He is a charismatic older man, and for some reason we’ve taken to each other. I to him for the power of his dignity and perseverance, his un-extinguishable spirit which illuminates his face, his offer of grapes and tea…But mostly it is his grin-smile that charms me.
80 years old now, he lives with his wife in the tent, grandchildren visiting from Yatta town when not in school. He and his wife are frequently harassed by Israeli soldiers and settlers from the nearby Susiya settlement. Last year he was badly beaten by seven settlers. They came in the afternoon, at 4, and left his leg badly injured. His is not the only case of settler violence. B’Tselem has documented it well, and Israeli Ta’ayush activists have been there to witness many acts of settler violence, and to aid the victims in getting to medical care or to the nearest police station, Kiryat Arba in Hebron, to file a complaint. Because of the distance of the police station, the difficulty in getting there for most of the impoverished Susiya Palestinians, and the overall ineffectiveness of even managing to file a complaint, many do not pursue legal recourse. So the Occupation and expansion system prevails: settlers run amuck, doing the deeds of Israel through their expansionist activities and through menacing the Palestinian Susiyans to such a degree that many have eventually given in and left the area.
Maybe that is another aspect of my fascination of and admiration for Hajj: his smiling resilience.
His tent, like the others of this area, is surprisingly functional during summer days: heat stays mostly out, and breezes drift in.
I worry about the winter rain and wind. Being on a slope won’t help, water running towards the tent. But surely he has planned for this; the people here are resourceful, finding ways to exist with odds and ends, against all odds, then praising with “Allah Karim”—God provides.
Were it not for the settler and soldier problems, God would have provided all the Susiya Palestinians need. Sustenance farmers, the “Cave dwellers” of Susiya thrived on the products their goats and sheep provided, as well as grew grains and basic vegetables, and of course olive trees. Their diet still includes grapes and surprisingly tasty cactus fruit, though laborious to clean. These grapes, herds of sheep and goats, olive orchards, grains, and water resources have all suffered from settler aggressions: stealing, poisoning, and uprooting, also well-documented by B’Tselem, as well as other Palestinian activist groups.
His tent sits next to the gaping cave hole which once cleverly served as shelter, as did other cave dwellings in the area, but which now lies dormant, filled-in with rocks and rubble from earlier army and settler attacks, its carved shelves and mud-brick-fashioned seats buried beneath dust and Israeli bureaucracy. Deemed house-like structures, for which the Palestinians needed unattainable building permits (for caves!), the usage of these surprisingly functional cave dwellings has been rendered obsolete by Israel, who controls these and other West Bank areas. [Many soldiers I’ve spoken with are quick to state that the area in question, just south of Hebron, is in fact Israel, not Occupied West Bank.] Preserved replicas of cave homes like this attract settlers and tourists from around, come to view what they are told is their history. Suleiman’s mother across the hills would beg to differ: her family lived in this now-archeological park before the evictions of the 80s, before even these caves were taken from them.
In May 1999, Barak’s government, in coordination with settler leaders, carried out the first organized expulsion, in which 750 local residents were driven out of their homes on the pretence invading state land. Despite a Supreme Court injunction permitting the Palestinian residents to return to their land, the cave dwellers continued to be exposed to pressure from the Israeli military and Jewish settlers; pressure that included the destruction of houses, tents and caves, ruining water holes, uprooting olive trees, and preventing the residents from reaching their land for purposes of cultivation and grazing.Simultaneously, the government continued to expropriate more land, setting up illegal Jewish outposts and issuing writs limiting the stay of Palestinian residents in the area. The principle was to establish facts on the ground. It was Shakespeare who wrote somewhere that “there is method behind the madness.” And indeed, all these actions were carried out by the military –whether the Defense Minister was Arens, Barak or Ben-Eliezer — with the aim of exhausting the residents and forcing them out. It seems that the Defense Ministers acted according to a premeditated plan whose practical purpose is to annex the whole area to Israel “clean” of Arabs in order to create a corridor from Be’er Sheva to the Jewish settlement Kiryat Arba.
This claim is not a figment of our imagination, since it appears on the maps the Israeli delegation presented the Palestinians during the Camp David talks. –Dr. Neve Gordon, Department of Politics, Ben-Gurion University [June 2002]
With the Olive Harvest approaching but international visitors numbers soon to dwindle, the Palestinian families in Susiya run the very real risk of having their tent-homes demolished, yet again, as well as of being assaulted by settlers who are quite adept now at waiting for opportune moments: those moments are when international witnesses with video and still cameras are not present, and when the olives are about to be harvested. Without their harvest, already impoverished Susiya Palestinians lose a critical source of revenue and a key dietary component.
[photo credit: these 3 photos from Laia from Barcelona]
Further Info: Stealing of Palestinian Land:
Under an old law from the Ottoman era, Israel claims as state property, land that has been “abandoned” and left uncultivated for a period of four years and this land is then usually allocated to Israeli settlers.
–[OXFAM, “Forgotten Villages: Struggling to survive under closure in the West Bank,” September 2002, p. 21.]
Israel turns a blind eye to any methods used by settlers and soldiers alike to terrorize the farmers away from their farms and crops, even if that means razing their land.
Farmers are constantly under threat of being beaten and shot at, having their water supplies contaminated (already scarce because 85 percent of renewable water resources go to the settlers and Israel), their olive groves torched and their olive trees uprooted.
–[UN Report of the Special Committee to investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, No. 40, September 2005.]
source: Heritage uprooted, Sonja Karkar, The Electronic Intifada, Sep 3, 2007