Photos of Ali Saad Daobasa,
an 18-month-old Palestinian killed by suspected Jewish extremists, lie
in his house that was firebombed in the West Bank village of Douma,
Friday, July 31, 2015.
Photo by AP
proposed demolition of the Palestinian village of Susya has, after massive
international pressure, been put on hold.
However it is, but one, of many dozens of such evictions. All the publicity however goes to the demolition
of two buildings in the Bet El illegal settlement and even then the Government and
the Army’s Civil Administration did their best to retrospectively allow the
construction of settler buildings on private Palestinian land. Israel: Eviction of settler zealots near Ramallah exposes cracks in Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet
When you demolish Palestinian homes without a seconds
thought, then you are dehumanising them.
They don’t have ordinary needs for shelter, warmth and food. They are the untermenschen. It is little
wonder that settlers then absorb that message and decide to expedite the
process and set fire to inhabited buildings.
If there are deaths, so much the better, because then the Palestinians
will get the message that they are not wanted.
Damage to the home of the Daobasa family after Friday’s arson attack, July 31, 2015. (Credit: AFP)
Netanyahu’s Cabinet contains the Party of the Settler
Pogromists and Arsonists, HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home). They have given consistent support to the
repression of the Palestinians inhabitants of the Occupied Territories and are
supporters of transfer, i.e. expulsion.
To weep crocodile tears now over the death of a Palestinian infant after
having whipped up racial hatred is the height of hypocrisy. But that is Zionism.
Activists with ‘All That’s Left’ prepare a banner that will read, ‘Stand With Susya,’ June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
When Palestinians are found to have killed Jewish settlers their houses
are demolished, thousands of Palestinian homes are raided and they of course
are locked up for decades and tortured.
When or if the culprits of the latest tragedy are caught, their homes
will be safe. After all how can you demolish
houses in a settlement when you are committed to building new settlements? They will no doubt be subject to
psychological analysis and found to be incapable of pleading or otherwise sick
rather than criminal thugs. The
settlement(s) where they lived will not be raided. In other words the treatment of settler
killers is entirely different to that of the Palestinians.
Diaspora Jews bring solidarity to south Hebron
70 Jews from around the world headed to Susya last weekend, where they stood
with the residents of the West Bank village under threat of demolition against
displacement and settler violence.
was my second time in the village that week. A few days earlier, I went to
cover a solidarity visit by
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the heads of mission of every single European
Union member state. The tent erected by local Palestinian authorities to host
their prime minister was still standing when I arrived in Susya on Saturday.
This time instead of an assortment of body guards, PA systems and television
crews, the large tent was full of sleeping bags and handful of activists
youngsters came as part of a delegation from a group called All That’s Left. Two and a half years ago, I was among the 15 or so
core founders of the group, whose self-defined common denominator was to be
“unequivocally opposed to the occupation and committed to building the diaspora
angle of resistance.” And although I soon dropped out, I have watched them
closely since, curious and often proud of their creative, inspiring activism
and seemingly bottomless reserves of energy and optimism.
trip to Susya had been in the works for months. The plan was to bring as many
Jews — and others — somehow connected to overseas communities to the south
Hebron Hills, where Palestinians live in a spattering of villages often
composed of a few dozen tents without any connection to
electricity or running water.
Almost all of them are under constant threat of
demolition by the Israeli army,
and almost all of them are located within a few hundred meters of Israeli
settlements that are illegal under international law but protected and provided
for by Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (center-right) inside a tent in the West Bank village of Susya, June 8, 2015. (photo: Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
That’s Left was asked to come, invited by local residents who know the value of
solidarity. Susya has become one of the flagship cases of 21st century
dispossession in the West Bank. Countless Palestinian, Israeli and international
activists, diplomats, artists and many others have come to express their
support in recent years. Villagers work closely with organizations like
B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush and Breaking the Silence. At the
official event earlier in the week, the United Nation’s humanitarian
coordinator for the West Bank optimistically noted that public campaigns and
international efforts have succeeded in preventing planned displacements in the
past. Maybe it could work here, too.
