The thing about life in the village of Burin is the way that the abnormal is so routine. Soldiers are shooting tear gas grenades in the streets, while children play and a shepherd on a donkey rides slowly up the hill followed by his sheep.
We came here initially to meet Murad, a volunteer from a local community group, but before we sit down we hear that local settlers are attacking villagers on the hillside. Settlers from the nearby settlement of Yitzar apparently damaged a local farmer’s tractor this morning before trying to steal some of his sheep, and now local youths are throwing stones at the soldiers who protect the settlers.
Settlements are usually based on hilltops because of the geographical advantage. We stand at the bottom and look up. The sun is glinting off the soldier’s visors, who seem to be engaged in a kind of game with the local youth, who are throwing rocks and stones at them. The soldiers, mostly teenage conscripts, retaliate by shooting tear gas grenades at them. The youth, mostly even younger teenagers, run away, then the regroup and attack again. At the bottom of the hill the sheep continue to graze noisily, their bells tinkling. The shepherd looks positively bored. Don’t worry, says Murad, this happens every day.
Suddenly the action moves down the hillside and into the village, so we follow. I get sidetracked talking some little girls, then look up and realise that I have lost my group. A local woman shouts at me to me to get inside her house quickly. I run inside and she locks the door behind us.
I follow her up the stairs where I find the rest of the group on the roof, along with the woman’s young daughters. From here we have a better view. It feels as if the whole village is shouting. The children seem relaxed, giggling as they watch. The soldiers are now in the streets outside.
Suddenly a tear gas grenade lands close to the house, and everyone runs inside. The stairs are pretty perilous as it is, without banisters and draped in cables and tubing, and now everyone is stampeding down them at once, screaming and crying. A teenage girl passes out in her mother’s arms at the bottom of the stairs. Someone hands me an onion to smell as relief against the teargas. This family keeps a large box of these under the stairs.
The gas disperses and one of the sisters does a little dance. An ambulance arrives to treat the girl who passed out earlier, and our hostess hands round chocolates. She has an adorable little boy at her side, her son Mohammed, who looks about 3 years old and is still quite babyfaced. His eyes are red and his little chubby cheeks are tearstained, presumably from the effects of the gas.
I wonder what the long-term physical and psychological effects are on the local children growing up here, who experience this on a regular basis. Mohammed leans against his mother, who puts a protective hand on his shoulder. The neighbours come over, and we leave them laughing and chatting.