The first thing that struck me about the Palestinian village of Susya was how small it is. I visited it yesterday with 15 J Street leaders – including a rabbi, chapter chairs and committed activists.
The word ‘village’ doesn’t quite capture the feel of the place – on a hill just north of the Green Line in the south Hebron hills. In reality, it’s a camp of a few tarp-covered, minimal structures surrounding a well with no connection to the electric grid or the water system. Susya lives under imminent threat of demolition by the Israeli Defense Forces, but in reality there’s relatively little to knock down.
The people who live there brought the place to life for us – children smiling and playing with us; tea offered with gracious hospitality. A family with so little going out of its way to make us feel at home.
Their grace meant so much more after they told us their story – a seventy-year odyssey of uncertainty, occupation and displacement.
Displaced in 1948 from their traditional lands, the village’s families found refuge in the Susya area, only to find over the decades that settlers, security zones and an ancient synagogue’s ruins would provide pretext for recurring cycles of relocation and demolition.
Generations removed now from the relatives who first came to the area, they are still unable to acquire the legal permits that would allow them to settle down. An all-encompassing feeling of insecurity permeates life in Susya.
But I want to share with you another emotion that permeated our visit – gratitude.
Gratitude to J Street specifically.
They told us how much it means to have people from the other side of the world drawing attention to their village and their plight. They’d seen our demonstrations of solidarity – in particular the work of J Street U on campuses to draw attention to their plight – and they were deeply touched.
Because of the international uproar raised by so many of us – including the US government – the Israeli Ministry of Defense has delayed and delayed again the latest demolition order for the village. The new deadline: December 13.
The visit was only one stop on a visit that has included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, business people and civil society leaders.
It’s been hard for us to see how hope for two states is fading and anger is rising, while the urgency of working to resolve the conflict is missing – particularly in the broader Israeli public.
Sometimes we may find it hard to understand the impact of our work in the US; what do our Susya solidarity shabbatot or email actions really do or mean?
Do they have an impact on the people of Susya themselves?
The short answer is yes!
We may not get to Susya to hear this often from the residents directly, but every time we stand up for Susya we shine a light onto their struggle.
We remind the international community that Susya exists and needs our help. And this brings the people of Susya hope that their fight for basic rights and dignity is being heard around the world.
The Susya Village Council presented our delegation with a plaque that reads: “Thank you J Street! We wish to express our great thanks and appreciation for their friendship and support for Susya, Palestine.”
I’ll be holding onto this day as we prepare for the fights to come — fights for the future of Susya, for a two-state solution, for a democratic Israel and for our fundamental Jewish and democratic values.
Some of us may be feeling a bit knocked down by the events of the past week, but we need to know how important it is for us to get back up and to keep fighting. Our work has a tangible impact for living, breathing people.
We cannot afford the luxury of throwing up our hands in frustration.
Certainly the people of Susya have had far more cause to do that than we – but they haven’t.
They may be thanking us for providing them with inspiration – but, to me, it appears that it is we who can draw inspiration from them and from the struggle they are waging and the gratitude they expressed.