Mufaqara Part 7: Susya

This post contains accounts of serious human rights abuses and is for mature audiences only. This post has taken me many days to write and the people in this cafe must think I’m a bit strange since I have been visibly disturbed more than once.

The map shows the location of the Palestinian town of Susya, which has no label on Google Maps. The nearby labeled town of Susya is the new, invasive, settlement which has taken the name.

Susya is another village in the South Hebron Hills, about two hours by donkey from Mufaqara. Like many towns in this area, the Zionist movement is trying to erase this village and re-colonize the area with Israeli settlers. The story of Susya is inspiring because their resistance has been especially determined. Yet terribly sad because of what they have been through, and the fact that the same thing has happened to hundreds, even thousands, of other villages like Susya. In most instances the Israeli military was successful long ago and the towns no longer exist.

The town of Susya has been under threat for many years, and life has been very difficult since the settlements began. In the past, the town has been destroyed by the military more than once. Many people left, but some stayed and rebuilt their homes. Recently, the military has renewed their efforts to destroy the town. Five months ago the military issued statements that are coming to destroy 15 of their buildings. With support from an American Zionist organization, a new court case was been opened against the town of Susya, in February. The case claims Susya to be an “illegal outpost”, although the village has existed here long before the state of Israel. Continue reading

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Mufaqara Part 6: Agrarian Days

After dodging soldiers for a few days, things get a little more quiet in the village. Further down the road things are heating up in a village called Susya, but I will save that for the next entry.

For now, I have a chance to pull weeds from the vegetable garden, and watch the last parts of the grain harvest. The dry season is well advanced, some zucchini and cucumbers are coming, the sunflowers are almost ready, the tomatoes are mostly still flowering and the grain is harvested. The olives are finished being pollinated but are still very small drupes. The third house is coming along, with Sayyid and Nisham working hard on it.

The third house almost has its walls complete.The third house is progressing, after sneaking materials past the soldiers. Continue reading

Mufaqara, Part 5: An Attack on Human Rights Observers

In the background, from the beginning of my visits to this area, there has been a group of Italians who run a project called Operation Dove(1). They describe themselves as a non-violent peace corps. I’d like to introduce you to them a little more, because I think they are running an excellent and inspiring project.

After getting to know the team for a month, I have found the who work with the project without exception to be sincere, courageous, hard working and generally lovely. They are welcomed by the shepherd families with wide open arms. Watching them play with the children is charming, and the adults trust them.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, they have asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, Operation Dove has asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.

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Mufaqara, Part 4: Building Houses

Last time I went through the details of dodging the military in order to move materials into Mufaqarah in order to build small concrete block houses. Two loads of concrete blocks were successfully delivered, while the military prevented some powdered rock and concrete from being delivered.

The day after these adventures with trying to sneak in building materials, we hold our usual Saturday get-together in Mufaqarah. Some Israelis, local palestinians, and international activists from many countries, including Canada, England, Germany, and United States come to visit the village. They are here to hear the story about the village, get updates on the campaign and help in the actual construction of new houses. They help to spread the story of this village as well as deter immediate violence from the military. Many of them work for news agencies, or NGOs. One or two are politically interested tourists.

In the morning the military comes to tell us, again, not to work on constructing the mosque. We make a big show of moving rubble (from a building that the military previously destroyed) into the mosque, ostensibly to level the floor. In fact, we have no intention of working on the mosque. We deliberately use it as a distraction so that they don’t pay attention to the houses we are putting up. It astonishes me that something simplistic like this could work, but the activists here assure me that it does. As for the importance of a concrete mosque, the shepherds here pray in the field next to their sheep, on the road lit up by the headlights of the military, in their caves and in the dining room. It looks to me that their mosque is in their heart, not composed of concrete blocks. They seem to have no qualms about using the building as a distraction to help in the campaign win their freedom.
An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor.  The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background. An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor. The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background.

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Mufaqara, Part 3: In Which the Apparent Peace is Shattered

In the last entry I described some of the relatively quiet days that Mahmoud’s family lives through. Many days in this part of the world are not so quiet.

Before I begin this entry in the series, let me write a few words about the overall situation here. I am in the West Bank, Palestine, which is part of Historical Palestine. Around the beginning of the 1900s, a movement called Zionism began to take a distinct shape in parts of Europe. Their idea was to create a Jewish-only or at least overwhelmingly Jewish state in Palestine. Naturally, there were people already living in this area who would have to be removed (“ethnically cleansed”) in order to make this happen. Over time the movement gathered steam and managed to recruit the help of the occupier of Palestine at the time, the British. The Zionist movement was able to use the terrible events of World War II to their considerable political advantage, and shortly after the war, began colonization in earnest.

