Guest contribution by Joy Ellison
“My name is Amira. I live in At-Tuwani. I love At-Tuwani because—I don’t love At-Tuwani! There are settlers and soldiers and they always cause problems… Wherever they go, soldiers always cause problems. But they don’t come to At-Tuwani as often now because the people here are strong.” — Amira, age 7
I wrote this essay on January 22, 2008, a few months after I began working to support Palestinian nonviolent resistance in the village of At-Tuwani. At-Tuwani is a small village where Palestinians live using the same farming techniques that they have used to survive on the edge of the Negev desert for generations. Located at the southern tip of the West Bank, the men and women of Tuwani raise sheep and goats and grow wheat, barley, olives and lentils.
Keifah Al Addera, the director of the At-Tuwani Women’s Cooperative, says, “The people of At-Tuwani and surrounding villages are very simple farmers and shepherds. They depend on their land and flocks, a life that, until recently, has been self-sufficient. Our land supported us and we felt secure. In 1982 there was an historical event that disturbed out secure conditions: the building of the Ma’on settlement on At-Tuwani land. That led to a series of aggression against powerless people; the stealing of our lands; the blocking of our roads; and the attacks on our people. The result was the spread of poverty, fear and insecurity.”
In the midst of this Israeli attempt at ethnic cleansing, the women and girls of At-Tuwani are working for liberation. Faced with both the Israeli occupation and patriarchy within their own community, they are working, laughing, celebrating, and resisting together. By organizing and participating in nonviolent demonstrations and physically confronting soldiers and settles as they attack their community, women and girls are not only challenging the Israeli occupation, but also sexist attitudes and expectations within their community. The following story is an example of three generations of women fearlessly resisting occupation. It is only one tiny example amongst countless stories of women’s resistance and resilience.
When I saw Amira talking to the Ma’on settlement guard, I went running towards her with my video camera poised. In At-Tuwani, Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian children walking to school, as well as Palestinian adults working on their own land. But as I hurried towards Amira, I realized this seven-year-old was about to teach me a lesson in nonviolent resistance.
Her hands clasped behind her back, Amira looked up into the face of the settlement guard. With her usual composure, she spoke to him. This particular settler is notorious for harassing Palestinians; I’ve seen adult Palestinians take off running when he approached. But he was looking down at Amira and listening. Before I could reach where she stood, Amira turned and calmly walked away.
“What did you say to him, Amira?” I asked. A small, shy girl, Amira didn’t reply at first. But soon my teammates coaxed an answer from her. “I asked him why he couldn’t bring back our donkey.”
Recently, Israeli settlers beat a Palestinian man from the village of Tuba and stole his donkey. Palestinians living in the South Hebron hills have had their livestock stolen before. From experience, they know the Israeli police are unlikely to do anything to help them recover their property or prosecute settlers who attack them. Perhaps the entreaties of a little girl could succeed where the Israeli police fail.
About a half an hour before I watched Amira make her case to an armed settler, Israeli soldiers drove up to where Palestinians were plowing. Neighbors came to see what was happening. Soon a crowd of children joined them. Amira’s mother passed out tiny cups of Arabic coffee. As soon as the settlement guard arrived, Amira’s grandmother, the oldest woman in At-Tuwani, walked up to him. She greeted him without a trace of fear and asked him where the donkey was.
Armed with nothing but their human rights, the people of at-Tuwani remained on their land. The farmers convinced the soldiers to allow them to work, and the settlement guard assured Amira and her grandmother that he would do his best to bring back the donkey. I don’t have much hope that the donkey will be returned, but I’m sure that Amira will grow up knowing how to resist injustice. And that gives me hope for the villages of the South Hebron Hills.
Joy Ellison spent three years in al-Tuwani, a small village in the south Hebron hills which is nonviolently resisting settlement expansion and violence. Joy is a graduate student at DePaul University and is currently finishing a graphic novel about al-Tuwani and working with Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights; follow Joy on Twitter: @j_in_tuwani.