The Nation of Hani Amer
The wall was concrete and eight meters high. It was May and hazy in Mas’ha, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, the sky a whitish blue. Just before the cement of the wall gave way to a chain-link fence studded with motion sensors and topped with nine strands of barbed wire, someone had painted a Palestinian flag on the concrete and the words, in Arabic, “Welcome to the nation of Hani Amer.” A padlock locked the high and rusted metal gate connecting the fence and the wall. I stood waiting outside it with Irene Nasser, a journalist and producer who had been here once before. She laughed as I stood marveling at the wall and the yellow-painted gate, trying to make sense of it. Then she made a phone call, and after a minute a little boy ran out from Hani Mohammad Abdullah Amer’s house. He struggled on tiptoes to reach the lock and, managing at last to turn the key, removed the lock and let us in.
Amer sat waiting on a long metal swing beneath a pomegranate tree outside his home, perhaps 40 feet from the wall. The pomegranates were just beginning to redden. The skin around Amer’s eyes was wrinkled deeply but his mustache and eyebrows were still bushy and black, his hair cut short and hidden beneath a white, woven cap. He was 57, he said, “maybe a little more, maybe a little less.” The boy crawled up on the swing beside him.
“I’m tired of telling this story,” Amer told Irene. I asked him to tell it anyway, because I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. There was the wall and the gate beside it, and, on the other side of Amer’s home, perhaps 12 feet from its rear windows, another fence, a line of coiled razor wire behind it, and just beyond that, the red-roofed houses of a settlement. It was as if the earth had been folded, the folds marked with concrete and barbed wire, and Amer trapped between them, in the crease.
Grudgingly, Amer began at the beginning. His father was born in the village of Kafr Qasim, just to the north and west in what is now Israel. In 1948, Amer said, soldiers killed his grandfather and pushed his family from their home. His dating was likely more symbolic than precise: The Nakba began in 1948, but the infamous massacre of Kafr Qasim, in which 49 Palestinians were killed by Israeli Border Police, did not occur until 1956. Yshishkar Shadmi, the officer who ordered the massacre, was famously punished by the Israeli courts with a fine of one piastre (the equivalent of a penny). The survivors fled here, to Mas’ha, six or seven kilometers east of the Green Line, leaving their land and property behind. In 1977, the settlers arrived: Gush Emunim, the same group of religious nationalists who built Halamish. Among them was a young officer named Shaul Mofaz who would later become the IDF’s chief of staff, and after that the minister of defense. He was the security liaison for the settlement, which would be called Elkana. The settlers, Amer said, caused endless trouble. “They’ve shot at us, thrown stones, come into our homes.” One of his sons was hit with a rock just above his eye. “They broke all the windows on the other side of the house,” Amer said, tying his grandson’s shoelace on his knee. His own shoes were caked red with dirt. “The last problem that we have,” he said, “is the wall, which you see.”
They came, he said, sometime between 2000 and 2002—he didn’t remember exactly. The police came, and the army, and the Civil Administration, the Israeli military bureaucracy charged with governing much of the West Bank. “They said, ‘We’re going to build a wall and your house is on the route of the wall.’ They said, ‘You have two choices, either we can demolish your house and you can live on the other side, or you can stay in your house and we will build the wall around you.’” Masha is several kilometers from the Green Line, but the wall here dives far from Israel’s internationally recognized boundaries, carving out a finger that juts deep inside the West Bank to enclose the settlement city of Ariel, the settlement industrial zones and smaller settlements to its west, and all the Palestinian land that falls in between.