That colonization continues today, and the Zionist movement has not yet been able to secure the entire property of Historic Palestine. It actively continues to try to annex the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, although it certainly has ambitions to acquire other nearby areas as well. Flouting a number of international laws and UN resolutions, the movement continues to grab land and cleanse the local population.

At times, the campaign to eject the locals and take their property has been a direct military effort, with wanton killing, looting and so on, as is traditional with military(1). At the moment the situation is a bit more quiet and complex. Instead of spending the money and dealing with the political disapproval of more outright military ethnic cleansing, the Zionist movement has adopted a different strategy. The strategy is based mostly around settlements, in which civilians (often armed) are encouraged and supported to take over land and build towns in the West Bank. These form bases to intimidate the local population into leaving. The army prevents any violent reprisals against the settlers. The movement is using other strategies to take land as well, for example simply building a wall around portions and stating that the property inside the wall belongs to Israel. It is a slow, grinding process of wearing away the property controlled by the indigenous population. In this way it is similar to how the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) have been treated.

But, back to the ground reality. Every day I wake up around 9am. I’m worried that they think I’m lazy, but Mahmoud does the same thing so I guess I’m in the clear. I take some photos, study Arabic, read some books. I’m reading one about popular resistance in Palestine, and one I’ve always wanted to read called, “Shake Hands With the Devil”, by Romeo Dallaire. During the hot part of the day, the family mostly gathers in the cave to sleep and relax. When it gets cooler we go back to work, grazing the sheep, preparing dinner, filling the water tank, writing, whatever.
Unloading cinderblocks
Unloading cinderblocks

The family ate meat for the first time since I’ve been here. I’ve managed to communicate that eating meat is, for me, “haaram” which is the word they use for things that are forbidden by religion. I think I accidentally told them that all Canadians are strictly vegetarian. Oops. My arabic obviously isn’t up to snuff yet. In fact, sometimes I confuse the words “haaram” and “hmar”, which means “donkey”. As you can imagine, this causes great confusion.

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Mufaqara, Part 2: Moving In

In the last part of this series, I introduced the town of Mufaqara. Today I move in with Mahmoud and his family for a month.

A man in a ghutra, which is the collection white cloth and with black ropes that men here use instead of a hat, speaks loudly at me in Arabic. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, of course. Is this really going to work out? I don’t want to be shouted at for a month. The old English maxim that if you shout English loud enough, everyone understands isn’t true. It turns out, it’s not true for Arabic either. Before the rest of the international guests leave me here, I ask them to carefully explain to Mahmoud that I do not, in fact, speak a word of Arabic. And then, I am left, mostly incommunicado, in the South Hebron Hills, with some kind cave dwelling shepherds to document their determined resistance against the Israeli army and the Zionist movement.

My cellphone actually works if I stand in the right place in the village. And I’ve been here a few times before for the day to take pictures and help with house building. So things are not as odd as they may appear, but I know that I am in for some serious culture shock. I am more prepared than most Westerners, however, because of my experience living in an Ashram rural India and a monastery in Thialand. It turns out the conditions are much the same, which is to say extremely basic. I prefer to look at the situation as camping in a very nice, sturdy tent rather than living with no electricity or running water. Anyways if these people have been living here for years, I can do it for a month. It just takes some getting used to.
In front of the Temporary Portable Structure from the UN

One of the first things to get used to is quite serious for me. Normally, I’m vegan. But I have temporarily suspended my veganism with the justification that the whole point is to work against oppression. Sometimes, one needs to keep that in mind and in the balance I suppose that the oppression of these people somehow outweighs the oppression against the sheep from whom we take milk. Fellow vegans, judge me not. I am determined to remain vegetarian, which will come up later in this story in a most hilarious manner. Continue reading

Al Mufaqarah; Shepherds in Palestine Struggling to Exist

This series comes from a friend on the ground in Mufaqara, Palestine. We wish to share his writings and photos in order to give an in depth look at a lived experience in a conflict-affected area, delving into the issues around food and agriculture as appropriate.  Enjoy!

Part 1
Introduction to the little village that wouldn’t give up.


This map shows the location of Mufaqara. It has no label in Google Maps.

Mufaqara is a small village in West Bank, Palestine. Surrounded by the hostile Israeli army and aggressive, armed, Israeli civilians, the village of shepherds is putting up an unusually determined fight for its existence. For those of us familiar with the story of Asterix and Obelix the comparison is unavoidable. Continue reading