Skip to Content

Ben Ehrenreich Discusses Life in Burin, West Bank: A Glimpse into Premonitions

Approximately a decade ago, a photographer companion and I found ourselves lodging in the West Bank village of Burin, situated just outside Nablus. Our original plan encompassed a month-long stay, yet unforeseen violence curtailed our visit to merely a week.

Recollections of Burin now appear akin to surreal visions or ethereal dreams. My initial encounter with the village had occurred about a year prior during a reporting assignment at a demonstration. The village’s rugged beauty left a lasting impression—an assemblage of diminutive stone dwellings nestled on steep, meandering lanes at the foot of a valley that, in spring, radiates an almost unearthly vibrancy with its lush greenery. However, Burin’s unfortunate positioning directly beneath two notably aggressive Israeli settlements marred its tranquility.

Among these settlements, Yitzhar stood out as one of the most belligerent in the West Bank, embodying an extreme form of messianic Zionism. Two resident rabbis authored the infamous The King’s Torah, a treatise that rationalizes the killing of non-Jews, asserting that harm may be inflicted upon them preemptively if there is a perceived future threat. Followers of these zealous rabbis routinely subjected the inhabitants of Burin to harassment, targeting shepherds, farmers, and orchards, vandalizing fields, and uprooting trees, particularly olive and almond. On occasion, they would venture into the village, inflicting harm on any they encountered.

During that demonstration, I vividly recall gazing uphill to witness a horde of bearded, white-robed settlers hurtling down the slope reminiscent of castoffs from an ancient epic. They pelted stones until Israeli soldiers intervened, subsequently turning their aggression towards us, launching tear gas canisters until the once-blooming wildflowers vanished beneath a noxious haze. A distressing scene unfolded before me—a Palestinian man stumbling, while an Israeli soldier callously stood atop him as others unleashed kicks and punches. Seeking refuge, I huddled with a cluster of journalists, only to become targets of the soldiers’ gunfire. The memories blur and blend over the span of a decade.

One distinct recollection involves seeking shelter behind a low stone wall, where an unidentified individual, concealed by the shadow of a brown leather jacket, enveloped me in a protective embrace. Whether his intent was shielding me from the chaos or seeking solace remains uncertain. Perhaps I, too, sought refuge in his embrace. Together, we crouched, embracing tightly until the turmoil subsided, parting thereafter with a silent understanding. Subsequently, reflections on the paradox of tenderness amidst conflict surfaced in my thoughts.

Returning to Burin a year later, we lodged in the residence of an impassioned activist residing on the village’s periphery. This young man exuded an aura of intense introspection, as if containing an inner inferno that demanded vigilant containment. While I withhold his full name for privacy, his surname, Najjar, resonates among several families in Burin.

Strolling through the hills with him or his cousin, amidst chirping birds and blooming poppies, the air redolent with sage and za’atar, etched enduring memories. An evening ascent to a vantage point above the village revealed young sentinels gathered around a fire, vigilantly scanning for potential army or settler intrusions. A lighthearted moment ensued as one of them playfully tossed a lighter into the fire, eliciting gleeful anticipation among the group.

Lost amidst Burin’s labyrinthine alleys on a moonless night, the struggle to locate the correct dwelling lingers in memory. Although the visitation of relatives with infants escapes recollection, such familial gatherings epitomize the essence of Palestinian village life—shared moments of warmth, camaraderie, and laughter amidst aromatic tea and coffee sessions under the open sky.

The narrative converges towards a pivotal juncture—the abrupt termination of our welcome in Burin following a harrowing incident en route to Nablus. As our vehicle navigated the village’s penultimate bend, a projectile shattered the windshield, narrowly missing the driver’s face. The ensuing chaos prompted a pursuit, albeit futile, to apprehend the assailant. Speculations pointed towards an internal discord within the village, underscoring the complex political landscape dividing allegiances between Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Journeying to Nablus, we reunited with our host at a friend’s abode, only to witness his emotional unraveling that culminated in a cathartic release of tears. Subsequent attempts to maintain contact with our Burin host were thwarted following his incarceration in an Israeli prison, severing our communication indefinitely.

In the realm of memory, invisible threads intertwine past and future, weaving a complex tapestry of interconnected experiences. A chance encounter with the photograph of a young boy from Burin, clutching a meticulously crafted planetary diorama, halted my scrolling. Identified as Amr Mohammad Ghaleb Najjar, a ten-year-old native of Burin, his tragic demise—struck by an Israeli soldier’s bullet while seated in his father’s car—poignantly underscored the relentless cycle of violence afflicting Palestinian communities.

The narrative transcends individual tragedies, encompassing the broader spectrum of loss and suffering endured by countless Palestinian children, such as Mustafa Abu Shalbak and Mohammed Mahmoud Raja Eid, whose untimely deaths reverberate across Gaza’s war-torn landscape. Each life extinguished resonates as a ripple across the cosmic web, challenging conventional notions of time and reason in a universe fraught with inexplicable cruelty and profound resilience.