By EA Ann, Southern West Bank
Over the summer months you may well have heard of the Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. It was under immediate threat of being demolished by the Israeli authorities, and an enormous international campaign was mounted to forestall this destruction. Diplomats from around the world (including the USA and every single EU country) were mobilised; lengthy press articles appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent in the UK; and EAPPI fielded a special team of experienced Ecumenical Accompaniers to be present in the village 24/7, to provide protective presence and to report on events live.
Thankfully the immediate threat has lessened – as “negotiations” and further legal processes are pursued. Has life returned to normal? Hardly. The villagers now fear that the nearby Israeli settlers, who covet the land belonging to the Palestinian village, will take out their frustration in violent retaliation. Both villagers and international volunteers (including EAs) remain vigilant against settler attacks. And some off-duty Palestinian police officers have watched over the village at night.
Meanwhile a new wave of visitors and supporters are pouring into the village – from within Palestine itself. Both formal and informal solidarity is arriving and some very important support has come in the form of fun. The situation in Palestine as a whole was described by Zoughbi Zoughbi of the conflict resolution centre Wi’am as a ‘pressure cooker’; the heat was turned up even higher this summer in Susiya. Opportunities to let off steam are invaluable.
Formal support has come with the visit of the Palestinian Prime Minister and two Arab members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Then the Palestinian Minister of Education attended the opening ceremony for the new school year at Susiya village primary school; and the Town Council from neighbouring Yatta held its regular meeting in a tent in the village last week, instead of in its air-conditioned chambers in town.
Steam was really let off when the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee brought nearly a hundred people from all over the West Bank for an overnight camp, with singing, dabke dancing (the traditional Palestinian dance), kite flying and watching for shooting stars. This committee is an organization that is not linked to any particular political party and brings together local community-based groups for non-violent resistance to the occupation. People came to Susiya both to have fun and to support the community. Young and old joined in the dancing.
Some of the fun has been especially aimed at the children, who inevitably absorb tension in a situation where their homes may disappear at any moment. The children were washed and brushed and smartly dressed for the new school year last Monday; but clowns were on hand to paint their faces.
During the school holidays the YMCA ran a summer camp in the village for the children. This team of psychologists and social workers is supported by UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Organisation.
Its mission is to decrease stress levels for children, and to reinforce their resilience and coping mechanisms. In Susiya we saw groups of children forgetting their troubles, as laughter rang out around games of hoop throwing, balloons being blown up and popped, and parachute games.
Meanwhile daily life continues on its timeless round. Shepherds take their flocks out to graze, honey is harvested, bread is baked in the taboun. And there is always an unfailing welcome for visitors – other than the dreaded bulldozers.
It should always be remembered that “existence is resistance”; as the latest report from the Hebron International Resources Network puts it: “the mere presence of Palestinian communities in areas close to settlements is the biggest form of resistance any community can provide”.