On International Peace Day, Israeli and Palestinian Activists Visit Capitol Hill

Tali deGroot Image
Tali deGroot
on September 23, 2016


Learn about our policy on Susya

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This Wednesday was International Peace Day, and an important day for discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Capitol Hill. Multiple events featuring Palestinian families and activists helped cast badly needed light on the occupation and the realities on the ground.

In an event held in the Senate’s Hart office building on Wednesday, Palestinian children and families from Susya and Um Il Kheir, small villages in the West Bank under threat of demolition by the Israeli government, addressed a group of congressional staffers. The event was organized by the Rebuilding Alliance, a group that “partner[s] with Palestinian and Israeli Non-Governmental Organizations to help Palestinian communities rebuild and keep their villages standing.”

In July of 2015 and again in August of this year, State Department officials publicly cautioned the Israeli government that demolishing homes in Susya would prove “harmful and provocative.” J Street has led a campaign to protect Susya from demolition, noting that its planned demolition is part of a broader effort by the settler movement of creeping annexation in the West Bank. Under this international spotlight, Susya has become a symbol of the effort to permanently prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The children and families who spoke on Wednesday called for politicians to continue opposing Susya’s demolition, saying: “it will take Congress to save a village.”

Home demolitions fuel Palestinian despair and frustration, threatening all hope for a better future. The Israeli government has demolished more Palestinian homes in the last nine months than during each of the past ten years. In August, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the Israeli government had demolished 684 buildings this year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a 25 percent increase from 2015.

In Susya, families have feared dispossession and lost homes before. Fatma Nawaja, a social worker raised in Susya who provides trauma therapy to Palestinian children, described her family’s displacement in 1986. Fatma was eight years old when the Israeli government demolished her family home in Old Susya, forcing them to rebuild their home on farmland they owned nearby. Now, Fatma’s family may be forced to move again.

Eid Hthaleen, a Palestinian activist and artist from Um Il Kheir, described how home demolitions occur on Wednesdays– he waits anxiously by his phone at work every Wednesday to hear if his home is still standing. Hthaleen acknowledged that, “I know the Israeli government has a lot of challenges with borders and security, but they are targeting small villages like mine.” Sadin Hthaleen, Eid’s 8-year-old daughter, said at the event, “I ask brave people in this world to stand against the demolition of Susya.”

Members of Rebuilding Alliance called on Members of Congress to speak out on behalf of Susya, and to visit the West Bank when they travel to Israel. J Street regularly brings Members to the region on Congressional delegations. On one of those delegations in fall of 2015, we introduced Representative Diana Degette to leaders of the Bereaved Families Forum-Parents Circle – Israelis and Palestinians who have lost children and other loved ones to the conflict.

On Wednesday, Rep. Degette hosted a meet-and-greet with Parents Circle leaders Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramim. Multiple Members of Congress were in attendance as these inspiring voices for reconciliation and coexistence told their moving personal stories and urged Congress to join them in their efforts to promote peace and an end to the conflict.

Earlier this summer, the international community demonstrated its capacity to influence realities on the ground in Israel and the West Bank by loudly demanding that Israel not demolish Susya. American politicians and citizens must continue this effort, and continue to do everything they can to support a solution that finally brings this ongoing conflict to a close. In moving and often heartbreaking fashion, the events on the Hill this week drove home that real lives and families are on the line.

Tali deGroot is the Women’s Leadership Forum fellow at J Street.

Pictures from the Event