In May 2023 I and forty other diaspora Jews joined the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) in Palestine to engage in coresistance with Palestinians and learn from them about the daily reality of apartheid. During our time in Occupied East Jerusalem and Masafer Yatta in Area C the policies of ethnic cleansing that are hard to grasp from afar became real to me. So did the power of Palestinian resistance and steadfastness on their land.
A group of us spent several days in Sfai, a village in the southern part of the West Bank in a region called Masafer Yatta. In the 1970’s Israel declared much of Masafer Yatta as Firing Zone 918, which designates that land for military training and prohibits civilian presence. In May 2022, the Israeli high court ruled to expel the residents of Masafer Yatta living in the twelve villages located in the firing zone, including Sfai. Since then attacks from the Israeli Occupation Forces and settlers have intensified and many demolitions have been carried out.
During the few days we spent in Sfai we helped build a playground, connected with our hosts, and heard stories about resisting forced expulsion. On our first morning in Sfai, Hamdan, an activist in Masafer Yatta, brought us to the site of a demolished school. He told us about the day the school was demolished back in November 2022, how the Occupation forces blocked the doors to the school while the students were inside and started firing stun grenades at the teachers, parents, and other adults gathered. When the young students heard the stun grenades they moved to escape through the windows of the school, a place they once felt safe. And just a few weeks later, the Occupation forces came back and destroyed the tent that the school moved to after the violent demolition.
Occupation forces don’t show up with bulldozers to the Israeli settlement just a mile away, also in Firing Zone 918, even though the firing zone declaration—among other laws—prohibits their presence too. They don’t launch stun grenades at the settlers or trap their children inside of a building about to be demolished. Instead the Occupation forces work in concert with settlers, turning their heads when they attack Palestinians and even arresting Palestinians assaulted by settlers for existing on their land.
Rubble of the demolished school in Sfai
We spent the rest of our time in Sfai working on the playground: installing see-saws, planting trees, and building a fence to make it harder for settlers to damage the equipment. At the end of our last evening in Sfai, many residents joined us on the playground. Kids were running around and playing on the equipment, asking us to play games and push them on the swings. We chatted with older siblings and parents as the sky filled with the sunset. Just before the sun disappeared completely we started our walk back to our host’s home. On the way back I saw the demolished school in the near distance and felt a wave of grief. I thought about my friends, family, teachers, and rabbis, how we all bought into a vision of safety and liberation that produces this reality. Safety isn’t demolishing schools or homes, or attacking Palestinians on their own land. Liberation cannot come from forced expulsion.
The stories we heard from CJNV’s Palestinian partners made it clear: time and options are running out. Please follow and support the work of Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta as they resist the ongoing Nakba and face forced expulsion from their homes:
- Follow @youthofsumud, @basilaladraa, @ali_awad98, @samihuraini, @hamdan_mo_balall, @awdah.hathaleen, and @humansofmasaferyatta on Instagram. Please engage with their posts on social media and support their work by sharing their profiles and posts.
- For those in the US, demand that congress take action now to stop the violent, forced expulsion of the people of Masafer Yatta.
Please also support our partners and movements working for justice in Palestine:
- Join the Center for Jewish Nonviolence on the ground for the Olive Harvest later this year. Note the application deadline, July 14th, 2023.
- Support our fiscally sponsored partners working for justice in Palestine: Hebron International Resource Network, We Are Not Numbers, Holy Land Trust, and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.
- Get involved in a movement or organization working for justice in Palestine–reach out to us if we can help guide or connect you.
At NVI our eyes have been on Jenin. As images and first hand accounts of the attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces from Palestinians in Jenin have come out, our hearts have been filled with grief. If you have not already, please join Americans for Justice in Palestine Action in demanding Biden, Harris, and Blinken to publicly condemn Israeli assault on Jenin, here and here.
P.S. Check out the articles Center for Jewish Non-Violence delegation highlights the importance of direct action in Palestine solidarity and They teach their children to hate by CJNV delegates about our experience on the ground in May!
Tess Greenwood is the Office and Intern Manager at Nonviolence International. She is a member of IfNotNow, the movement of American Jews organizing their community to end U.S. support for Israel's apartheid system and demand equality, justice, and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis. She first joined the Center for Jewish Nonviolence on the ground in Palestine in June 2022 and has since participated in the Olive Harvest and the spring 2023 delegation with a focus on supporting delegates to bring their experiences back to their communities at home.
(Art Credit - Kayla Ginsburg - from CJNV)