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The Power of a Single Narrative

Today’s blog post was written by Ariana Solodar-Wincele, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rizhon LeZion.

Most of my blog posts have been about trips I’ve taken, friends I’ve met up with, reflections on aspects of Israeli culture. Even though I’ve participated in several trips with Yahel, I only wrote about one. I wrote about my trip to Ramallah and Deir Istiya (picking olives), but not about the Yahel trip to Arab villages in Israel, when we visited a mosque and a bilingual school, where we met with a women’s activist leader and visited an art gallery. I didn’t write about the Northern trip, when we toured Haifa, spent the night with a group of Druze teenagers and Shabbat at (the only) conservative/Masorti Kibbutz. And I didn’t write about our trip to the Kinneret, where we built rafts and went hiking.

After the most recent Yahel trip, I didn’t think I’d write a blog about it. But why? Why have I almost exclusively been blogging about what I do outside of the program? What does this narrative I am choosing to share say about me and my perspective?

On Wednesday, the first day of the Yahel Negev seminar, we visited Yeruham, a development town in southern Israel. The first person we spoke to, Rafi, told us how his brother, mother and himself arrived from Morocco to Yeruham, and how deceived, betrayed, and helpless they had felt being left in the middle of the desert, with no one to help them. Rafi is now almost 80, and enjoys life in Yeruham. His story jumped from feeling abandoned at age 17 to feeling pretty good about his surroundings and circumstances almost 60 years later.

Learning about Segev Shalom/Shaqib al-Salam

Following our conversation with Rafi, we spoke with Leah. Leah was incredulous at the narrative of victimhood Rafi had shared with us. She knows how Rafi worked to create change and develop Yeruham, and what an active role he played in making Yeruham the enjoyable places he believes it is today. As she spoke to us about personal agency, she reiterated over and over again how many narratives can come from a single situation. It wasn’t on accident that Rafi told our group of foreigners the story he did, he had a limited amount of time, and that is what he chose to share.

We spent the night that followed in a Beduin town, Segev Shalom/Shaqib al-Salam. We spent time with individuals from an intentional community that was formed by a group of single mothers. Their presence made the town into what it is today, bustling with numerous restaurants, cafes, schools, medical services, supermarkets and gas stations, whose services are used by all the surrounding unrecognized villages, in addition to the town itself.

The following day we visited two different unrecognized Bedouin villages. We looked at Wadi Na’am from above, noting how it abuts a regional power plant, but how the homes/buildings aren’t connected to it and don’t have power. Then we visited Al-Arakib, which has been demolished umpteen times. We spoke to members of the Arakib family, a Sheikh and his son, Aziz. They described how the Israeli government demolished their homes, killed their crops, and uprooted their trees. It was clear that only one family currently lives there, but it wasn’t clear from speaking to Aziz where he and his dad currently live. They showed us tax documentation from the Ottoman empire, which seemed like decent proof of entitlement to it. We walked around the olive trees that were planted by the JNF (Jewish National Fund) after their own (olive, orange, date, lemon) trees were uprooted.

That evening, we spoke to a worker, Yoav, from Hasayeret Hayarok, the Green Police, who are in charge of inspecting land, enforcing regulations, and are responsible for the demolition of villages, when that occurs. Yoav knew Aziz and his family well, and had a different story to tell. In order to claim land, one must have tax documentation of the land, not income tax from the land, which is what Aziz has. The family had left their land and leased it for many years. They own multiple homes and live in Rahat, the biggest Bedouin town in Israel. In the time since they’ve returned and attempted to live on the land–in the late-nineties, they’ve encountered these disputes. No Israeli is allowed to build a home where he wants, without proper permits, just as the Bedouins, who are Israeli and want to receive all the benefits of citizenship, cannot build their homes without the same regulations.

Institutional racism, ancestral memories and the dynamics of being a minority complicate this situation. It is incredibly clear how many different narratives there are to hear. Aziz and his family’s homes were destroyed. Their crops did die and their trees were uprooted. Rafi’s family was left in the middle of a desert, at night, with no one to help them. Listening to their stories is upsetting and distressing. But their stories alone do not tell the whole story. My blogs do not tell everything I do here. They are the narratives that are shared, and they are stories that matter, simply because someone elects to tell them that way, as opposed to any other way. But, it requires listening to many more sides to that same situation to understand the whole story.

The picture at the top is the entrance to Kibbutz Mashabe Sade, where we spent Shabbat. It is filled with random items that have been made into art. Every object served a purpose, fulfilled a need, had a story, and would have ended up in the trash had it not become art.

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