We are the Resistance: On the Pending Demolition of Susiya

This is a Guest Post by Robin Levy

Photo by Robin Levy
Photo by Robin Levy
There are certain bits and pieces of the places we call home that stick to us—adaptable as we of the globalized world might be, moving from place to place—our memories remain intact of that which was necessary and that which was loved. I think of the dogwood tree in my front yard in Falls Church, Virginia leaving specks of pinkish-white blossoms on our black cement driveway. I think of our downstairs closet, a tornado shelter hidden in the back behind suitcases and old boots that used to double as where I imagined myself transported to Narnia. I think of the pleasant conveniences of that suburban place I still associate as home vividly in my mind as I traipse by the makeshift tents of what is now called Susiya.
I only saw this place for the first time a little over a month ago. A collective of young Jews called All That’s Left organized a day of learning in the South Hebron Hills. The hills stretching out before us, like a scene from a biblical painting, with shepherds and small structures popping up from place to place. You begin walking on the light-gravel roads and can easily wander off into what feels like endless emptiness—only, then you see the green outline of a soldier on the horizon line and are reminded that this space is anything but empty. There is something physically jarring in seeing what should be a beautiful landscape of rolling hills peppered by military vehicles and watchful eyes of soldiers—they wait knowingly, aware that the encroaching dance of the settlers here is one meant to intimidate.
The original Susiya, from which these families were displaced, is now an archeological site: the spot of an ancient Synagogue. It’s too far from my eyes to be seen, but feels present to me in knowing these peoples absence from it. I am within the dichotomy, a place that strikes at the heart, coaxing and leaving questions in one’s mind—what claims to land are legitimate, who should be arbiter and what constitutes a home? Here, I see the familiar teacups of Arab hospitality, a few sheep overflowing from their quarters in a nearby hut, children surrounding overly zealous ducks, and water stored in containers. They are disconnected from both the electricity and water grids; permits and petitions repeatedly rejected on various and legally-perplexing grounds. Rabbis for Human Rights has been handling their legal counsel and pointed out in a recent press release regarding this situation that the rural nature of their living is specifically used against them in this case. Their homes are spread out amongst individual families’ agricultural lands, making it hard to conceptualize the place as one unit. Still, they are a community. The Civil Administration in part denied their most recent petition due to a claim that because some who live here do so only seasonally, coming to work their land, thus they deserve to have their structures demolished—these words feel Kafkaesque to my ears. I don’t hear logic in this, but I feel the oppression. It’s visceral. I am always a skeptic, trying to hunt for gray truths, especially the ones that complicate any sort of binary-narrative: this-good, that-bad. Here, though, as I watch an inspiring old woman sit with three or four kids teaching them memory games (the one in the green sweatshirt keeps winning! I am told that his name means lion), I am struck by a clarity I rarely feel: this is their home.
In Cairo, I remember a man behind the historical Ben Ezra Synagogue, sheltered within a Coptic Christian area, pointing out to me the place where Moses supposedly floated downstream. I smiled skeptically, marveling at the oddity of that Synagogue, now a museum only, left for the sake of history and preservation. I felt something there, like I was looking back in time. Here too, in what has been made to be Susiya, I think of visiting the ancient Synagogue which displaced these people, curiously wondering if a tour of it would include the whole history, both ancient and recent. I scan biblical sources for some mention of it to give myself context or some sense of its significance. Unable to find it, I question myself, would it really matter to me if I did?
We pass by a tent marked with a line of Mahmoud Darwish, so apropos:

                        على هذه الأرض ما يستحق الحياة

                        on this land is what makes life worth living

Caustic black ink casually marking a white tent surrounded by the beige hills spotted with prickly plants, stacked bricks and the green of a few trees.
Further down into a valley, we see where a well-known activist and resident of Susiya, Nasser, works his land—a small field and crop of olive trees. The previous day, some men from a nearby outpost came down and started working the land, cutting branches from an olive tree before being noticed and stopped. Outposts are settlements considered illegal even under Israeli law, as they have no authorization to be built—I could see a gazebo-like-structure and tent on the upwards slope of the hill just beyond Nasser’s field. Nasser knows that should his current home be demolished, pushing them further from their lands, such attacks won’t be stopped. The facts on the ground will slowly change; the ground itself unconcerned of its owner.
Later in the day, we watch as two boys in large white kippot and flowing payot walk from their outpost through a valley meant to be closed to Israelis—the soldiers accompany them. The inequality of how law is applied here would be laughable if it weren’t so heartbreaking. I sit on my computer in my Jerusalem apartment, scanning through articles trying to sift through the background narratives offered by competing parties—in my mind floats thoughts of past demolitions, rebuilding, the legal intricacies and expected implications, permit-related statistics and various iterations of illegal building, the related and abrupt inequalities between laws for Palestinians and members of illegal outposts, the politics of the High Court. I am left feeling an uncomfortable sense that legalities here are more manipulation than law, injustices perpetuated with intent to discriminate.
Still, I just went there for the first time a month ago. To make in-depth reference to these specificities feels both essential and hollow—I am not yet an expert. Despite that, I am left with a burning and bubbling in my veins prodding my voice from its own hermetic cave. Yes, these people have been fighting a legal battle that can be seen as complex, embroiled in politics and ideologies representative of much more than this one spot, so complex actually that seeking truth will leave one reeling—and yes, dismissive words can be applied to forget a simple fact: any day now, these people—around 350 men, women and children—may have their homes demolished again, and for what? The transparent reason through the muck of intricacies at the core of why…enlighten me if Im blinded by insight, my friends, but the reason seems to be because they are Arabs. 
Does it matter?

Photo by Robin Levy
Photo by Robin Levy
Photo by Robin Levy
Photo by Robin Levy

If you are in Israel or Palestine, and want to take action against this demolition, contact us at All That’s Left to find out more and about how you can help. If you are outside of the country, please consider spreading the word. Thanks!

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