Renting trucks

In which the company that is supposed to provide trucks for wheat distribution completely ignores the Jordanian government. 

To paraphrase: "You keep telling us on the phone that the trucks are coming. But we are here and there are no trucks."

Israel State Archives, MGA 39/1

Israel State Archives, MGA 39/1

Old people have better things to do than talk to me

During fieldwork, I always dreaded doing interviews with elderly people. A good interview happens when you manage to draw someone out, allow them to (quickly) feel comfortable talking, and  hope that they are interested in the story they are telling. Only then will someone provide details that you could not have foreseen asking about.

Doing this with very old people, for me, seemed next to impossible. First, older people were always seemed far more suspicious of me. And then, if they weren't, they often didn't understand what I wanted; for them, most of my questions were so painfully obvious that they did not warrant more than a few words. Throw the deafness that afflicts those in their 80s into the mix, and well, there it is.

Of course, when I would go to a new place and explain my research, everyone always thought of the oldest people in the village I could talk to. Without fail. It sort of made sense: I wanted to learn about agriculture and land ownership from the 1950s onward, and in theory these old men were alive for the whole period I was interested in. So off we would go, often unannounced, and often when I was woefully underprepared for an interview that I would probably would have bombed even if I had been prepared. 

Going back through my notes, the best/worst one happened early on, in November of 2015. I was with a young guy - a college student in his last year - who at the behest of his father (we had friends in common) was helping me make introductions in his village. He was a good sport about it, and a few of his friends with nothing else to do that afternoon, also came along. We show up unannounced at the shop of Abu Qasem, a man who I think was in his late 80s, perhaps had hit the 90s. He has a small shop where he's selling vegetables. It was an old stone building and dark, and while I don't think there was central electricity, I think there was a TV on. Anyways, we all sit down and the boys explain who I am, turn to me, and are like: OK, go ahead and ask him whatever you want. Here is how the interview went:

"How did people make money in the 1950s? What was the main source of livelihood?"

"They grew things." 

"And what sorts of crops did they grow?"


"And, um, how did they grow it?"

"With a donkey and a plow." 

It was painful. And then I ask about 1967. The narrative here usually is that after the occupation, people quit farming and went to work as a wage labor in Israel, neglecting the land. But Abu Qasem comes up and says, in so many words:

"The problem with 1967 was that afterwards, the women and children stopped listening to men." 

Wait, what? I ask him to elaborate. The guys are probably suppressing smiles at this point, but what do I know.

And then he launches into this incredibly detailed story about his friend's wife which ends with him seeing her in the living room or something. He intended it to deliver some sort of moral lesson (directed at the young guys? Me? All of us?) but the guys with me can't hold it together. The giggles they were holding back turn into laughter. This doesn't go over well.

"After 1967, the world fell apart. Now the women are in charge and (turning his gaze upon the youth, thankfully not me) there are no men left today." 

At this point they are cracking up. I'm still sitting there trying to figure out how on earth this all went south so quickly when Abu Qasem stands up. The adhan is going off, and he needs to go and pray.

Two stories about working in Israel

I'm going through interviews and observations I have about a cluster of villages between Ramallah and Salfit. My primary interest is in the creation of land markets in these areas. However, I also spent a lot of time talking to people about where they worked. Many young men - if they are lucky - find jobs in Israel or the settlements. 

Both of these conversations are from 2013. The first was with one the younger sons of a father I was staying with. He was back from work, and his face was terribly sunburned as a result of working paving streets during the summer. From my fieldnotes:

He has worked there for three months, previously worked as a laborer in Ramallah, where he learned to work with glass and metal. Not happy with it there, seems mostly because the pay was terrible. Now he works in Jerusalem for 150 NIS a day for a company. Sneaks in through Qalandiya, in a big private car. 200 NIS for the ride, someone arranges things with the soldiers, pays them off. It doesn’t always work, he says.

He works all around Israel, but sleeps in Jerusalem. His coworkers are also Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most dangerous spot to work, because of the high police presence: you can’t work in hotels or restaurants without a permit, because of the high possibility of getting your ID checked. He worries about the checks. When you are Arab, young, walking along Yaffa St. or somewhere else it is quite possible you’ll get stopped and checked for ID. He stays for big chunks of time inside, working in different cities, and then having a vacation a few days back home. He has been doing this three months.

When we talked this morning, he was heading back down to Jerusalem. It’s ours, he said, and nothing can stop us from entering. He also talked about how things used to be, about how when he was little they used to be able to go to the beach, to come and go as they pleased.

He has been arrested twice, related to his involvement in the al-Nabi Saleh demonstrations. Not held long, just for a interrogation. But enough to mean that he can’t get a permit, and is barred from working in the settlements (not that he wanted to, but lots of young men work in the settlements). He said he used to go a lot to the demonstrations, was friends with Bassem, was there when he was killed. But after all of this, he said, he wondered what the point was.

There were two things. The first is that Israel is huge. Its not going anywhere. The second is that there is no support from the PA. So what are they supposed to do? I just want peace, he said, and I’ll take anything. He said that before he started to work in Israel, he imagined it to be something small and tiny. He was truly shocked about how developed, entrenched it is. He spoke more on the PA. If it is unable to provide jobs to keep people out of the settlements, what is it good for? It needs to build factories, to produce things.

Jerusalemites, he said, they don’t really like to do the heavy work that the guys from the West Bank come in to do. They see it as below them, prefer lighter work. Not all, but most. But they treat each other well, with respect. People often take advantage of the workers, don’t pay them, etc. He found a good boss through people he knows, someone who is not going to cheat him. He was proud of his work; the boss needs him, not the other way around.

This second young man is from the same village. He was 22 in 2013, and recently married: 

M. is from [x] and was telling me that he studied at Najah. Design, possibly carpentry. He couldn’t find any work, so he went to work in the Burqan industrial zone. He says everyone from the village works in the settlement. There is no other choice, and you also make double what you would make doing similar work, if you could find it, at a Palestinian factory.

He was critical of the calls that Palestinians leave the settlements, and started talking about a scheme, presumably from the PA, to bring all the settlement workers out and find them jobs in the West Bank. This, he said, obviously didn’t happen.

He asked if I had seen the industrial zone in Beitunya, and told me that the whole thing is the size of one of the settlement factories. In terms of scale, it seems, there is just nowhere for Palestinian workers to go. He needs the job, he said, because life is so expensive. It’s not like Jordan, where things are cheap and its possible to get by on less: the high pay from the settlements/Israel is required if one wants to maintain a family.

He asked if I was surprised to hear all of this, and then showed me a special permit that he carries around with his ID. It is a permit to enter the factory, and it doesn’t allow one to go beyond that. I didn’t know these sorts of permits existed, and that settlement labor was so regimented.

Drug problems

I came across this document in the Israel State Archives when I was looking through some files on agriculture from the 1960s. It's a 1962 letter from the Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture complaining that "some farmers", especially those in the refugee camps and the "owners of coffee shops" were growing cannabis. This is obviously against the law the solution was to find it and burn it. 

I never found any other documents like this at the ISA, and doubt that these sorts of things would be saved by the Jordanians. Its a shame, since they would tell a very different story about social life in the West Bank in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Israel State Archives, MGA 39/19