Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On fear and the changing nature of horses

Cycling through the rolling Sierra foothills of California in springtime is wonderful. One of my favorite routes passes by the numerous ranches on Lone Star Rd. The pastures are expansive with texture not dissimilar to the rolling ocean sea.

The grasses and weeds that comprise the fields are brilliant green as their rain-soaked roots haven't yet been subject to the scorching heat of the summer sun.

As I rode along this potholed-road with expansive ranches on either side, I was suddenly struck by the horses that stood in the fields. As I spotted a horse close to the road, I slowly came to a stop. I inched over the fence to get as close as I could to the horse. I didn't want to touch it, I just wanted to see it and have it see me. It was a majestic creature with a strange blend of strength and elegance – enormous muscles in its legs and thighs that rippled with each movement while it's mane simultaneously blew gracefully in the breeze.

I felt alien, like a creature with developed intelligence from another world that was seeing a horse for the first time, taking note of its anatomy and disposition. I just stood and stared at these horses for sometime, trying to reshape my perception of them.

The great majority of my experiences with horses in the last few years have been traumatic and fear-filled. As horses are large, powerful animals, they have been used in many cultures through various points in history as a show of force. Horses are used in battle, in duels, to demonstrate wealth, etc.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank have also used horses as a form of intimidation. Settlers will often ride their horses around the Palestinian West Bank with an M-16 strapped to their back and a handgun holstered. It's the real life Wild West with armed bad guys shooting into the air while peasants and farmers hold their wives and children to the ground to protect them from the marauding bandits.

My encounters with settlers on horseback usually occurred when I was walking to visit Palestinian friends of mine who live in an adjacent village. I would skirt along the edge of the settlement, trying to remain a safe distance from the violent people who live within it, but also trying to reach my friends in a reasonable amount of time. In a paranoid fashion, I would continually look over my shoulder, so as to not be ambushed. My pace was quick, the quicker I got out of there, the less of a chance that I would get a beating.

In my paranoid head-turning, I see a settler on horseback approaching me. He's a teenager, but he looks armed. I can't outrun him. So I'll look tough and hang in here. I don't want to appear weak, or scared.

But as soon as that horse got near me, fear overtook me. The huge animal standing before me in all of it's power, and it's power unfortunately harnessed in the hands of an ignorant, hate-filled teenager. Curses and demands were being hurled at me in Hebrew, a language I don't understand. Lo, lo ivrit. Speak English, please.

You, out of here. This my land.

Yeah ok, I'm leaving. No problems here. But there is a problem here, I thought to myself as my courage and conviction tried to subdue my fear, this isn't your goddamn land. And how dare you use that horse and your M-16 to scare me off this land when I was, in fact, invited to visit the very people who actually own this land, and are being forced of it by your government in a slow-form genocide.

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As I stood and looked at the horses on Lone Star Rd, I realized there was nothing inherently dominating, aggressive, or violent about these animals. They seemed incredibly docile and friendly, so much so that if I took care of one, I might even love it.

Among the myriad daily crimes and atrocities against humans, I hate how settlers have made an accomplice out of horses, an innocent creature. How dare they kill donkeys of Palestinians, and then turn their animals into a tool of intimidation and fear.

History, reality, land rights, and the true nature of animals. What won't they twist and distort?

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