The Incidental Insurgents
The Part About the Bandits
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme are artists who incorporate a range of sound, image, installation, and performance into their artistic practice. Their joint work explores issues connected to the politics of desire and disaster, spatial politics, subjectivity, and the absurdities of contemporary practices of power.
This search begins with four seemingly disparate coordinates …
… the early anarchist life of Victor Serge and his contemporary bandits in Paris in the 1910s and the involvement of Abu Jildeh and Arameet and their gang of bandits in a rebellion against the British in Palestine in the 1930s. The artist as the quintessential bandit as seen in Roberto Bolano’s novel The Savage Detectives set in 1970s Mexico, and the artists themselves in present-day Palestine. The first part of the story is woven into the next, by looking at the resonance between the inspiring, bizarre, and sometimes tragic stories of these diverse bandits, the outsider rebel par excellence.
Meant as an investigation into the possibilities for the future rather than looking to the past, and using literary and factual texts as starting points, a convoluted story situated in multiple times starts to emerge. Initiating an obsessive search where the artists try to figure out how we, like the bandits before us, find ourselves inhabiting a moment full of radical potential and disillusionment.
The Incidental Insurgents: The Part About the Bandits is a multi-layered narrative that unfolds across various chapters, the first of which have been presented as an installation, video and sound piece, a lecture performance, and an online publication.
Conversation with Ezzat Salim Mohammed Bisharat
The following is a series of short extracts from a two hour-long conversation that took place in Tammoun village, in the north of Palestine, on September 30, 2013.
—Can you tell us about your relationship to Abu Jildeh?
—My name is Ezzat Salim Mohammed Bisharat; I’m Abu Jildeh’s (Ahmed Mohammed al-Mahmoud’s) grandchild. My grandfather had two children Mfaddi and Jamileh, Jamileh is my mother, Mfaddi my uncle.
I was born in 1951, and grew up hearing stories about Abu Jildeh from my father. My father was Abu Jildeh’s cousin and grew up with him. I would also hear stories about Abu Jildeh from his son, my uncle, Mfaddi Abu Jildeh. Mfaddi would recount how his father would stay in the mountains, moving between the mountains of Ramallah and the area called “Oyoun al Haramyyeh” (Valley of Thieves) near Ramallah. He would keep wandering in the mountains. He was a simple man, a man who wanted to fight against the British, a man who would never disenfranchise anyone for his own good. That’s what I heard of him. Whenever someone had suffered injustice he would help that person regain justice. And of course free of any charges. My father experienced all that first hand.
—Did your father talk about what Abu Jildeh used to do before starting the resistance against the British? What influenced his thinking? Or did you hear about the circumstances at that time that made him start the resistance?
—Of course, at that time the British harassed the people a lot. So he and some other men volunteered to fight them.
—Did you hear of specific incidents?
—No, nothing specific. All I know about it is when he carried a weapon and decided to fight, together with his colleague Saleh Al-Armeet, and another man named Abu Dirra from Silat. At that time, they carried weapons against the British. I don’t have any information about anything that preceded this.
—How was he caught by the British?
—Like I said earlier, he would come to Tammoun from time to time to check on his wife and children. The majority of the village would use a [water] well in the hills near Tammoun, the well had a very large opening, and right next to it was a cave, the opening was large enough for a person to pass through and get to the bottom of the cave. Abu Jildeh would come from time to time; he would hide in the cave and send word to his wife that he was there. In the morning, she would bring them food; she would carry an axe and a rope as if she was going to collect firewood. Because the well is in the hills there were no people around. She would prepare some firewood and go. All their visits went like this, until he was arrested by the British in the cave. How they caught him exactly is still unknown to us.
—Do you know what year he was arrested?
—Are there are any stories about the day he was arrested?
—Yes, my father was in the village at the time. He said that they couldn’t see clearly from where they were, and of course most people did not know that Abu Jildeh was hiding out in the cave. What they saw from the village were British tanks, cars, and horses, all gathered at the well in the valley. They saw the troops gathering but didn’t know why. Some rumors said they had caught Abu Jildeh. My father at first assumed it was an attack on the whole village of Tammoun. When they realized that they [the British] had caught Abu Jildeh, everyone who remained in the village went to see them from afar. The British took them to the prison in Akka—most young people resisting the British at that time were held in Akka. But when Abu Jildeh and Al-Armeet arrived at the prison, chaos erupted; there was anger at their arrest. So the British moved them to another prison in Jerusalem.
They took them to Jerusalem; it was a matter of days. And then they told their families that they could attend their trial.
—Did anyone go?
—Of course, my father, my mother, and my uncle. My uncle was eight and my mother six years’ old. They wanted to see their father for one last time.
—Did they describe the day? How it was?
—My father did. He said they brought them in a car to the court. They read out the charges, accusing them of killing British troops and other accusations, also stealing their weapons. At the end they sentenced them to death by hanging and told them they could each be granted one final wish. Saleh Al-Armeet asked to see his mother one last time; he wanted to spend some time alone with her. They let them sit alone in a room for ten or fifteen minutes. He said goodbye to his mother and left the room. My grandfather expressed the wish to be executed in a closed room, so that no one could see them. They refused to grant him this wish, they said: “You should be a lesson to everyone else.” So they dangled a rope from a house, put them on the back of a car and drove the car away. They left them hanging for three to four, or maybe five hours, with the British on guard. Then they brought down the bodies and told each family to take the body and bury it.
