The neighbouring Palestinian villages of Taybeh and Deir Jarir have always been friends. Though separated by faith, the Christian peoples of Taybeh and the Muslims of Deir Jarir go to each others’ weddings, trade goods, and share the bountiful olive harvest. When the mayor of Taybeh buried his father, half of Deir Jarir was there.
The road into Taybeh looks today much like the road into a hundred Palestinian villages. A winding hilly road, hugged by stone houses. But pass the outskirts of this village, and your eye catches on the blackened walls of a house to your left. Drive a little more, and there is another — its gaping windows leaking soot. Look up, and you will see armed guards dotting Taybeh’s rooftops.
Until a week ago, Taybeh was famous for its local brewery, run by a man called Nadim.
“There were two or three hundred people,” he says, his voice shaking, “on the roof of the brewery over there; climbing over my neighbour’s wall, carrying guns and big sticks.” Nadim goes on to explain that his sisters, being experts in the one true form of Palestinian martial arts, picked up stones to throw at the intruders and even yelled at them not to burn the brewery.
Tragically, the attackers of Taybeh came from Deir Jarir.
You see, a Deir Jarir woman called Hayem Erjerj was buried a week ago after committing suicide. At least, that’s what her family claims. But many in both communities suspected Hayem’s death to be an honour killing — that Hayem was actually murdered by her family to erase the perceived disgracefulness of her behaviour. Acting on these rumours as well as the fact that the family did not register Hayem’s death, authorities exhumed her body. Subsequent investigation revealed that the unmarried Hayem was pregnant when she died, thus exposing her family’s “dishonour” to the public.
Twenty-four hours later, Taybeh was attacked. In addition to the attack on Nadim’s famous brewery, thirteen Taybeh homes were burned to the ground that night — all of them belonging to Nadim’s extended family, many of whom lay hidden in the olive groves overlooking the village, watching as their homes were torched by once friendly neighbours.
The target: one of Nadim’s cousins, a Christian accused of having a relationship with Hayem.
Saoud Jeidani, one of the dead woman’s relatives, believes no investigation will convince Hayem’s family of this man’s innocence. No prison term will constitute justice. There are some things you cannot compensate for. He must die.
The death threat is supported by some in Deir Jarir’s traditional council, men like Abu Rashid, proud and straight-spined despite his considerable years. “In Palestinian tradition,” he says, “when you make a mistake like this, you pay with your blood.”
The name of the man accused of impregnating poor Hayem; who because of his insatiable lust single-handedly obliterated a once noble family’s honour and drove an insurmountable wedge between two communities, ending a peace that had existed for countless generations in a blood-thirsty rampage of fire and blood?