The pending erasure of the Indigenous people of Masafer Yatta isn’t solely about the “occupation,” as liberal Zionists would lead you to believe.
Palestinians are fighting much more than an “occupation.” We are fighting Israel’s program of settler-colonialism.
We are fighting against efforts to eliminate us.
Deep down, every Palestinian knows it’s not solely about the “occupation.”
Every day, Palestinians face the threat of being arrested and imprisoned indefinitely, killed or displaced from our land. Our experience tells us that our existence is a threat to Israel.
The only “solution” to this danger is to get rid of us.
During June, one of the young men from our community of al-Tuwani raised a Palestinian flag from a tree in our village. Days later, Israeli military forces launched a violent raid to take the flag down.
Israeli soldiers pointed their guns at me, my friends and my family members. Effectively granted immunity from prosecution by their state, they pointed death in our faces.
It can feel like only luck separates the living from the dead in those moments. After all, the sole purpose of the Israeli soldier is to eliminate the native people – by taking our freedom or our lives, through expulsion or forced integration into the settler-colonial system.
Our history demonstrates this fact.
Lethal Israeli violence against our families and loved ones is one of the threads that binds Palestinian society together. In Masafer Yatta, the Israelis attacked local elder Haj Suleiman Hathaleen during January by running over him and dragging his body down the gravel road as he defended his neighbors. Hathaleen subsequently died from his injuries.
During January, too, the Israelis shot Harun Abu Aram in the neck, while he defied their attempt to steal an electricity generator.
He is paralyzed from the neck down and will likely have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Israeli forces assassinated the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin and then ambushed her funeral, assaulting the procession with horrifying cruelty and disregard. Even during Joe Biden’s visit to Bethlehem, locals were forced to take down a poster bearing her image near the Church of the Nativity.
Erasure comes in many forms.
Still, we refuse to give up our freedoms or our collective liberation struggle. We won’t be forgotten by history.
In defiance of Israeli erasure, we have been organizing regular protests in Masafer Yatta, standing in front of the military tanks to prevent them from terrorizing people and destroying their fields.
As we defend our communities, Israeli forces arrest and beat us. So do the settlers that those soldiers protect.
They have confiscated our vehicles and tractors and imposed heavy fines on us to keep solidarity activists away from the villages.
But we understand that the physical struggle on the ground isn’t enough. It must be coupled with public pressure.
We have launched campaigns online to raise Masafer Yatta’s profile, highlighting the ways Israel carries out ethnic cleansing.
We work on our campaigns late into the night.
People from all over the world – diplomats, journalists, activists – have been invited here to witness the situation on the ground and to act in solidarity.
This struggle for liberation won’t be won in isolation.
As Palestinians confront a matrix of Israeli violence – bullets, batons and prison – we are calling on solidarity activists to connect awareness-raising efforts with activities that can cut off the financial resources of the Israeli settler movement.
A broad coalition of organizations – Youth of Sumud, Human Rights Defenders, the Community Peacemaker Teams, the Hebron Defense Committee, Stop the Wall and the Good Shepherd Collective – has organized the Campaign to Defund Racism.
Because we have routinely faced Israeli settlers on the ground, we understand that the settler movement directs nearly every act of violence.
After all, the settler group Ateret Cohanim is orchestrating the takeover of the Christian properties at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City and the Israel Land Fund is leading the charge against the people of Sheikh Jarrah.
Our experiences with these groups are real.
We know who called the Israeli soldiers to take the flag down from our trees. We know it has been the relentless advocacy of the group Regavim that led to the destruction of the roads connecting our communities in Masafer Yatta and to demolition orders being issued against the vulnerable community of Khallet al-Dabe.
Regavim’s campaigns against the Palestinian Bedouin communities in the South Hebron Hills led to the attack on Haj Suleiman Hathaleen.
These organizations clearly represent the tip of the spear of the settler movement. They are the ones that develop policy, coordinate the implementation of colonization, take us to court, and ensure their people are elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
They finance their operations through “charities” across the US, Canada and the UK. By exploiting charitable systems that are not properly regulated or investigated, they operate the machine that has been built to erase us.
As Palestinians defending our ancestral lands, we tell you that the fight isn’t solely against the “occupation.”
It’s against a larger program of Zionist settler-colonialism. As Palestinians in the diaspora and here in Palestine unite around the call for decolonization, we must target the financial resources of the settler-colonial movement.
The Campaign to Defund Racism is the tool that we need to do this essential work.
Sami Huraini is a Palestinian human rights defender. He co-founded Youth of Sumud and works with the Campaign to Defund Racism.