A further report by a member of ICAHD UK who is currently on the West Bank with the Christian Peacemakers Team.
Whatever divisions exist among the Palestinian people - and there are many - one determination links them all and that is the determination not to be removed from the land. Thus simply “staying put”, ”sumoud”, despite all the efforts made to expel them by settlers, army and the Israeli government itself is the ultimate resistance.
So what are they resisting? The Occupation - yes. The apartheid State of Israel - yes. The refusal to allow those made refugees in 1948 and 1967 and their descendants to return to their homes - yes. But what are the minute particulars of this suffering?
My team mates have just come back from interviewing the family of the two men suspected of killing a soldier at the Israeli settlement of Gush Etsyon on August 7th. The two brothers were arrested ten days ago after someone had hinted that they were responsible. They are therefore in custody awaiting legal proceedings and a court case. But already the family is threatened by the immediate demolition of their home. Innocent or guilty - it matters not at all to the Israeli’s, the family will receive collective punishment through the demolition of their house. How is one not going to try to resist such appalling injustice? If the two brothers are subsequently found innocent, it will not be possible to stick the house back together. And even if they are found guilty, why should the rest of the family be rendered homeless?
A few years ago, the Israeli military established a new policy of withholding the bodies of those they had shot. These are now routinely stored somewhere in a deep freeze and then unpredictably released, often at night and in the middle of winter, perhaps after 2 or 3 years, with conditions attached for burial such as no mourners to be present. A few days ago I was hearing how a mother’s dearest wish for her son was not that he would grow up ﬁt and strong, or get a good education or marry and start his own family but that she would be able to bury his body in a proper and loving way. Imagine that being the dearest wish
you have for your son.
Earlier in the week, my Palestinian Team mate and I interviewed a shopkeeper and a local craftsman. Hebron has, for many generations been famous for its crafts, especially its pottery and glass making. The Old Market used to bustle with custom but since the many obstacles and restrictions imposed by the military, traders struggle to make a living and the craftsmen have moved out into the easier living of H1. Bader Altamimi’s shop stands at the entrance to the Old Market and Bader has, for many years, supported the craftspeople of Hebron - so his shop is rich with a variety of locally made goods. But exactly opposite
lies a military base and a few yards further down the road, the settlement of Beit Romano - just one large house, but full of determined settlers and surrounded by the ﬂuttering of blue and white Israeli ﬂags. Bader tells us that the settlers used to be a lot more aggressive than they seem to be at present but their menacing presence can never be ignored.
To exist is to resist, and over the years, a culture of grass roots Palestinian-led non-violent resistance and non-violent direct action has developed. As with all the best direct action resistance, these movements rely on the principles of disruption, non-violence and sacriﬁce. This movement has claimed its martyrs - through death and through long and frequent periods of imprisonment. (Few families have had no one imprisoned and there are whole villages such as Nabeh Sahib, the home of Ahed Tamimi and her family, where almost every family has had several members imprisoned).
There are a number of Palestinian organisations that operate in the H2 area of Hebron to monitor human rights abuse perpetrated against the population and, so far as is possible, to defend them. They are immersed in the resistance of non-violent direct action. These include Youth Against the Settlements; Human Rights Defenders; Hebron Defence Committee and Hebron Freedom Fund as well as local groups such as the families that live in the Tel Rumeida area of H2, led by Hani Abu Haikal.
Hani epitomises the way in which non-violent direct action works in this context. I have twice visited his home with a group and sat in his front room while he explains. He says that he had to work hard to get the men to understand that being non-violent did not mean being soft or submissive but that out of non-violence comes strength. He has succeeded in winning over the whole community to his plans and this has had the knock on effect of greatly empowering the women - a fact that pleases Hani immensely. He has a fund of stories, bringing home another aspect of sumoud - the lightness of touch expressed by ‘kumi’, Sabeel/Kairos’s contribution to non-violent resistance. Even within the dire and appalling realities of Occupation, it is possible - necessary perhaps - to ﬁnd humour! One of Hani’s stories tells of a decision made by the men not to submit to the daily demand of the military at Checkpoint 56 to undergo the indignity of a body search. The body search involves the men having to lift their shirts, back and front and the bottoms of their trousers and maybe to do so repeatedly. This will happen several times a day, whenever a man leaves the checkpoint from H2 and goes into H1. The men decided to refuse and they were therefore not allowed to pass. Their response was pre-arranged. All the families arrived at the checkpoint with food for lunch and sat down in the road for a leisurely picnic, designed to take all afternoon and prevent everyone else - ie the settlers - from going anywhere! The need for continuous body searches was immediately abandoned and a metal detector was installed instead!
Another story. All Palestinians have their water severely rationed and therefore may need to supplement it to irrigate their crops. Prevented from bringing in a bowser of water through the checkpoint, Hani organised cameras, supplied by Human Rights Defenders, to be distributed and then paid the children a shekel each to gather together jars and bowls. A bowser of water was organised and arrived at the checkpoint. It was refused entry. At once a mass of children arrived to siphon off water into their pots and bowls, blocking the road and creating chaos! The cameras clicked to record the event and the soldiers phoned their commander for instructions. After a short pause, the bowser was allowed through and another one followed hot on its heels - it being too good a chance to miss!
I look at Zelder’s plants and trees in the little garden joining our two houses and admire their quiet, unwavering determination to just stay put.