Seeing Occupation First-Hand: A Delegate Reflection from Palestine
“This is our home, where else should we go?”
In August, 2023 I joined Grassroots International’s delegation to Palestine. This was my first visit since COVID, and I found the situation on the ground to be even worse than I expected. Every Palestinian activist we met with confirmed that pressure from settlers and Israeli forces was increasing. Yet their sumud – steadfastness – was stronger than ever.
My most gut-wrenching experience was when we visited a small village (that asked not to be named for security reasons) and we met with a resident whose house had been set on fire by Israeli settlers with him, his wife and his three children inside. Luckily, they escaped, and when we visited two weeks after the fire they were busy rebuilding their home. When asked why they were rebuilding, he answered, “this is our home, where else should we go?”
In an unrecognized (by Israel) Bedouin village in South Hebron Hills we met Asif.* He was born in the village where he still lives with his wife and two young children. Although the Israeli government refuses to recognize the village, its residents purchased the land in 1948 after being expelled from their original lands. They have the deeds to prove ownership. Like other villages in the West Bank unrecognized by the Israeli government, this one lacks basic necessities such as electricity, adequate clean water, education, and health care. The population is about 200 people who are part of five extended families. More than half are children, and their safety and education are the highest priority for the community.
A few months before our visit, the Israeli authorities issued demolition orders for ten of the homes in the village, and Asif’s home was the first on the list. The community scraped together funds to pay a lawyer, succeeding in putting the demolitions on temporary hold. But imagine going to bed every night knowing that settlers could invade at any time, that you could wake up to Israeli bulldozers there to destroy many of your community’s homes. As Asif told us, each night he sleeps with a small bag under his bed with valuables, birth certificates, etc.
On social media and texts over the weeks following October 7, 2023, Asif has told me of significant increases in settler harassment. With support from the army, settlers have totally isolated the village so they can’t get out to buy food or medicine, and the children can’t get to school. Armed settlers, often accompanied by Israeli soldiers, walk through the village and threaten the residents.
As attacks escalate across the West Bank while bombs continue to rain down on Gaza, I am very worried about everyone we met, and everyone in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. And I am comforted knowing that Grassroots International and its partners on the ground are doing everything possible to support the people of Palestine.
* Name changed for security purposes.