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Recognizing Reality


Or: The Colonel and the Shepherd, Part II

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Shepherd and his son are lying dead on the ground. The Colonel and his lieutenants retreat uphill, while some of their soldiers are guarding the dead bodies. The sheep and goats have run away, and so has the yellow dog. They run down to the valley below, where there is a small Arab village. The people at the village, men women and children, have heard the shots ringing. And now, when they see the dog leading the sheep and goats back home running wildly and barking—but not the Shepherd and his son—they get very alarmed.

At the same time, up on the hill, there are a couple of developments taking place as well. First, under the command and supervision of the Colonel, a big bulldozer is now clearing some land and rocks, making the ground flat. Behind him, a convoy of temporary shacks and trailers, loaded on big tracks, are ready to be unloaded. Second, while this is happening, an army ambulance has arrived too, and preparation are being made to take the dead bodies away for a death-incident inquiry.

But just as the soldiers are about to lift the bodies off the ground and carry them to the ambulance, waiting on the dirt road uphill, a barrage of small stones begins to fall on them; it’s as if the skies suddenly open, raining hard on them. The soldiers drop the bodies to the ground and run away, but then, upon command from the Colonel, they halt, turn back and raise their rifles, aiming them at the large crowd of villagers—all ages and genders, the yellow dog leading the way—who stop near the dead bodies. The women are wailing, with one of them lying on the ground crying over the dead. The children are yelling too, as they pick up more stones from the ground. The men stay erect, holding wooden sticks in their hands.

The Colonel orders his troops to hold fire, and together with his lieutenants he walks downhill to face the angry mob. He is well protected by his soldiers, with weapons—all sizes and shapes—drawn. The villagers hold their fire too, but with sticks and stones at the ready. The dog barks at the Colonel, but he nonetheless speaks up, telling the villagers, in Hebrew, that as result of the ‘incident’ the dead bodies will be taken away for an autopsy and inquiry. After that, they can come and claims them at the great city of Jerusalem, or he can send the bodies back to their village as a goodwill gesture, if that’s their wish.

An elderly man, dressed like the dead Shepherd in Biblical attire, comes forward now, leaning heavily on a wooden stick. He tells the Colonel, in Hebrew, that there is no need for an inquiry, since this was clearly a ‘coldblooded murder’. He demands to know who’s responsible for that. The Colonel says that he’s responsible, but that the Shepherd had attacked him first. Big uproar ensues, but the soldiers with their guns drawn hold the crowd at bay. We don’t believe you, says the old man, as we know the Shepherd to be a simple, nonviolence, peaceful man all his life, who never hurt anybody. So what really happened here?

The Colonel, keeping his calm, explains that here on this hill a new settlement is going to be built soon. The whole of this hill and its surroundings—the Colonel makes a sweeping move with his hand—is being confiscated for that purpose. There will be a big fence here soon, maybe even a tall concrete wall. They will have to uproot also, for that reason, the olive grove over there, to make way for the new asphalt road. The villagers better stay in the valley, and nobody will hurt them as long as they keep away from this hill and the new settlement.

The elderly villager manages somehow to quiet the angry cry-of-protest from his village folks, and tells the Colonel that this land belongs legally to the people of the village, for generation and generations, they cannot just take it from them illegally like that and build the settlement here. The Colonel smiles in response, and tells him that this is being done as result of a governmental decision. And that the newly arrived families, some of them Jews from America, will be sleeping on this hill tonight already, so you better get use to it. You better live in peace with your new neighbors, the Colonel suggests, or you’ll end up like the Shepherd.

We will never get used to it, the elderly man replies. And what kind of peace is that anyway, when you take everything away from us by force? Our kind of peace, says the Colonel. You see our capital Jerusalem up on the highest mountain? Yes, says the elderly villager, I see it. I have a family there, who has lived there for thousands of years. Well, says the Colonel, it’s a united city now under our rule. It belongs to us Jews from Biblical times. You and your people better recognize that reality.

But what’s kind of reality is that, says the elderly man in protest. Our reality, answers the Colonel, and our peace, too. As our Prime Minister just said, in regard to Jerusalem being united under our rule: “It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible, because recognizing reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace.”

That’s not peace, says the villager, that’s submission. That’s capitulation. That’s oppression. For us that’s peace, replies the Colonel. Take it or leave it. That’s what I told your dead Shepherd here too, but he didn’t listen to me.

Hearing that, the elderly villager just stares at the Colonel silently momentarily. He then, in an act of defiance, kneels down and picks the head of the dead Shepherd in his old, sun-beaten hands. Other villagers come to his help and lift the dead Shepherd’s body off the ground onto their shoulders. The kids do the same with the dead boy. The women begin to wail again.

