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Children’s Crusade

Children’s Crusade


Paul Salopek
Shilo settlement, West Bank, 32°3'14" N, 35°17'55" E

Marc Prowisor says he will take me to see a Palestinian. And he does, wheeling his dusty SUV out of the hardline Israeli settlement where he lives—perhaps the biblical site of Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in a tent—past the security fences, the electric gate, down to the scruffy farm of Khaled Daraghmeh.

Khaled Daraghmeh. Photo by Bassam Almohor

Khaled Daraghmeh. Photo by Bassam Almohor

Daraghmeh is not happy to see us. The Palestinian farmer wears grey stubble on his chin. A shock of thick, black hair. Work-soiled trousers. A wary squint.

“Who are you?” he says stonily. “What do you want?”

“Sabah-il-khair!” Prowisor replies: “Good morning!” He is the happy warrior. He smiles warmly. He has tucked his pistol into the back of his jeans waist, hiding its grip with his shirttail. He does not extend his hand in greeting because he knows Daraghmeh will not shake it.

An American-born Jew, Prowisor is the security director for the One Israel Fund, an organization that provides logistical assistance to Israeli settlements occupying the West Bank. I have paused the walk at Shilo because I wished to visit these controversial outposts, to meet an Israeli settler. Prowisor’s community, and others, is trying to evict Daraghmeh from the land he farms, claiming he is a squatter. Daraghmeh says the hay-colored fields have been in his family for a century. This dispute is years old. The two men are categorical enemies.

“What should we talk about?” Prowisor says to me in English.

He looks vaguely over a sheet of old plywood propped up by tires. It is a table displaying Daraghmeh’s roadside offerings: cured olives inside old soda pop bottles, handfuls of walnuts, some hard little oranges. In broken Arabic, he asks after the Palestinian’s farm.

“He says that settlers have been attacking him,” Prowisor translates. “He says settlers broke his arm, and he just got out of the hospital. It’s not true. Looks healthy to me.”

Seeing that his unwanted guests aren’t leaving, Daraghmeh’s traditional Arabic courtesy kicks in—barely. With an exhausted gesture, he waves Prowisor and me to a ramshackle arbor. The Palestinian tells his 14-year-old boy to stop videotaping the encounter. The boy has been circling ten paces away, camera to his face. He has been trained by European human rights activists to record all interactions with settlers. The boy refuses. He continues filming. Daraghmeh yells at him. The farmer angrily orders the boy to bring tea. The boy stalks off.

The two middle-aged men, one dressed for outdoors Colorado and the other in the ragbag style of the developing world, sit uneasily on scrap yard chairs, on old car seats propped under the shade.

“There are young crazy guys who cause trouble in these problems,” Daraghmeh says finally. He is referring to Palestinian rock-throwers. “I just want to live in peace. I want to live on my farm. To grow my oranges.”

“He’s right.” Prowisor nods. He adds in an aside: “The young people on both sides are hardened more than us older guys. I’m as conservative as it gets. But my kids are even more hardcore than I am. They’ve had enough of it, and they talk about not holding back anything in our response to terrorists. They don’t have memories.”

Prowisor describes how he moved freely among Palestinians as a youth. Things were looser then. He traveled the West Bank in Palestinian buses. He ate at hummus shops in Hebron. These are scenes of nostalgia. Even while directing operations against Palestinian militants—Prowisor has participated in several firefights in the West Bank—he says he tried to negotiate quietly on the side, in clandestine meetings in olive groves, with his opponents. His grown children, two of whom are now in the Israeli army, would never do that.

“They don’t relate with Palestinians at all,” he says. “They haven’t had that chance. They haven’t had any dealings with them outside the conflict.”

(After this meeting, extremists on both sides will spark a war in nearby Gaza. Three Israeli settler teens will be kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank; a Palestinian teen will be kidnapped, too, and burned alive in revenge by Israelis—including two teenagers.)

Daraghmeh’s boy delivers the tea to the arbor. His baby face is puckered in contempt, in pure rage. We drive away from the farm. I see Daraghmeh standing beside the road. A red-eyed man who looks as if he has not slept in years.

I spend the night in the unoccupied room of Prowisor’s soldier son. There is a Philadelphia Eagles football poster on the wall. The house could be a suburban home in the United States. The Prowisors are casual, friendly. Prowisor’s wife, Suri, is a master weaver: She creates traditional Jewish baby slings from cotton. Outside, in the Shilo settlement, which is ringed with protective barriers recalling a small prison, there is a synagogue, schools, a museum. (Messianic Israelis posing as archaeological field researchers had established the settlement.) A man sells boutique cheeses from a stall outside the supermarket. Prowisor shows me his oil paintings. He used to rent a studio in New York City.

“I have this dream,” he tells me. “I dream of leaving all these stresses behind and just painting in Alaska.”

But Marc Prowisor will not glimpse the caribou and the bear. He will not paint under crackling auroras. I doubt he will ever leave the West Bank for the frozen tundra.

“So, what was it like?” my Palestinian walking guide, Bassam Almohor, asks me days later. He is genuinely curious.

We walk north together, Bassam and I—making for the old caravan town of Nablus. Prowisor had attempted to obtain permission for Bassam to visit Shilo. He had apologized for failing.

Marc Prowisor (r) chats with Shilo’s security officer in the Israeli settlement’s supermarket. Photograph by Paul Salopek

Marc Prowisor (at right) chats with Shilo’s security officer in the Israeli settlement’s supermarket. Photograph by Paul Salopek

I tell Bassam what I can: about the brief spark of empathy between Prowisor and Daraghmeh. About the next generation’s hardening. And I think of the story of the Children’s Crusade: How, 800 years ago, Europe’s pious shipped armies of street kids to the Promised Land to convert and conquer it through innocence. And how merchants had sold boatloads of the children, instead, into slavery.

DMU Timestamp: November 01, 2014 00:31

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