This is what summoud looks like

Posted on 10 July 2012

Khirbet Zakaria is a small and sprawling Palestinian village in the West Bank. What makes it stand out from so many others is its location. It sits in the heart of the Etzion settlement bloc. As the settlements in this area south of Bethlehem were established and grew, Zakaria became encircled.

It’s a traditional village that relies on agriculture for its existence. As we drove towards the main part of the village, where most of the homes are located, you can see the land that was once Zakaria’s  has been cultivated by the settlers. Among these flourishing fields are a few homes of the villagers who refuse to leave, their lives made almost unbearable by the constant presence and interference from settlers working their land.

We arrived in the main part of the village to find a captive audience of all the village’s women for J to speak to about Ahdaf. We’re trying to reach communities where there are young people who cannot imagine being able to afford to go to university, so Zakaria was a perfect opportunity. And we were able to take advantage of the French consular general’s visit to the projects they’ve been funding in the village! One of these is a women’s empowerment project, so the women were dutifully waiting in the tiny school for the consul general’s arrival. We got 20 minutes of their time to talk about education and Ahdaf.

In Zakaria there is schooling available until year nine, then students who want to sit the Tawjihi must go to Beit Fajar to continue high school. It’s not an east journey: if they walk, which is a long way, they are at risk of attack from the settlers. To take a taxi costs money. To get an education in a community such as this is very, very hard.

J talked to the women about education and the possibilities of funding talented students to go to university, but only a few were interested. And not for the reasons you might think. Zakaria contains the tomb of the prophet Zachariah, revered in both Judaism and Islam. So the tiny village suffers similar problem to Nablus and the tomb of Joseph. Settlers turn up demanding access, at any time. The villagers have never refused anyone access to the tomb (which is being rehabilitated with French money). The settlers also come to the village and damage the crops, or just to intimidate.

The women don’t want a university education, they want to learn skills such as photography and Hebrew. No one in the village speaks Hebrew well enough to interact with the settlers. They believe that by having a means of communication, they can start to change the dynamics of the situation. Being able to talk with them means they won’t have to stand there powerless and ineffective each time they come: they can stand up to them, challenge them, even try to engage with them. It’s not quite so easy to intimidate someone who can answer you back.

The village also has a number of demolition orders. So, it was a somewhat bizarre situation. The French consul general touring the rehabilitation project, which is also refurbishing the original old stone homes of the village along with the tomb, and as he strolled to the old are he walked past the newer homes, “illegal” according to Israeli law, which will be torn down. Some already have been. Israel can’t touch the old homes.

Seeing the harsh conditions in which the villagers live, the daily struggle to maintain their existence on their land, and seeing all the women in the small school room summed up the meaning of “summoud”, the strength deep within Palestinians which enables them to resist day in and day out, and to live their lives no matter the obstacles and pressures they face. The women were full of life, their eyes shining brightly as they debated so animatedly with Jamal. The strength within them seemingly infinite, and you can see it in their faces. They are why the issue of Palestine will not just go away.

As we left a car drew up. Inside was the Israeli who issues demolition orders, coming to bring more grief to the village. But I believe that this village, and the women in particular, will ensure that Al Zakrya continues to exist, no matter what Israel or the settlers tries to do to them.

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