The Colonel instructs his soldiers to hold fire. He lets the villagers carry their dead in peace down to the valley below. He turns and walks uphill with his lieutenants, where the bulldozer continues to clear and flatten this ancient holy land, overseen from the distance by the by the great city of Jerusalem.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


The Colonel and the Shepherd

This story is dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Dan Gorfain, who passed away recently after a valiant battle with cancer. It’s a story about territory; it’s a story about occupation; it’s a story about oppression; and ultimately, it’s a story about the battle for peace. You’ll be the judge, I’m just reporting the incident. Here goes:

The Colonel gets out of his armored vehicle, leaves it behind on the winding dirt road, and climbs the low hill ahead. Behind, a convoy of armored army vehicles, a whole battalion in fact, comes to an abrupt stop. Some of the Colonel lieutenants, and lower rank soldiers—their weapons at the ready, just in case—follow the Colonel up the hill. There, the Colonel—dressed neatly in his military fatigue—halts and looks around. Ahead of him, far in the distance, he sees the beautiful silvery lake glistening in the valley below. He puts his binoculars up to his eyes, which enable him to see the green river, and how it flows majestically into the lake. Behind it, he can see the high, red mountain range, from where the blazing sun is now appearing. The Colonel breathes deeply, his heart full of joy; he can never get enough of this glorious site.

But then, as if out of nowhere, a Shepherd comes into view from within the rolling hills below. He’s dressed as if he were an old Biblical figure, holding his rough wooden stick, leading his white sheep and black goats ahead. It’s not a large herd: fifty animals at the most. At the tail end of it walks a boy, twelve or maybe thirteen, playing a simple tune on his crude flute. He has a yellow, happy dog running by his side. Now, while the Colonel is mildly disturbed by this sight, and by this sudden interruption of his morning moment-of-peace, the Shepherd continues to walk slowly, letting his sheep and goats graze the meager grass and shrubs around, as if he has no worry in the world; as if he owns this place. So thinks the Colonel.

Thinking and seeing that, something possesses the Colonel suddenly. It’s as if a foreign element, a complete stranger—though in truth, the Shepherd and his ancestors have been living here for many, many years—has captured this land, this magnificent holy land, and has grabbed it away from him. The Colonel takes it personally, and with a swift urge for action—of teaching the Shepherd a lesson, maybe—he goes downhill towards the Shepherd and his herd. Behind him, his lieutenants and soldiers, with their guns of various kinds pointing forward, follow him closely. Farther behind them, the golden city perched on the highest hilltop, watches after them.

The Shepherd—how so?!—is not entirely surprised to find the Colonel in front of him, blocking his path. Even more alarming, with a smile on his face, he greets the Colonel humbly. The Colonel is surprised somewhat, since the Shepherd says “Shalom” in the language the Colonel speaks. Nonetheless, the Colonel demands to know what the Shepherd is doing here, disturbing the peace. The Shepherd answers quietly that he is doing no such thing, just leading his sheep and goats on their daily outing, as his family has been doing for a thousand years. And where do you live, demands the Colonel. Some distance away down the hill, says the Shepherd, but you cannot see it from here.

As they are talking, the sheep and goats disperse around, no longer in a close group, yet still grazing peacefully. The boy, meanwhile, has stopped playing the flute, as he becomes very worried about his father. His dog, irritated, begins to bark. He orders him to be quiet, as he sees with alarm how the Colonel commands his father to sit down on the ground, pointing his gun at him. When his father refuses, protesting he has work to do, and accidently raising his stick, one of the lieutenants punches him in the face. He falls to the ground; his stick taken away from him.

The boy cannot understand what has brought that about. Instinctively so—after all, he’s just a kid—he picks up a small stone from the ground and throws it at the colonel. The stone misses its target, but that doesn’t prevent some of the soldiers up the hill from shooting at the running boy and the barking dog. Indeed, his flute flies out of his hand when he is hit by one of these speeding bullets, and falls to the ground. The dog stops too, yelling first, then licking the boy’s face.

Seeing that, the Shepherd gives a cry of anguish, and tries to jump to his feet. That doesn’t work so well, as one of the lieutenants by the Colonel’s side knocks him down to the ground, using the butt of his rifle. Then, as the Shepherd is lying on the ground on his back, helpless and injured, the Colonel puts his heavy army boot on the Shepherd’s chest, pressing down on it. The Shepherd stops crying, as he could hardly breath now. He can no longer see his beloved sheep and goats, as his eyes are full of tears. They took off running anyways, the animals, upon hearing the shots ringing in the previously tranquil air. And of course, his son’s fate is piercing at his heart like a sharp dagger.

This has no effect on the Colonel, as his boot continues to press hard on the Shepherd’s chest, his gun pointing at his face. The Colonel instructs the Shepherd to never return with his herd to graze on these hills. Surprisingly, the Shepherd still has the audacity to demand an explanation. My soldiers are going to build an ‘outpost’ here soon, the Colonel tells him. What’s an ‘outpost,’ the Shepherd asks. A temporary habitat, the Colonel patiently explains, before a large settlement is to be built right here on this beautiful, strategic hill.

Why is it strategic, the Shepard has the ‘chutzpah’ to ask. Because you can see forever from here, comes the reply, and because this land is our ‘promised land.’ It’s belongs to ‘my’ people!

And who says this land belong to ‘your’ people, and not to my people, insists the Shepherd. I say so, says the Colonel. I’m the ‘decider’ here from now on, and my word is the law. If you want to live in peace, continues the Colonel, go gather your herd and never come near this hill again.

But what kind of peace is that, asks the frightened, terrorized Shepherd. My kind of peace, replies the Colonel. Take it or leave it.

I rather die, says the Shepherd.


* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue

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