Three weeks ago, on March 16, Tariq al-Hathalin posted on Facebook the words “Please please please not again.” Tariq, who is 22 and studying for a degree in English at Hebron University, attached to his post 16 photographs of a white Toyota Hilux pickup driving through the tiny West Bank village of Umm al-Kheir, in the dry and rocky hills south of Hebron, where he was born and where he, his mother, siblings, uncle and aunts, cousins and nieces and nephews live. They are Bedouins. Tariq’s great-grandfather bought the land on which the village sits after being pushed from his ancestral lands near what is now the Israeli city of Arad in the years after the establishment of the Israeli state. In the early 1980s, settlers arrived. They built their community, which they called Carmel, on land seized from the village. Since then the people of Umm al-Kheir have been under constant pressure from their neighbors, and from the army: demolitions, land confiscations, a slow and steady effort to force them from their homes.
The white Toyota belonged to the Israeli Civil Administration, which manages and oversees all aspects of Palestinian life in the 60 percent of the West Bank that falls under direct Israeli control and which, despite its name, is a subunit of Israel’s Ministry of Defense and part of the IDF General Staff. Tariq knew exactly what its arrival in Umm al-Kheir meant. One week later the demolition orders came. Tariq posted photos of the documents. “Why is this happening to my village?” he wrote. The orders, he told me, were for six small sheet metal homes, including the one in which he lived. An NGO had donated them after another round of demolitions in October 2014, when Israeli bulldozers knocked down six stone buildings that had together provided housing for 28 people. A few months later, the Israeli army had come back and confiscated the tents in which the people of Umm al-Kheir had been forced to take shelter. Yesterday Tariq posted photos of an Israeli military jeep in the hills outside Umm al-Kheir. “Ya Allah,” he wrote. (“Oh God.”)
Early this morning the bulldozers came. As always, with a large contingent of armed men. You can watch the video above if you have the stomach for it. They destroyed all six of the new houses. Tariq’s uncle Suleiman collapsed after attempting to stand in the way of the bulldozers and being pushed by soldiers. “He is okay,” Tariq wrote me this morning. “Everything is okay.”
Yesterday a man screaming on the sidewalk while I stood waiting for my ride. Sprawled on the concrete outside the maternity clinic, the women and children inside focused hard on ignoring him, one of the kids occasionally catching my eye—weird skinny white dude, why’s he just standing there?—through the plate glass of the waiting room and looking away, curiosity unsatisfied, as the other older and way more horizontal white dude continued to writhe, his tattooed limbs arrayed at angles that did not immediately compute, nursing that bottle like a breast and yelling about Cambodia (who remembers that war?), about just 17 years old (could that have been true?), about 1967 (just in time for Operation Daniel Boone, no raccoon caps and Shawnee scalps this time), about I was too young! (no doubt), about they called me babykiller! (was he?), about the Purple Heart it won him (too young!), about how the cops know who he is, they run his name and a code comes up and they know not to fuck with him, which I suppose did him some small amount of good that Friday afternoon, hotter than it ought to be in March, the sun not yet low and the light not soft at all, the birds still arguing in the trees above the park.
I’ve been reading a collection of Joseph Roth’s newspaper journalism, came across a piece published in 1920, in which Roth visited a Berlin boardinghouse crammed with bedraggled refugees. In those days they were mainly Jews in flight from pogroms and the chaos of the Russian civil war. “We know them as ‘the peril from the East,’” Roth wrote, contrasting the panic in the press over hordes of savage and criminal migrants with the exhausted, broken bodies he found huddled together, “millennial sorrow” in their eyes.
The photo above is from Calais, the “new camp” in which the French government intends to house refugees who find themselves stuck on the coast while attempting to cross into England. As opposed to the old camp, which is referred to by both its inhabitants and those who wish them gone as “the Jungle,” as loaded a term as they get. My piece on Calais just went online in the London Review of Books. I was there two and a half weeks ago, a few days before riot police and bulldozers moved in and began demolishing the Jungle’s southern half, before French authorities blamed the clashes that followed on outside “extremists,” before several migrants protested their silencing by sewing their own lips shut and announcing a hunger strike, before Belgium partially closed its border with France to keep the Calais migrants out, before Slovenia closed its borders and Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia followed suit, effectively shutting down the route through which more than a million migrants have sought refuge in Europe this last year. Thwock thwock thwock, the doors slam shut. Is it worth reiterating that there is something rather odd about this "crisis"? That most of the refugees have either fled countries visited in recent years by European and American troops and bombs or ruled by regimes that the US and the major European powers have happily and profitably armed? The “refugee crisis” works a neat bit of magic: Europe’s outside refuses to stay out, stubbornly streams back in. And so the fences go up and the gates shut, too late: all the violence and ethnic hatred that Europe liked to pretend existed only far outside its borders is now on full display in Brussels, in Vienna, in Paris, in Calais. Millennial sorrows all round.