It’s difficult to picture peace, and so more often than not the Israeli peace movement is working against the current situation – most easily summed up through the expression “occupation” – rather than for the desired outcome of peace activity. The Hebrew term for occupation – kibbush – also means conquest, so it makes sense that “peace” can’t be the “quiet” that follows conquest. At present, such relative quiet is the sort of peace that many Israelis (mis)take for peace, and so various peace groups are busy trying to get the public to see that there is no quiet in the Palestinian occupied territories and that the conquest is still going on there, every day and in their name. One such group is Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), “an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” The core of their activity is their testimony, recorded on video and in text, available on their web site, but they “also conduct tours in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills region, with the aim of giving the Israeli public access to the reality which exists minutes from their own homes, yet is rarely portrayed in the media.” And so having read about the current situation in this southern area of the West Bank sometimes on the pages of the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz and more often on more often the various blogs such as +972 and peace group web-sites, such as Ta’ayush (an Arab-Jewish partnership group), I joined one of the tours to see with my own eyes.
The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Palestinian village of Susiya, whose plight – facing demolition and elimination by the occupation – has been covered elsewhere, including on a campaign blog that is mostly in English. On the day of our visit, the first day of the intermediate, hol hamo’ed period of the week-long Succot festival, the busy part of Susiya was not the village but the archaeological site of the ancient synagogue into which buses and cars full of Israelis were streaming. Symptomatic of the cynical legalism by means of which the Israeli military occupation is conducted, the Palestinian residents of Susiya who had been living on what was discovered (by a military archaeology unit!) to be an historical site had been displaced – as it’s forbidden to live on an archaeological site. But sure enough, the site soon included a few residencies for the Israeli staff of the site. It was a quiet day for Palestinian Susiya. There were no demonstrations, no military presence, no settlers, just a small group of sympathetic and curious Israelis and a sun insisting on it being late summer rather than early autumn. The conflict seemed a long way away, and one person on the tour said as we left, there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone. Why should Palestinian Susiya have to go even if the Jewish settlements were there to stay?
But as he led us around the village, accompanied by a couple of its residents, our guide Ayal described the place as a “museum of the occupation”. And indeed, juxtaposed to the archaeological site on the other side of the road, were the archaeological remains of the destruction of Palestinian Susiya. The photographs I took are hardly the most dramatic images of recent events at Susiya, many of which can be found at the ActiveStills site, showing clashes between military and settlers on the one side, and residents and activists on the other. Nor are they the best photographs for showing what daily life is now like in Susiya, of which there are many taken by its women residents, which can be seen on the Susiya Forever blog. What they do show is what is left after the destruction by military bulldozers: a blocked well which now can’t be used for drinking water, but from which a thin pipe leads, providing some water for animals and irrigation; a cave dwelling with its stone roof torn off, being reused as an animal pen. The residents of Palestinian Susiya thus all live in an archaeological site that is a testament not only to the destructive power of the military occupation but also to their determination to remain. Their stubborn attachment to their land – where else can we go, they say, when asked why they don’t give up – obstructs the construction of a false image of peace, of peace after the conquest when the land has been cleared of Palestinians. The picture of peace in this scene is not only in the negation of the ruin wreaked by armed force, but also in the presence of the Palestinians on the land, living among ruins, so that one day they won’t have to.