Nasser (left) speaks to members of All That’s Left as Yuval, a member of the group, translates from Arabic to English, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
the primary aim of the two-day visit by the young, mostly American and British
Jews, was to make an immediate, tangible and positive impact on the lives of
the Palestinian residents of Susya and two neighboring villages, Bir el-Eid and
Umm al-Khair. For weeks beforehand they held fundraisers and launched a
Kickstarter-type online campaign in order to buy building materials, work tools
and plants. The villagers wanted help with two things: repairing their
derelict, dirt access roads, and planting new fields of za’atar, a variant of
thyme common throughout the Levant.
Friday morning, 50 or so All That’s Left members set out from Jerusalem, hoping
to get in a few solid work hours before the sun made it impossible to break
through the packed earth and move an endless supply of rocks. That night, they
slept in the tent erected for the diplomats and Palestinian prime minister.
the time I arrived Saturday morning, in a bus with two dozen activists and a
few +972 bloggers, the volunteers had already left for their day of road
flattening in a nearby village. After a short briefing on the problems Susya is
facing and the type of work they need help with, we were brought to a small
za’atar field with no more than a dozen rows and instructed about which weeds
and rocks needed to go and which were “good for the za’atar.” Gardening tools
and buckets in hand, the activists got right to work. The atmosphere was
energetic — reminiscent of something between a Habitat for Humanity project and
foreign Zionist volunteers in the 1950s coming to help “reclaim the land,”
albeit this time for Palestinians.
All That’s Left activists planting working on the za’atar field in Susya, June 13, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
a couple of hours, though, the sun was bearing down and all but a couple of the
volunteers — who were determined to get every last weed — decided that their
work was done, sardining themselves into the comically scant shade of a few
freshly planted olive trees. A few hours later, the chain-gang contingent
returned for lunch and everyone squeezed back into the prime ministerial tent,
adorned with left-over Fatah flags and banners of current and former PLO
chairmen Abbas and Arafat. As people finished their lunch of bread, vegetables,
tahini and — not quite vegan — tuna, the men who had been accompanying us
most of the day noticed young settlers coming down the hill from the adjacent
settlement that long ago took over not only Susya’s land, but also its name.
Graffiti reading ‘revenge’ found at the scene of the arson terror attack in Douma, July 31, 2015. (Credit: AP)
from the press event with the politicians and diplomats earlier in the week,
all of my previous experience visiting the south Hebron Hills has been while
reporting on the work of Ta’ayush, a group that, pretty much on a weekly
basis, puts its bodies in between aggressive, violent
settlers and Palestinian herders and farmers. The south
Hebron Hills is notorious, along with the hill country south of Nablus, as an
epicenter of settler violence — the Wild West. This is a place where the
Israeli army escorts Palestinian children on their way to school, to protect
them from settlers. It is an area where videos of settler violence long ago
stopped being a newsworthy phenomenon.
here they came. The All That’s Left group had received briefings on how to
react in case this type of thing happened. Non-violence was key, and nobody
really wanted to get arrested — a regular occurrence when left-wing Israeli
activists stand between Palestinians, settlers and the often clueless soldiers
dispatched to whichever remote, arid valley in which the settlers have decided
to make their presence felt that day. The activists there on Saturday ran, or
walked quickly toward the interlopers — but everybody stopped short after
100 meters or so when it became clear that they weren’t actually coming to make
trouble. Back to tea, and a little bit of group learning.
A view of the tents that comprise the village of Susya. Located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, the village does not have electricity or running water, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
hour later, however, different settlers were spotted on another hill a couple
of small valleys over — this time approaching a patch of olive trees owned
by residents of Palestinian Susya. A handful of the Palestinian men and a dozen
children start running in their direction. I grab my camera and another dozen
of the activists and I follow suit. By the time we arrive the settlers are gone
and Nasser, the group’s point man in the village, is talking, distraught and
out of breath, to three soldiers who have just arrived.
seems that a few settlers had come down from the direction of the settlement of
Susya and started snapping off branches from the relatively young olive trees.
When Nasser approached, they started throwing stones. A lone female soldier who
was positioned at a watchtower seemingly in the middle of nowhere and yet smack
in the middle of all the action, had tried to tell Nasser to leave. Maybe she
told the settlers to leave, too. Either way, nobody really cared. She had to
duck to avoid being hit by the stones being thrown by the settlers. Nasser got
the whole thing on video.
few minutes later, a civilian police officer and an officer from the Civil
Administration, a nice term for a Military Government, arrived. The police
officer looks at the broken olive branches and remarks, “the settlers wouldn’t
cut down trees — it’s Shabbat.” But he seems far more interested in the
video of the stone throwing. With his cell phone, the cop films the video,
interviews the female soldier who witnessed the whole thing, and promises to
look for the culprits.
police left. The army left. Nasser promised to go to the police station later
to file an official complaint and hand over a copy of the video. We all headed
back across the two cracked valleys toward the tent. It was getting late and
the bus was coming soon to take us back to Jerusalem. The organizers of the All
That’s Left group started their debrief session, asking participants to talk
about their experiences, discussing strategies for moving forward and logistics
for the trip home.
An Israeli police officer films video of settlers throwing stones, being shown to him by Nasser under an olive tree just meters from where the incident took place, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
some point I decide to wander toward the main road in order to take some
photos, when an army jeep approaches. An officer gets out. A captain. He yells
to me, “hey, kiddo! Come over here.” I walk over, not quite knowing what to
expect. “Call over Nasser,” he tells me. “We caught the guys who were throwing
stones and I want to see his video to make sure it’s them.” A little stunned, I
point him in the right direction. The lieutenant doesn’t want to walk into the
village. Maybe it’s all the activists, maybe he’s lazy, maybe he doesn’t feel
safe. Who knows. Another Palestinian man approaches and, after getting the same
explanation, starts yelling for Nasser. Nasser brings over his laptop. In an
almost identical scene as before, they crouch below an olive tree to mitigate
the harsh glare and watch the video. It’s them, the officer says, adding,
“they’re not from here. The people in [the settlement of] Susya don’t want
trouble either, you know.” “Sure,” Nasser says with a shrug, promising to bring
the video to the police station the next day.
so it ends. There’s no way of knowing if it would have ended differently had
dozens of international and — Jewish — Israeli activists been there that
day. It’s clearly an anomaly, but maybe the soldiers and police took their job
more seriously that day? Maybe they just got lucky? Maybe the suspects won’t
even be charged. It doesn’t really matter. Susya is still facing imminent
demolition, its residents in danger of forced displacement. The army wants to move them into
Palestinian-controlled cities, out of Area C, the part of the West Bank Israel retains complete
control over, and which many in Israel’s
government hope to one day annex.
story of Susya is not extraordinary. The same thing is happening — without
dozens of Jewish solidarity activists — in other communities in the
south Hebron Hills, in the E1 area near Jerusalem, in the Jordan Valley and even inside the Green Line in villages like Al Araqib. In all of those places, the Israeli army is trying
to move Palestinians out in order to move more Jews in, or at least to give
them control over more land. Susya is not extraordinary, it is probably not the
village that will get the world’s attention. Susya is one story of the
occupation. And the solidarity visits, by diplomats, foreign college students
or Palestinian and Israeli activists, is one story of resistance.
A traffic jam in the middle of the desert
rendezvous was scheduled for 11:30 am, outside the Arlozorov Street Railway
Station in Tel Aviv. I arrived at 11:35. “Three buses have already been
filled, but don’t worry – the fourth bus will soon arrive” said the
organizers’ representative. “There will be a place for anyone who wants to
go to the protest in Susiya.”
It is long since there was such a wide response to a call
for a demonstration in the wild West Bank. Among the passengers could be seen
quite a few long-time activists who had however not been seen in recent years.
