With demolitions pending in four Palestinian villages, solidarity activists must recognize the overarching agenda that unifies the seemingly different struggles.
By Penina Eilberg-Schwartz
Four Palestinian villages reached out to Israeli and international activists last week, requesting urgent support. All four villages — Umm el-Kheir and Susya in Area C in the West Bank, and al-Araqib and Umm el-Hiran in the Negev — notified us that demolitions are more probable than usual in the near future.
While each village has its own history and circumstances it’s important to look at both the particularities and the broader narrative arc that emerges between them. Each village is the target of a consistent and strategic agenda of displacement.
To some, the differences between the villages in the Negev and the villages in the South Hebron Hills are abundantly clear. The Bedouin in the Negev are Israeli citizens; the Bedouin in the South Hebron Hills are not. In the Negev, the Jewish National Fund (JNF)’s “beautification” project to forest and create Jewish-only communities, controls the future of the stories for al-Araqib and Umm el-Hiran. In the West Bank, Israel’s Civil Administration, in allegiance with the priorities of nearby Jewish settlers, determines the fate of Umm el-Kheir and Susya.
These differences are important, but when we look at a map, we see that the different “regions” we’re talking about are part of the same story: two different legal systems in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, each carrying out the same aims. In fact, the “different stories” of these villages aren’t really different at all.
On a crucial level, there’s just one story — what Neve Gordon referred to in this publication as the “Judaization of space.” This Israeli government policy comes at the expense of the people who live in those spaces, their homes destroyed in order to make room for the expansion of Jewish-only communities. This, ultimately, is what we’re fighting against in these four villages, and what we should also fight against elsewhere.
To recognize the single agenda behind all the particularities, Gordon argued that the Green Line should be erased in the way we conceptualize these struggles. But as he indicates, after speaking with Salim from Umm al-Hiran, the villagers of the Negev are not all ready to align themselves with Susya and Umm el-Kheir. Maybe they feel, whether or not it’s true, that there is still a great risk in this. What if their citizenship still offers a shred of privilege? In that case, who are solidarity activists to tell them to take a risk that could affect whether or not they have a home tomorrow?
While mainstream Jewish communities are sometimes ready to fight for these villages separately, they’re often not willing to see the thread that connects them. So the question becomes how to fight these battles within the framework that exists, while still trying to break out of it.
In the meantime, al-Araqib has experienced 101 demolitions since 2010. The villagers sit on their land and look out at where their olive and fig trees used to stand, before the state uprooted them and replaced them with trees born in another climate.
A few months ago, looking out at the JNF forest where his orchard used to be, Sheikh Sayah of al-Araqib said, “They want to uproot the Arabs and replace them with trees.” A few weeks later, the JNF tractors appeared again to prepare another section of Araqib’s old agricultural land for forestation.
Susya, meanwhile, is waiting for Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli defense minister and de facto arbiter of the lives of Palestinians in Area C, to decide whether the village has the right to exist on its own land. The residents of Umm al-Hiran watch bulldozers move back and forth, making room for the new Jewish town of Hiran.
Last month, villagers of Umm el-Kheir hosted a delegation from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence to participate in direct actions that help affirm their right to live where they live. Villagers have since heard that settlers complained to the army about the presence of activists painting a mural with the Palestinian children of the village. Last week, the villagers in Umm el-Kheir reported that Israeli army Civil Administration surveyors were on their land, taking photos and making maps. This is usually not a good sign.
Next Saturday, the Jewish anti-occupation collective All That’s Left is working with other organizations to call for actions around a Shabbat Against Demolition. This is just one piece of an international campaign brewing to pressure Netanyahu, Liberman, the U.S. Congress and State Department, as well as the JNF, to save these four villages from erasure. Now is a good moment to remember that it’s not exactly that we have to erase the Green Line in our organizing framework; it has already been erased through Israel’s longstanding policies. All we have to do is point to the erasure that’s already there.
Everyone watching who wants a different reality in this place, all Jews who want a world in which their own power doesn’t come at another people’s expense, should look at all these stories together and develop meaningful strategies to fight what is really one story: the ongoing attempt to uproot one people, and replace it with another.
Penina Eilberg-Schwartz is a writer and activist usually based out of the Bay Area, and a member of All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective. She is currently living in Israel/Palestine and working on a book of literary non-fiction with and about Combatants For Peace co-founder Sulaiman Khatib.