Don’t ask Why
We often joke with each other that if we want to stay sane in Hebron we shouldn’t ask why too much. This is especially true when asking questions about the Israeli military policy. So much seems to make no sense.
I was made well aware of the nonsense in a meeting I was in about the firing zone. The person sitting beside me represented an organization that does a lot of aid work in the South Hebron Hills including Masafer Yatta (the area of the firing zone). He told us about how his organization had a program in which they gave out latrines to people in the less developed villages in the south. The latrines were obviously humanitarian aid. They even gave one to a handicapped man so he could have a place to go to the bathroom within his reach.
For some reason (and I’m not going to ask why) someone in the Israeli government saw this as unacceptable. The Israeli Civil Administration (the group in charge of what is allowed to be built in areas of the West Bank under Israeli control(area C)) said it was their opinion that the latrine did not constitute humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid encompasses any basic need for someone to live (you know food, shelter, a shelter to dispose of your food after digestion), so for this to be true one would have to prove that it is was not a human necessity to poop. The authorities, having no one to question their assessment, then sited a law which said (unless something was humanitarian aid) it was illegal to bring mobile structures into that area without the consent of the Civil Administration. Now this law was made specifically to stop settlers from taking over more land in the area by bringing in mobile homes (a common strategy). But someone came up with the idea of using this law to deem a toilet an illegal structure. They claimed that since the cammode had been moved into the area it was a mobile structure. Further, since the aid organization didn’t ask for permission (because they don’t need it to provide humanitarian aid) soldiers were sent to remove the privy from the home of the handicapped man. The authorities gave the lavatory back to the organization as long as they promised not to erect it in area C, which won’t help the organization much since they work excursively in area C, and it certainly won’t help the handicapped man who will have to go back to relieving himself in a nearby stream.
What struck me the most about this ridiculous, and sad story, is that someone had to actually think this up. Someone had to see a man now able to defecate in a sanitary way and think “This is unacceptable.” And I can’t help but ask why. Why would anyone want to do this? Why would soldiers carry out this command? Why wouldn’t someone in the chain of command at least stop and say, “Why are we doing this?”
It’s like when I see old James Bond movies and I think, how does such a clearly evil person get all those minions to keep working for him? Won’t a factory worker making depleted uranium for an obviously deranged man to use be like, “Hold up a sec.” I always thought that was so unrealistic, but then I hear a story like this and I get scared that it is totally realistic. Why won’t people ask why?
I had similar reactions to the command that CPT is not allowed to wear our uniforms at the checkpoints. Our little red hats seem like a silly thing for soldiers to be so worried about, let alone make a command against. This came up in a ‘conversation’ with a soldier I had the other night near the Mosque of Abraham.
We hadn’t been bothered for a couple of days, so we hoped maybe the soldiers didn’t care about our uniforms anymore. We were returning through the area around the Tomb of Abraham where we had been told we weren’t allowed, so we’d already walked through there once and were about to leave. The other CPTer decided to stop for a picture. All of a sudden from behind I heard a voice yelling at us. A soldier, who had some kind of authority, came charging at us and yelled for us to come toward him. He angrily reminded us that he had told us multiple times that we were not allowed to wear our vests in the area (He was most concerned about the vest, some are more concerned about the hats, the inconsistency makes it hard to follow the commands). At one point he asked, “Why are you so attached to those vests?”
Now I am not attached to our vests. Actually I hate our vests much more than any soldier does. They have a ton of pockets, most of which are useless; superfluous zippers, using some as frilly decoration; I don’t think they’ve been washed in 20 years; not to mention it’s not very breathable in the hot summer months. The real reason we keep wearing the vests is because of the reason we are told to take them off. The soldiers told us we, as an organization, were not allowed in the area. Only as individual tourists were we allowed in, and tourists don’t wear uniforms. As I have mentioned in previous blogs our strength is that we are connected to something bigger then just ourselves. We are part of a whole community that has our back, we are part of a whole organization that has our back, and soldiers are saying we must deny all that in the symbol of taking off our uniform. Not to mention that it is a very small step from “you can’t be here dressed as CPT” to “You can’t be here.”
But how was I supposed to convey this to him? I figured first I needed him to admit the reasons for us not being allowed to wear the vests, so I asked him why, “Well, why don’t you allow us to wear our vests?”
I was not trying to be rhetorical. He was supposed to answer that it was because CPT wasn’t allowed in the area, but he didn’t answer like that. “Look where are you from? America? In America if someone in authority tells you to do something, you follow his order. You don’t ask why?”
If I would have been really fast on my toes I would have responded that in America we have a 2nd Amendment to ensure that at any time we don’t want to listen to military authorities we have the guns to rebel, but I wasn’t in my patriotic state of mind. I was distracted with the sad historical irony of a soldier of the ‘Jewish Nation’ purporting that one should “Just follow orders.”
I left that conversation wishing more people asked “Why?” I had a friend in college who would always ask “Why?” He’d ask “What are you doing?” and immediately follow it up with “Why?”
“I’m watching TV.” “Why?” or “I’m doing homework.” “Why?”
All of a sudden I found myself having to justify anything I was doing. Usually I’d give a joke answer or see it as an annoyance, but sometimes his questioning would cause me to look at what I was doing and ask myself, “Why am I actually doing this?”
I think that sums up our relationship with soldiers. We, in a less direct way, are continually asking them why. We try to make them see what they are doing, we ask them to justify their actions, instead of using the excuse of just following orders. Almost always they just see us as an annoyance, or give us a joke answer, but sometimes, I hope, they ask themselves “Why am I doing this?”
Pray that I can keep asking why without going insane
Pray that soldiers will start to ask themselves why
Pray that Palestinians are at least able to live with dignity