Susiya goes to Susya

By Returned EA Sue. Sue served as an Ecumenical Accompanier in 2010. Here she recounts a recent trip she took back to occupied Palestine.

Recently, I joined 40 Jews from around the world who visited the South Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). We were here to take the whole Palestinian Bedouin village of Susiya to visit their original home across the road. The Palestinians tell of the time in the 1980s when strangers came to their village with equipment and began to excavate. They brought the strangers coffee and food – they are traditionally welcoming to strangers. Some weeks later the Palestinians were evicted from the village. They returned some days later to try to retrieve some of the belongings they had left behind, but a huge fence had been built. Some of them tunnelled under it at night. Now older people who remember this time, and their descendants, live in a village of tents nearby, and although Palestinians are in theory allowed to visit what is now an archaeological park on the site of their village, they are rarely admitted, nor do they even try.

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Signs to the archaeological site do not acknowledge the Palestinian village [Photo: Sue/CJNV]

Susya Archaeological Site is that of an ancient Hebrew city, and tells the Jewish history of the area. Pride of place is occupied by the ancient synagogue, on top of which had been built a mosque, but there is no mention of this. We bought in advance 100 tickets to the site, and the older Palestinians and small children used our bus while the rest of the village walked with us past the visitor centre, where an Israeli family were celebrating a bar mitzvah. Excited children ran amongst the ruins. Older people gazed about and smiled. At the synagogue we had planned to have a joint prayer for both Jews and Muslims, but everyone decided it was too exciting to settle to prayer. Elders of the village pointed out where they had lived, where their goats had roamed, where they had tended gardens. One of the park volunteers came and watched for a while, but it turned out his concern was whether we had bought enough tickets – and also that children may fall down one of the many holes.

On the walk back a man and his mother invited us into one of the caves. Our guide Amiel, from the joint Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisation Ta’ayush, had done some research on how long cave dwellers had been in this area, because many Israelis will tell you that they are very recent arrivals. Amiel had found the diary of an English traveller who spoke of cave dwellers here in the 1860s.

“This is where this woman gave birth to me and my brother and sisters,” announced Abed, one of the Palestinian villagers. His mother was sitting on the little ledge, beaming a radiant smile. Another cave nearby had been the home of Hajisara, the local midwife, until her death not long ago. Now there is nothing to mark her, but just an information board with stories of local Jewish history.

The Palestinian village of Susiya is in the area of the West Bank known as Area C, designated after the Oslo accords as temporarily under the military and civil control of the Israeli army. Over 20 years later this “temporary” arrangement is still the situation. Strict land laws make it impossible for the people to build legally or develop necessary infrastructure. Hence they live under constant threat of eviction and demolitions. For them the slogan holds true, “Existence is Resistance”.

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Abed and his mother sitting near to where she had given birth to him [Photo: Sue/CJNV]

The following day we returned to Susiya where the people had invited us to perform our Sabbath rituals. Some of the children joined us, lighting candles and listening to the singing and chanting. As the sun went down we all watched the sunset together. Two cars turned up as we stood in a circle silently. They contained the six Israeli activists who had just been arrested whilst on an action with us in Hebron. But that’s another story for another post.

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Take action on Susiya: keep up to date with the latest developments for the Palestinian village of Susiya by following the Israeli organisation Rabbis for Human Rights.