On March 4, Niv and I traveled to the South Hebron Hills with the second trip of the program Extend. In the first village we visited, Al-Tawanni, we heard from Samia and Hamoudi, activists with the group Youth of Sumud. “Sumud” in Arabic means steadfastness, and indeed this is the trait I revere in Samia and Hamoudi.
Since Al-Tawanni is a Palestinian village in Area C, where Israel has full control, the siblings’ family has been targeted with unjustified eviction and demolition orders over and over again. With the Youth of Sumud, the youth protect surrounding land from settler violence. Because this village is relatively unknown internationally, the Israeli army allows itself to behave –or misbehave–any way they want, violating international guidelines and with no accountability.
Samia and Hamoudi explained that while Youth of Sumud adhere to a strictly non-violent approach, youth in the Palestinian community are caught in cognitive dissonance between violent and non-violent resistance to the Israeli army because of the violence they experience from the IDF and what they see as the unfruitfulness of non-violent resistance. As they have exemplified, however, the simple act of staying in their home and refusing to obey eviction orders is a form of resistance.
Living in Area C, they receive no services from Israel or the Palestinian Authority, excluding water which they pay Israel to provide. Samia explained that as a university student, the checkpoints scattered throughout Area C highways make it virtually impossible for her to make it to school on time every day. Hamoudi then described the personal relevance of his resistance work. His grandparents were ‘48 refugees, and his grandfather’s brother was killed during the eviction in ‘48. Hamoudi’s father was jailed in 2006 for fighting the construction of a wall which took away part of his land and unilaterally made it Israel’s land, his grandmother has one eye and can’t hear as a result of an army attack, and his brother Sammy’s leg was broken for filming the IDF. Hamoudi himself was arrested the first time at age 15 and everyone in the Youth of Sumud has been arrested at least once. Now, Hamoudi escorts children from the village to school to fend off settler violence. While Hamoudi was sharing, IDF trucks began following us. Ominously, they stopped when we stopped, stepped out of the vehicles and began interrogating Extend leader Isaac. They combatively asked Hamoudi to show his ID, and started almost threatening Isaac about his intentions, saying things like if you cause trouble we will cause triple the trouble. This encounter only made it clear first hand: the IDF sees every Palestinain as a threat, and will do anything in their power to make sure diaspora Jewish audiences aren’t told these Palestinian stories and shown the facts on the ground.
While recounting their stories, Samia and Hamoudi’s little 4 year old brother scampered around, eating bamba and tripping over rocks. This innocent and trivial little detail spoke volumes to me- it exemplified that outside all of the complexities and political realities there are real people whose lives are being upended by every decision Israel takes, and these children’s attitude toward coexistence will be shaped by what they are experiencing now.
Next, we heard from Eid, an activist in the Area C village Umm El Kheir. In Umm El- Kheir, 16 demolitions have already taken place. The Israeli government excuses the demolitions under the premise of illegal construction. What the public fails to realize, however, is that construction has to be done illegally as Palestinans are rarely ever granted permission. Additionally, when visiting the Jewish Area C settlement Neve Daniel as part of Nativ’s Israel Advocacy Week, I noticed that construction, expansion and development of Israeli-Jewish settlements is dominated by Palestinian workers. Not only are Palestinians prevented from building on their land, but they are financially incentivized–and ultimately left with little choice– into executing the expansion onto their own land. This land–for which they are fighting tooth and nail–is already a compromise for them, as Eid explained that the 36 families living in Umm El- Kheir are descended from families who lived in the Negev before ‘48.
The eastern part of the Carmel settlement sits on Umm El- Kheir’s land. Eid explained that despite Carmel settlers being his occupiers, he wishes to have neighborly relations with them. Carmel settlers, on the other hand, are scared of him. How ironic that those being occupied are less scared than those occupying. We were then shown the solar panels that serve as Umm El- Kheir’s main source of power. Eid explained that in many parts of the South Hebron Hills Israel cuts power lines and so, while solar panels aren’t completely invincible, they are a useful source of power to help them deal with these acts of aggression. Ten years ago Umm El- Kheir had no power, yet against all odds and with an indefatigable spirit, they have innovated and installed solar panels which allow villages like Umm El- Kheir to function with electricity.
In terms of Area C, I have often heard claims that all residents–whether Jewish or Palestinian–are subject to to military law, and that no separate legal systems exist. However, over Pesach, I met a second cousin of mine, Ran, who works for the Praklitut Tzvait, the Judge Advocate General corps of Israel. He admitted that more Palestinians from the West Bank are prosecuted than soldiers for similar offenses, and that Israeli settlers are virtually never prosecuted under military law. Hence, from the most primary source possible of someone whose job is enforcing law in Area C, it was affirmed that there are indeed disparities in treatment of Jews and Palestinians.
Seeing the situation on the ground and hearing from people who experience daily the stark divisions between Jews and Palestinians in Area C opened my eyes to the reality of segregation upheld by the Occupation. As an international community, it is within our power and responsibility to fight against this unjust system.