Why did the case of Susiya evoke so much attention, in Israel and throughout
the world? (Circulating on the bus was the current New York Times op-ed page,
featuring a moving personal story of a Susiya resident). This tiny threatened
village is in every way worthy of support and solidarity – but in the past,
quite a few instances of no less outrageous injustice have been perpetrated and
met a virtually complete indifference and silence. One can never know in
advance which particular case will become the focus and symbol of a struggle.
Little more than an hour’s drive separates the
vast metropolitan Tel Aviv from the godforsaken hamlet of Susiya in the middle
of the desert. First the travel is along congested intercity highways – then,
through back roads which become ever more narrow and in bad repair, the further
one continues to the east and south. Somewhere,
without noticing, the Green Line is crossed into the territory where there is
not even a semblance of democracy, where the landscape is predominantly brown
rather than green – apart from the occasional green patch of a settlement,
which had the privilege of being connected to the Israeli water system.
At the end of the trip, the narrow road forks, and the sign
to the right side says “Susiya” – but nevertheless, we turned to the
left. The sign erected by the military authorities refers to the other Susiya –
the Israeli settlement Susiya, which claims to be the continuation of a Jewish
village of the same name which existed on this location during the Roman and
Byzantine period. “Come and see Susiya – an ancient Jewish town” says
the sign on the road we had not taken.
The Jews who lived here 1,500 years ago had lived in caves.
In the Twentieth Century, Palestinians had been living in these same caves,
until in 1986 the army came to expel them and turn the caves into an
archeological site managed by the settlers. The Palestinians had to move to
miserable shacks erected on what was left of their land. Is it possible that
they actually were the descendants of those who resided in those caves in the
Fifth Century? At the
beginning of the Zionist Movement David Ben Gurion brought up that at least
some of the Arabs in this country are descendants of Jews who lived here in the
past, and who at some time were converted to Islam and started speaking Arabic.
In 1918 Ben Gurion even published an entire book on this subject, in
cooperation with the future President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, including
detailed historical documentation to support this theory. But before long it became clear
that, even if some of the Palestinians’ ancestors had been Jewish, at present
they have no interest whatsoever in being Jewish or promoting the Zionist
Project. So, Ben-Gurion and his colleagues lost interest in further promoting
In the direction of Palestinian Susiya there was no road
sign. For the Israeli authorities, it simply does not exist. “The
competent military authorities take the position that there had never existed
an Arab village named Susiya” stated on the Knesset floor Deputy Defense
Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, of the Jewish Home Party. “Palestinian structures
were built without permits on that location, and were demolished during the
1995-2001 period. Illegal construction continued, against which demolition
orders were issued. In May 2015 the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the
Palestinians for an interim injunction against the demolition of these
There are no road signs, but it is not difficult to find
Palestinian Susiya, with the Palestinian flag painted on rocks along the road.
Four buses arrived from Tel Aviv and three from Jerusalem, plus quite a few
private cars, and a minor traffic jam was created in the middle of the desert.
“Pay attention, it is now the hottest hour of the day, it’s one of the
hottest places in the country, and there is almost no shade” warns the
young woman in charge of my bus. “Please be sure, all of you, to cover
your heads and take water with you. For those who have not brought it with
them, we provide bottled water”. On a low ridge above the bus could
already be seen a human stream winding its way towards the rally.
The concrete cover of a rainwater collection cistern has
become a makeshift podium, with several loudspeakers and a Palestinian flag
flying. When the group from our bus arrived, the speeches were already under
way, in a mixture of Arabic, English and Hebrew. “67 years after the
Palestinian Nakba, it is still going on! They want to expel the residents of
Susiya from their land! Are we going to let them do it?” cried former
Palestinian Minister Mustafa Barghouti, eliciting a loud chorus of “No!
the Apartheid regime in South Africa fell, Nelson Mandela said that the fight
is not over, the next part is the Palestinian struggle. We are here, we are
struggling. We will go on struggling until Palestine is free!” (Chanting
in Arabic and English “Free Palestine! Free Palestine! Free, free
Susiya resident Nasser Nawaj’ah, a leader activist of the
struggle, spoke in Hebrew to those who came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem:
“Welcome to Susiya, all of you, welcome to Susiya, the fighting Susiya
which will not give in! Our struggle is already going on for decades. In 1982, they erected the settlement
of Susiya on our land. In 1986, they expelled us from the caves and turned them
into an archaeological site of the settlers, then we moved to the farmland, all
what was left to us. In 2001, they destroyed everything and drove us away, but
we came back and set up our village again. You are most welcome here, we
are grateful for the solidarity and support of all those who have come here.
You are the other face of Israel, the face which is different from what we see
of the soldiers and settlers who come to us every day. You give us hope, the
hope that we can still live together, Palestinians as Israel’s neighbors in
He was followed by Professor Yigal Bronner, who teaches
history of India at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a prominent
activist of the Ta’ayush Movement, which is active already for many years in
support of the residents of the South Hebron Hills. “We are here in
Susiya. What is Susiya? Not much. Some cisterns which the army had not filled
with dirt, a few sheep which the settlers have not yet stolen, some olive trees
that have not yet been cut down. What is Susiya? Susiya is 350 people who hold
on to the land, clinging and clinging and holding on and not giving up, because
it’s their home. Quite simply, this is their home. Opposite us is the other
Susiya. The Susiya which is armed and surrounded by a fence, which is connected
to to water and electricity and sewage and has representatives in all the
corridors of power, and it wants to grab what little is left of this Susiya
where we stand. Susiya against Susiya, this is the whole story. The Palestinian
Susiya has no soldiers and no police and no representatives in the Knesset and
in fact it does not have the vote. But it has us. We are here to stand with
Susiya and we will not leave. We will do everything we can to be here and
prevent the destruction. And if does take place, we will be here the next
morning to rebuild, together with the residents. Susiya is not alone!
“(Chanting of “Susiya, Sussiya do not despair, we will end the
occupation yet!” in Hebrew and “Yaskut al Ikhitlal”, “Down
with the Occupation” in Arabic.
“It is very important that you all came here, it is
important to continue the struggle. There will be here another demonstration
next Saturday, and on August 3 at 9:00 am there will be the hearing on the
appeal of Susiya at the Supreme Court. It is very important to be there! Susiya
is not alone! Susiya is not alone!”
After the speeches – the march to the edge of the ridge.
“For anyone who feels badly affected by the heat and sun, there is a tent
with shade and plenty of water. Don’t get hurt unnecessarily. And now –
Together with the Palestinians, locals and those who
especially came, we all moved ahead to the rhythmic beating of the
“Drummers Against the Occupation”, and the heat did not seem to
reduce their energy and enthusiasm. Above the crowd were waving the placards of “Combatants for Peace”, one of the demonstration’s organizers, with the caption ”There is Another Way” in Hebrew, Arabic and English. “Though shalt not rob thy fellow” read the big sign
carried by Rabbi Arik Asherman, who already for
many years did not miss any demonstration, “Rabbis for Human Rights” being another of the protest
initiators. Other Biblical slogans: “Have we become the like of Sodom, did
we assume the face of Gomorrah?”, “Save the poor his robber, protect
the miserable from the heartless despoiler” “Zion shall be built on
Justice”, “Each shall sit in content under his vine and his fig
A five years old Palestinian girl held upside
down a large sign in Hebrew reading “No more land grab!”. One of the
Israelis drew the attention of a woman in traditional Palestinian dress,
apparently the grandmother. The granddaughter, laughing, turned the sign in
correct direction before the press photographers arrived at this part of the
march parade. Near was walking a strapping young man wearing a T-shirt of the
FC St. Pauli soccer club of Hamburg, Germany, whose fans are known for their
fight against racism, and next was a woman whose shirt proclaimed “Stop
the Pinkwashing!”, protesting the cynical use made of LGBT people by the
government international PR apparatus (“Hasbara”). The text on the
bag of a veteran Jerusalem activist referred to the elctions earlier this year:
“We did not succeed in throwing Netanyahu out, which is very harsh and
painful, but at least let him keep his paws off Susiya!”
At the end of the march, dozens lifted with
great effort a 30-metre long sign reading: “Susiya is Palestinian, and Palestinian it will remain!”.
When the buses on the way back passed the official sign about “The ancient
Jewish town” we could see it at the top of the
ridge above the road.
If Susya falls so will others
It’s ramshackle – and it’s home.
A child in Susya, photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
SUSIYA, West Bank — IN 1948, as Israeli forces closed in on his village of
Qaryatayn, my grandfather carried my father in his arms to Susiya, about five
miles north, in the South Hebron Hills area.
“We will go back home soon,” my grandfather told my father.
They did not. Qaryatayn was destroyed, along with about 400 other
Palestinian villages that were razed between 1948 and the mid-1950s. My family
rebuilt their lives in Susiya, across the 1949 armistice line in the West Bank.
In 1986, my family was expelled from our home once again — not because of
war, but because the occupying Israeli authorities decided to create an
archaeological and tourist site around the remains of an ancient synagogue in
Susiya. (A structure next to the abandoned temple was used as a mosque from
about the 10th century.) This time, it was my father who took me in his arms as
the soldiers drew near.
“We will return soon,” he said.
If, in the coming weeks, the Israeli government carries out demolition
orders served on some 340 residents of Susiya, I will be forced to take my
children in my arms as our home is destroyed and the village razed once again.
I do not know if I will have the heart to tell them that we will soon go home;
history has taught me that it may be a very long time until we are able to
In 2012, the Civil Administration branch of Israel’s Defence Ministry issued
demolition orders against more than 50 structures in Susiya, including living
quarters, a clinic, shop and solar panels. The reason given in these orders was
that our village was built without permits from the Israeli military
The new Susiya was built on Palestinian villagers’ private agricultural
land, but that is no safeguard. In practice, it is virtually impossible for a
Palestinian living in what is known as Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank
under both civil and security control of the Israeli military — to receive a
building permit. According to Bimkom, an Israeli nonprofit focused on planning
rights, more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits in
Area C from 2010 to 2014 were rejected.
The threat has now become immediate. Following the initial distribution of
demolition orders, there was a political and legal campaign spearheaded by the
residents of Susiya that had support from Palestinian, Israeli and
international activists and rights groups. The village was not demolished, our
case returned to the courts and the pressure let up.
But this past May, a few months after the re-election of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Supreme Court justice Noam Sohlberg, who
himself lives in an Israeli settlement that is considered illegal under
international law, caved in to pressure from right-wing and settler
organizations and ruled in the High Court that the Israeli military could go
ahead with demolitions in the village — despite the fact that the
higher-ranking Supreme Court had scheduled a hearing for our case on Aug. 3.
Earlier this month, I learned from lawyers working against the demolition of
Susiya that representatives of the Israeli military had stated their intent to
demolish parts of our village before the Aug. 3 hearing. Since the May ruling,
we in Susiya have been grateful for an outpouring of support and solidarity.
Last week, the State Department’s spokesman, John Kirby, made a strong
statement on the issue.
“We’re closely following developments in the village of Susiya, in the West
Bank,” he said, “and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from
carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian
village or parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes, would
be harmful and provocative.”
That was a step in the right direction, but we need more than mere
declarations now. If the Israeli government demolishes all or part of Susiya
once again, it will be for no other reason than that we are Palestinians who
refused to leave, despite immense pressure and great hardships of daily life
The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the
West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well.
If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as
a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron
Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.
This story is not a story of Jews against Muslims, or even a story of
Israelis against Palestinians. We’re grateful for the many messages of support
our village has received from Jewish communities around the world, and the
groups and activists working by our side include many Israelis. This is simply
a story of justice and equality against dispossession and oppression.
Nasser Nawaja is a community organizer and a field researcher for the
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.