Sunday, March 21, 2010
Jeffrey Goldberg in Ketziot Camp
I am reading Jeffrey Goldberg's book "Prisioners" about his friendship with a Palestinian intellectual from the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza. Goldberg is one of the American Jews who came to Israel and found himself serving reserve duty in the Army. I served in an unit mostly composed by American and Russian immigrants about the same year, and we all ended spending one month periods in Ketziot. I was with five Americans in a faraway guardpost near the Egyptian border, near Azuz, and rarely visited the "michlaot" which were fenced in areas where the prisioners lived in tents. It was forbidden to talk to them and I never had the opportunity.
Goldberg is said to have ended in the military police, which think is a mistake, as I never met an American immigrant in that unit. The origin of the misunderstanding, I think, was the Keddumim Camp, a former Jordanian Army camp, which was turned into a conscripts training camp of the Military Police (For some reason they mixed immigrant conscripts with Israelis with police records). Later, Goldberg served as a guard at Ketziot, the vast, desolate prison camp that Israel set up in its southern desert to hold the Palestinian rebels of the first intifada, which broke out in 1987. All the guards were civilians doing their annual one-month reserve duty, nothing to do with military police.
Goldberg felt compelled to speak to the men he helped keep incarcerated. He hoped that by talking he might come to understand them and bring them to understand Israel. One prisoner in particular caught his attention: Rafiq Hijazi, a Palestine Liberation Organization leader, college math teacher and devout Muslim from the ugly Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Later Goldberg returned home and Hijazi also moved to the United States so they continued their conversation.
There are many misinterpretations in the book - Goldberg is an American who like most immigrants, did not really immersed himself in Israel (I started to swim in the Israeli mainstream only when left TAHAL and when my children went to school). For example he confiscates a stone from a prisioner. The context of this action is missing: the prisioners had a "postal service" with paper messages attached to small stones, which they threw from one "michla'a" to the other. This stones were regularly collected and given to the small intelligence unit in the camp.
My memories refer mostly to the Roman ruins in the desert area where we had our small "machsom" - check post. Once I had to guard the Red Cross people who came almost every day, and once I had to accompany the prisioners carrying food to their camps. They were given all the food they wanted and they took it to their tents to prepare it as they wanted. These Palestinian cooks were given kitchen knives, which amazed me at the time. I arrived to the conclusion that they were not prisioners in the European or Russian sense, Israel simply collected thousands of young boys from the most troublesome neighborhoods, extracting them from "Intifada", and later, when things quieted down, they were sent home. As far as I know there were no interrogations and they were left alone in their tents. The only interesting happenings I know of were sexual: homosexuality was rampant (imagine thousands of well fed and bored Arab teenagers at night) and what I observed from outside were some apparent rapes and "marriage ceremonies" with boys dressed white. My American collegues were mostly interested in religious questions, what Rabbi had signed the kashrut certificate of the sardines (some Rabbis were not kasher enough for them), and if they can be eaten before or after the cottage cheese.