—Did many people attend?
—Yes, my father said many people from the area attended. But the bodies were left hanging for four to five hours in the street and, after a while, there were people walking on the street, going about their daily business.
—Where was that?
—Jerusalem, in the Jaffa Gate area.
—And then the family buried him here, in Tammoun?
—Yes they buried him in that area [pointing], before it became a street. It was a desert road. But now cars pass here, the grave was in the middle of the street, so I and two men from our family dug out the grave. I was the one who found him. I brought a white cloth and put his remains in it. I found all the bones and the ashes, everything. I knotted them together and transported it to the place that you saw and buried him there. When I saw the skull I noticed that not one tooth had been damaged or lost. No damage or carious or anything. From the details, I estimated that he was anywhere between forty to forty-three years’ old when he was killed, no older than that.
—Did his son have any memory of him? Did he remember his father?
—He was eight. I used to try to make him talk, but he would say: “I barely have memories of him.”
—And what about you? Did people still talk about Abu Jildeh when you were growing up? Do you think of him?
—Yes I still do.
—Could you tell us a little bit about your uncle? What do you know about him and his name?
—His name is Mfaddi Ahmed al-Mahmoud Abu Jildeh.
—He’s the son of…?
—He is the son of my grandfather Ahmad Abu Jildeh, he was imprisoned several times.
—When was that, in the 1960s?
—Yes, in the sixties. I used to visit him in Jenin. He was imprisoned on grounds of possessing weapons. Before he was martyred in 1969, he was positioned along the Jordan River. He would smuggle people in both directions. Some members of [resistance] cells used to pass to the other side and work there and vice versa. He knew what points of the river to smuggle them through. He was martyred in Tammoun.
—What was the name of the operation in which he participated before he was martyred?
—It was the operation of Beit Furik.
—Where is Beit Furik?
—Beit Furik is on the outskirts of Nablus. I was there the night the Israeli soldiers were searching for him, and came for my uncle’s wife.
I will tell you something that I heard and partially saw. He and his group prepared the operation of Beit Furik. During the operation, they clashed with the Israeli soldiers and one of them was wounded. There were four of them, two carried the wounded, and Mfaddi said he wanted to return to Tammoun to get his hidden weapons. So they left, and he came to his home in Tammoun. He had two pistols left: an old one and another which he brought from Germany. He had hidden them in his house. He carried the two pistols and a bag of ammunition. That night, my uncle’s wife came to our house and told us that Mfaddi had come and taken the pistols.
—Were they looking for him?
—When the clash took place in Beit Furik they suspected he and his group had been involved. So they surrounded Tammoun. Mfaddi’s wife came to our house at night and told his sister, my mother: “Mfaddi was here, and the army is surrounding the whole town, may God protect us. He took the pistols and ammunition and left. I told him stay in hiding until tomorrow or after tomorrow when the army had left, but he didn’t answer me, and left.”
In the morning, after the army had announced a curfew, they told us all to go to the school, not one person should remain in the house. When we arrived there, the military chief came and said: “We killed Mfaddi Abu Jildeh last night. Of course he wasn’t alone. If you see any of his group members you have to tell us, or else you will be punished. And now you can go.” I went directly to my uncle’s home. We arrived at that place Hussein described and didn’t find Mfaddi’s body there.
When I arrived there, my uncle’s wife told me: “Your uncle is gone.” I stayed there until an intelligence officer came. He asked her if my uncle had come to the house. She replied “No.” He told her “You’re lying,” but she insisted that he had not come. I went to my mother and told her: “We have to try and find the body.” Then an Israeli military helicopter arrived, carrying four men maybe all generals. They took some people from the village to show them the body. One of the village leaders they took was Hussein Abu Wahdan; he’s close to our family. When he returned we asked him what he had seen and he said that he saw the dead body of Mfaddi to the east of the village. He told us exactly where, and my mother said we had to go and see for ourselves.
We took a donkey and decided that if the army asked us where we were going we would say that we needed to fetch hay for the sheep. They had moved him to the other side of the street. But his head had left a print in the ground because the ground was damp. There were traces of blood and parts of his brain underneath the print of his head. He had been carried to that other spot. This meant that he hadn’t left the village; someone had set him a trap.
Abbas, B. & Abou-Rahme, R., A photograph of Abu Jildeh that was shown to the artists by his family (2013), photograph.
Abbas, B. & Abou-Rahme, R., Abu Jildeh’s grave, on the artists’ first visit. After the body was moved, the grave remained unmarked for many years (2013), photograph.
Abbas, B. & Abou-Rahme, R., Abu Jildeh’s grave, on the artists’ second visit, ten days’ later. They have been the first people to visit the family in Tammoun in search of Abu Jildeh (2013), photograph.
Abbas. B, & Abou-Rahme, R., A photograph of Mfaddi Abu Jildeh, shown to the artists by his family (2013), photograph.
Abbas, B. & Abou-Rahme, R., Photographs of Abu Jildeh and his son, Mfaddi, as shown to the artists by the family (2013), photograph.
All photographs © Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme.