I woke up this morning feeling free: free from despair, free from helplessness, free from disappointment, free from cynicism, free from the feeling that the future cannot be changed.
Sumud Freedom Camp freed me. 11 days later and the camp is still standing at Sarura, I spent 8 nights there in the desert over the last week. I joined with my full heart in building the physical camp, in building the intentional community that has been born there, and in building the world that we as Palestinians, Israelis and Diaspora Jews want to live in. Two attempts by the army to dismantle the camp have been overcome, and our resilience is stronger than ever. The family has been approved to stay in their old home, so long as no new construction happens.
With hope comes action, and we have learned that we have agency as individuals and that the tiny actions of washing dishes or picking up trash from the hillside or clearing rocks for a road can make an impact. The Aamer family has returned to their home. Fadel Aamer hosted the first Iftar (breaking-the-fast) meal on the first night of Ramadan in his home for the first time in twenty years. His grandson Muhammad dished out rice and chicken for the over 50 guests who came to celebrate. His younger grandchildren and the boys from the local village of a-Tawaneh were running back and forth offering juice to one and all. The members of the steering committee, the residents of the camp, and the volunteers and activists from Center of Jewish Nonviolence, Combatants for Peace and All That's Left nibbled on dates and danced under the stars together. The celebration was exuberant; smiles graced the faces of all as we gratefully ate and looked around in surprise that we were still standing. Music was blasted on speakers, which had been lugged down the rocky road to the camp, songs were sung, instruments were played, and laughter flowed on the winds. Our joy echoed across the hill to the nearby settlement of Ma'on.
The evening was interrupted as reports of army vehicles entering a-Tawaneh were passed to the camp. Within minutes, we had dissembled and hidden the tent, the new generator had been ran off to the village, and we gathered together, ready to face whatever was coming our way. They never approached the camp, but the tension was palpable. It highlighted once again just how quickly lives in the West Bank can switch from joy to fear and apprehension, every moment is lived waiting to see if life is about to be interrupted by violence and control and domination.
As we waited to see if the army jeeps would arrive to camp in the dark, I walked up to Fadel Aamer, the property owner and our host. He was standing at the top of the hill and gazing intently into the darkness, protective of his guests below, determinedly waiting for whatever was to come. It was one of the few times I saw his face not cracked into a smile. Over the course of the week, his love has filled the camp and is the continuous beating heart that has kept me from leaving to return to my bed and a shower. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes and told me that towards everyone in this camp, he is our father and will protect us against anything forever. At Sumud, we have all become family. We have cooked together, built together, stood in the face of the army, guarded each other from the neighboring settlements and the threat they carry, and grown together. The bonds that have been created run deeper than blood.
Sarura is now entering a new stage, one in which we work to rehabilitate more homes for Fadel's family members to move into. We are currently clearing away the rubble in a second cave-home nearby which Fadel's son and three grandchildren will hopefully move into. We take each day slowly, we take each moment as it comes. With Ramadan now here, the days are longer and hotter and as internationals, we attempt to keep busy as the families sleep in the cool shade of the cave and fast. Our rhythms have shifted.
But the nights are lively. The night-watches walk the hills and keep an eye on the shadows on the horizon of the hill of the settlement Ma'on. Having now made a stand against the army twice--and having now agreed to not build any new structures so as to avoid further provocations--our bigger concern is attacks by the settlers and their surveillance of our camp. The outpost at (called Havat Ma'on) was reported as being a particularly violent and disruptive settlement, a hotbed of violent extremists, in 2013 by Ma'an News and Ta'ayush activists frequently join with Operation Dove to escort Palestinian children to school past the settlement.
So night shifts walk the hills, sit at the windy lookout at the top of the hill and learn about stars and each other. Once you have made it through the early morning hours and see the sun brightening, often you choose not to wake up the next watch and wait to see the sun crest over the far hills of Jordan: proof that we have made it through the night and that Sarura stands to see another day.
We need help to continue! We are still raising money through crowdfunding in order to buy more tools, to potentially buy a water tank to provide easier access to water at the camp, and food and transportation for the activists and the community living there. Our sweat and love has gone into this camp, anything that you can contribute as well can make a huge difference for us. At Sumud, I have been learning how my freedom is tied up in the freedom of others. Please join us in this struggle, donate here.
With love from the South Hebron Hills.
We've also been featured in a Ha'aretz piece, see here: The Young Jewish Americans Coming to Israel to Fight the Occupation
As well as on +972 Mag: PHOTOS: A week of joint struggle in Sumud Freedom Camp, WATCH: Israeli forces dismantle West Bank protest camp , Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jews build West Bank protest camp
And in Al-Jazeera and AJ+: