Donald Macintyre, reporting from the West Bank, explains how the old dream of two states is slipping beyond reachby Donald Macintyre / August 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Sitting with Nasser Nawaja and his father Mohammed on the floor of his flimsy wood-framed shack at Susiya, in the rocky, windswept South Hebron hills, you sense how the history of the last 70 years is bound up in their journey here—short though it was by the standards of many Palestinian families. In 1948, Mohammed, then aged two, was carried on his father’s shoulders as they walked four miles north to flee advancing Israeli forces, like over 700,000 other refugees who lost their homes in what is now Israel. Susiya was just across what would become the 1949 armistice line, in the West Bank, which after the first great round of fighting stopped was controlled by Jordan.
But after the 1967 Six Day War, the West Bank—along with Gaza and East Jersualem—was occupied by Israel, paving the way for the settlers. And so, in 1986, it was the toddler Nasser’s turn to be carried on Mohammed’s shoulders from his birthplace. Three years after the establishment of a nearby Jewish settlement, the Palestinian residents were ordered by the Israeli military to leave to make way for an Israeli archaeological park around the ancient ruins of a synagogue; no matter that a mosque had also existed there since the 10th century. The families constructed a new, makeshift Susiya, where today its 240 residents remain squeezed precariously, between two Israeli-imposed “security zones,” which exclude them from much of their previous land. To Susiya’s north is that archaeological park; to its south are the red-roofed settlement houses, homes to 950 Jewish residents, with their own synagogue, community centre and swimming pool. It could expand again without fuss, if the only Palestinian residents were once again uprooted.
Which is just what the Israeli authorities intend. Israel’s military has court authority to demolish seven of the ramshackle dwellings, the first step in a process to move the Palestinians from their land to the impoverished West Bank city of Yatta. But the Nawajas have been fellahin, peasant farmers, in the area for generations—the very way of life, along with their land, that they are now under military orders to abandon. Nasser is an activist; but also a farmer to his fingertips. When we last met back in the late spring, he broke off to worry aloud about the heavy rain beating unseasonably on the nylon roof above us—it might be “good for the vegetables,” but “disastrous” for his wheat and olives. And he is determined to resist being forced, as if it were a once in a generation event, to carry his own youngest son on his shoulders from his birthplace. “I won’t do it,” he says.