Susiya: ‘another day of seeking and working for a just peace’

by EA Rev. D. Etherington​, Susiya

Just 14 months ago, I said my goodbyes to the residents of Susiya.  And now I have returned to this village in the South Hebron Hills as it faces threats of imminent demolition and a forced removal of all those living here. I have returned to Susiya at the invitation of the World Council of Churches to be part of a team of internationals providing ecumenical accompaniment and protective presence to the village in hopes that a demolition and removal may be put off.

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, photo EAPPI by L. Magne Helgesen

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, Photo EAPPI / L. Magne Helgesen

My arrival in Susiya coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the most holy time in the Muslim year, a time of fasting for the month. This month of fasting begins with the daily call to prayer in the pre-dawn hours and ends at the sunset call to prayer. This period of Ramadan will end July 18 and is a time of reflection and reformation of the soul.

29.06.15, South Hebron Hills. Preparing for Iftar in Susiya, Photo EAPPI /L. Magne Helgesen

29.06.15, South Hebron Hills. Preparing for Iftar in Susiya, Photo EAPPI /L. Magne Helgesen

As we are gathered at the end of the day at the family home of Nasser Nawajah, three generations of Nasser’s family sit on the floor around steaming platters of food awaiting the call to prayer from the mosque signaling Iftar, the “breaking of the fast”. Iftar, the end of the day’s fast at sunset is a time to share in the family’s communal feast. There are platters of roasted chicken and onions, stuffed squash and peppers, potatoes, bowls of lentils, and salads of cucumbers and tomatoes.

As we sit on rugs and cushions, Um Jihad, the matriarch of the Nawajah family greets us as guests in her home and is tearfully expressing a mixture of relief, joy and anger as she tells us about the recent incident where her son Nasser was attacked with stones by adjacent settlers as he tended to his olive trees. As she weeps with relief, she pulls Nasser into her side for a grateful embrace. Um Jihad has seen much death and destruction in her long life and has lived through the forced removal and destruction of her home more than once, all at the hands of the Israeli military and Israeli settlers. For almost the entirety of her life, Um Jihad’s native Palestine has been under the occupation and control of the Israeli Military.

05.28.15. South Hebron Hills. Susiya. Zaaria Nawaja,  Born in Old Susiya. Photo EAPPI / I.Tanner

05.28.15. South Hebron Hills. Susiya. Zaaria Nawajah or Um Jihad, Born in Old Susiya. Photo EAPPI / I.Tanner

This most recent stoning of Nasser by Israeli settlers in Palestine is but another incident in the daily struggle to live in Susiya. The recent decision from the Israeli Court in May 2015 has removed all barriers to begin the demolition of the village of Susiya and a removal of Susiya’s 350 residents, of which 120 are children. This gives the Israeli Military full authority to begin the demolition at any time. This demolition is to make way for the expanding Israeli Settlement that is just meters away.

For decades now, the Nawajah family and all the residents of Susiya have experienced a daily struggle for the right to peacefully live and farm on their lands. This ongoing struggle includes repeated violence and destruction from adjacent Israeli settlers that includes demolitions of homes and agricultural structures, poisoning of wells, cutting of olive trees, and physical violence against the residents including stoning and gunfire. Since 1986, the village has been demolished 3 times with the last time being 2011. The determination and steadfastness of the villagers has them rebuild each time there has been a demolition.

01.07.15 Susiya -  Ever changing map of Southern West Bank and Susiya village in the background. Photo EAPPI /  A. Forsberg

01.07.15 Susiya – Ever changing map of Southern West Bank and Susiya village in the background. Photo EAPPI / A. Forsberg

Demolition of Palestinian property and the forced removal of its residents is a violation of International Humanitarian Law set out in the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My team and I are here to shed light on this ongoing violation of human rights by standing in solidarity with our Palestinian host and by giving voice to their lived experience of oppression and abuse. The light of hope is kept shining through this public witness and presence on the ground and the ongoing commitment to advocating for a just peace. This work for me is a continual reminder of my Unitarian Universalist faith, in that no one has to go it alone.

01.0.15, Susiya, EA and Nasser Nawajah walking outside Susiya Photo EAPPI / A. Forsberg

01.0.15, Susiya, Nasser Nawajah and EA David walking outside Susiya Photo EAPPI / A. Forsberg

Back at the waiting for the Iftar feast, the breaking of the fast,  as we sit around the steaming platters of food with the Nawaja family, waiting for the Call to Prayer, Nasser reflected:

“all the year I have patience, patience for the work of peace,  patience for nonviolent resistance, but these moments  just before Iftar, I have no patience in waiting for the breaking of the fast, especially on this first day”

21.06.15 South Hebron Hills, Susiya. IFTAR feast Photo EAPPI

21.06.15 South Hebron Hills, Susiya. IFTAR feast Photo EAPPI

As the first sounds of the call to prayer sing out across the valley, Nasser passes about a heaping platter of sweet dates and Iftar begins. The dates are gently savored. The momentary sweetness, the luscious moisture of the dates, gives pause. Both are life sustaining, nourishing both the body and soul to carry forward another day, another day of seeking and working for a just peace in this land of Palestine.

david 2

20.06.15, South Hebron Hills, EA David interviews in the home of residence of Susiya. Photo EAPPI

Rev. David Etherington is a UU community minister affiliated with the UU Fellowship of Marion County Florida. ​

TAKE ACTION: Readers of this post, please contact your representatives urging them to demand of Israel that it comply with international law and that it protect the village and villagers from harm and disavow any intentions of destroying the village again.

For US citizens please call/email the White House, State Department and your Senators

  • White House: 202- 456-1111, or email President Barack Obama at https://www.whitehouse.gov/co…/submit-questions-and-comments.
  • Secretary of State office: 202-647-4000 and leave a message.
  • Federal Senate and House Switchboard: 202-224-3121. Ask the receptionist to connect you to your Senators and Representative.

International law citations:

Forcible transfer of the protected population is prohibited according to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered to be a grave breach of international humanitarian law according to Article 147.

Demolition of civilian property, unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations, constitutes a violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Violations of Article 53 are considered grave breaches according to Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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