and all other diplomats I read that attacks by terrorists over the past eight years have become increasingly common, and that during the Arabic spring has became more violent. People who tried to protect their assets have been killed and the land and houses destroyed.

Imagine, all this knowledge. Knowledge that is only a click away.

And just think, think about all this silence while the West Bank is burning.

Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine.  He can be reached at isbjorn2001@hotmail.com.   

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