Reflections on Susiya: Tear Gas

Three years ago I first went to the small, haphazard conglomeration of tents and tin shacks known as Susiya. It was then under threat of imminent demolition, and we came to show solidarity, to show love - Ahavat Chinam.

The families living in the village did not know what to do, they had no where else to go. The town was not demolished that day, but the people of Susiya have lived under fear of destruction, under siege, ever since.

This Tisha B'Av, fortified in temples of ignorance, entrenched behind blinding walls of venomous disregard, we move closer to becoming the destroyer, casting away the painful memory of our own destruction.

It is my hope that perhaps this Tisha B'Av we will lift up our eyes from the tear-drenched prayer books and realize what we are becoming before it is too late. Before we spread any more hatred, before we destroy any more temples.

Here are the words I wrote and the sights I saw back then. Sadly, they ring true today:

(Note: Eli's 2012 piece was originally posted on his blog - http://ephily.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/tear-gas.html)

Part I - Demonstration

An impressive crowd of approximately five hundred people, men, women and even children, assembled in the center of town. They gathered around a few people giving speeches, explaining the importance of their being here, in this town, demonstrating. After the speeches, the crowd began to march. They walked from the center towards a point at the outskirts of the town. It was a peaceful little march, shouting slogans, waving flags, banging drums... BOOM! A terrifying explosion shatters the rhythm of the slogans. BOOM! BOOM! Stun grenades! Why? Where? BOOM! Tear gas grenades are going off, people are running back, panic is everywhere. BOOM!

As you can probably already tell, this was not the social justice protest in Tel Aviv, where activists shut down major roads by piling trash in the middle of the street, this was an entirely peaceful demonstration of Jews and Palestinians, showing solidarity with the Palestinian town of Susiya, which is slated to be demolished in its entirety. While the protests - both deemed illegal by the authorities - were violently suppressed, the response by the Israel Defense Forces in Susiya was, clearly, radically different.

Never before in my life was I scared of Israeli soldiers. These people have always my brothers and sisters, I know they are here to protect me. How could it be that these very same people transformed from protectors to attackers? All I wanted to ask the soldiers was why. Why did you gas me? Why did you, without as much as a thought, attack us with stun grenades and threaten us with even more violence? Why?! But standing on the opposite end of the gun makes it much more terrifying to approach and ask this simple question. Confronting my former brothers was just not worth the risk of again being subjected to their wrath.

Part II - Reasons

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990's, the Palestinian territories have been divided into three Areas: A, B and C. Areas A and B are under (mostly) the administration of the Palestinian authority, while Area C is under the exclusive administration of Israel (via the Civil Administration). The translation of this means that Israel is responsible for all residents of Area C, which includes all settlements as well as several hundred thousand Palestinians. This agreement was meant to be temporary, a step towards a final outcome of a Palestinian state, yet since the Oslo Accords were frozen by Netanyahu in his first term, and since the failure of negotiations at Camp David and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the different Areas have become a permanent reality.

The outcomes of this are dire. At least for the Palestinians living here.

Susiya is a tiny Palestinian town, if you can call the few tents and tin shelters a town, in the South Hebron Hills, Area C of the West Bank. The Palestinians living there have had their homes destroyed and portions of their land taken away a couple times before, to make way for a Jewish settlement by the same name. They therefore had to rebuild, but to build in Area C one requires permits from the Civil Administration, and these are just not granted to Palestinians. The residents of Susiya preceded to build without permits and since this is "illegal," the entire village is now slated for demolition. No alternative housing, no compromise, no mercy. 

Illegal is illegal. And Israel can not accept the flagrant transgressions of some several dozen tents - TENTS! - on this property. Private, Palestinian-owned, property. 

Susiya: "illegal buildings" must be demolished

Susiya: "illegal buildings" must be demolished

Part III - Effects

It is clear to me that the rules and laws Israel is selectively enforcing in the West Bank, and especially in Area C, are immoral, disturbing, and against everything I believe in (like, God). I was also completely demoralized by the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces and the anti-democratic policies enforced without question once an invisible green line is crossed. Fighting against this system is crucial for the well-being of the Palestinians and for the character of Israel. The demonstration, though, left me with the question: what was accomplished by all this? 

As cynical as it may be, this demonstration is a show, where Susiya is merely the stage, and the IDF and activists are well-rehearsed actors. Other than the grenades and tear gas, which was an unnecessary breaking of the rules of the game, the soldiers and demonstrators were in a stale mate. The soldiers stone faced, and the activists shouting away. Every once in a while the boundaries would be breached, and an officer and an anarchist would take turns yelling at each other. It went on like this for hours, the demonstrators demanding to gain access to the village well, the army threatening to use "Skunk" Water (foul smelling liquid that sticks to everything for days) if anyone moved any closer. And on and on. Then, just as sudden as it began, the call went out, and the demonstration came to an end. Everyone filed back to the buses, either to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and in a matter of twenty minutes, only the gas canisters and the occasional forgotten flag were witness to the show which played out here. 

One redeeming quality was a small group of activists dressed as clowns, mocking the situation, but especially the soldiers. These few clowns captured the essence of this whole absurd reality. The law system, the enforcing soldiers, the brief demonstration, the Palestinians caught in the middle. This is the reality we live in, a reality where clowns are the only ones who make any sense.