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'Performing in my stolen home': An open letter to Ehud Banai

Nasser Nawajaah, a displaced Palestinian resident of the south Hebron Hills village of Susya, writes to an Israeli singer who is scheduled to perform in the settlement built on his family’s stolen land.

A Palestinian family outside their tent home in the south Hebron Hills village of Susya (Photo: Activestills.org)

Several weeks ago a number of Israeli left-wing individuals and organizations launched a campaign to pressure Israeli singer Ehud Banai not to perform in the south Hebron Hills settlement of Susya.

Alongside the campaign, Israeli organizations Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence and Ta’ayush offered to take Banai on a tour of the area, including Palestinian Susya, a village that was forcibly evicted in order to make room for the Jewish settlement of the same name. Banai turned down the offer, saying he didn’t have time but said he would do so after the concert.

Mr. Banai eventually canceled his show in the settlement of Susya, citing anger and vitriol directed toward him by the settler community following a Facebook post asserting that he opposes the occupation.

On September, 18, however, he posted yet another Facebook post (both have since been deleted) announcing that he will perform in Susya as planned on September 22.

Ehud Banai (Photo: Eman/CC)

The following is an open letter to the Israeli singer by Nasser Nawajaah, a resident of Palestinian Susya. (Translated by Talia Beth Krevsky)

Dear Mr. Banai,

At the very moment when news reached us that you decided, nevertheless, to hold your concert in old Susya, my family, residents of Susya and the surrounding land were gathered to write you a letter of gratitude and respect for choosing not to perform on our stolen land. Instead, I find myself writing you a letter principled on deep disappointment over your decision to perform there anyway.

You preferred good relations and a spirit of reconciliation with the settlers over an expression of human solidarity with the victims who suffered from theft and violence at the hands of the same people, in front of whom you will perform. I will not get into your considerations, but I still hope that you came to your decision because there are facts still unknown to you. If you wish, you can learn about them here. Here are a few of them:

In the fenced compound in which you will perform, until 1986, there was a Palestinian village. Several hundred residents from the Nawajaah, Harini, Marnam, Shritah, Abu Tsbaha, and Hadaar families lived there. My family also lived there; I myself was born there. I was four years old when the soldiers arrived and expelled us from our homes. “Expropriation for public purposes,” they explained to us, and declared Susya an archaeological site, handing over its management to the settlers of Susya as a source of income.

Homeless and without possessions, we moved to live in caves located near our agricultural land. When the new location was too close for the taste of the settlers of Susya, however, the armed forces returned and expelled us from our homes. Again, we were forced to start anew, this time on another part of our land, further from the settlement. In 2001, we were expelled again, twice, the second time following a Supreme Court ruling deeming our expulsion illegal. “A mistake,” they explained to us, “the field commander was not aware of the Supreme Court’s decision.” However, the expulsion was accompanied by a spree of massive destruction of our dwellings, water cisterns, caves and fields. Again, we returned to live on our land and began rebuilding the ruins of our homes.

When you perform on the site, Mr. Banai, look around you. You will still be able to see the remains of the village around you, the caves in which we lived, the water cisterns from which we drank. Look also around the site, at what was once our land, but to where our access has been prevented due to its proximity to the settlement.

The lighting and sound equipment for your performance are powered by an electrical line that passes over our land, though for us, and all other small Palestinian villages south of Mount Hebron, there is no connection to the electricity grid. Even the water pipe that reaches the site passes over our land, only a few meters from the tents in which we live. But for us, it’s forbidden to connect to the water network and we are dependent on the little water that accumulates in our cisterns throughout the winter. We are prohibited from accessing most of our water cisterns to this day. Please look now at the small piece of land next to the entrance of the site. Located there are three wells that served us in the past, but to which today we are forbidden access.

Throughout the concert, please look at the crowd in front of you, Mr. Banai. Among the people sitting there you will find the settlers of Susya and the surrounding land, who are responsible, according to Israeli police, for dozens of incidents of assault and damage to our property, the destruction of fields and tress, ruining cisterns and water reservoirs, poisoning grazing lands and water wells, systematically driving out shepherds from their grazing lands, and even setting fire to tents and attacking families in their homes in the dead of night.

Among your audience and the people who organized your show, Mr. Banai, you will find those personally responsible for efforts of the “Susya Cooperative Society” and the “Regevim” settler organization to coerce the army to demolish Palestinian Susya yet again. The danger of destruction currently threatens all residential tents, each house, solar energy facilities and water cisterns, a medical clinic and outhouses.

For me, this is the significance of your decision to perform in my stolen home, Mr. Banai.

Our daily struggle to live on our land will continue to exist even without you. We hope and believe that we will find moral humane voices within the Israeli and international societies, which will stand with us against acts of dispossession, robbery and expulsion.

Nasser Nawajaah, Susya

Due to a typo, the letter mistakenly gave the year that residents of Susya were expelled as 1968 instead of 1986.

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    1. It is all because of suicide bombers. You are responsible for each bomber, each one of you. Even in 1986. In fact, if there were never going to be future suicide bombers, you would never have been expelled. Such is the secured logic of those who lens everything as a race war.

      ‘we were expelled again, twice, the second time following a Supreme Court ruling deeming our expulsion illegal. “A mistake,” they explained to us, “the field commander was not aware of the Supreme Court’s decision.” However, the expulsion was accompanied by a spree of massive destruction of our dwellings, water cisterns, caves and fields.’ : Origin of the IDF’s failure to obey the High Court order is irrelevant. The IDF should have provided complete, absolute redress for the failure–and should still have to do so.

      The individual case makes race war look very silly and callus. And that is the whole point of rights jurisprudence.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Israel is the kingdom of David, who sent Uriah the Hittite to death in battle so he could steal his wife.

      So it continues

      Reply to Comment
    3. Rachamim Dwek

      I find the phrase “stolen land” to be extremely rich in irony. The “village” of Khirbet Sussiya was founded in the mid-1970s by Bedouin shepards tending flocks for owners in Yatta, in hopes of finding better paying work as labourers at the extencive archaeological site in the valley. The fact these excavations have discovered a Byzantine Era synagogue that remained in use to at least the Crusader Era, and that Bedouins simply squatted on the site in the 1970s makes the accusation of Arab land having been stolen seem almost perverse.

      When the High Court forced the Bedouins to stop squatting near the archaeological site in 1986, they simply moved to an unsed field. Aside from the field being state land, it comes exceedingly close to an IDF Closed Military Reservation #918. The IDF chose that portion of the valley because there was zero private land ownership- and because there was extremely few arable tracts for future agricultural exploitation.

      Only 4 years after Bedouin shepards began squatting at their first site, “Settlers” began moving into the valley, and ended up founding the “Settlement” also known as Sussiya (the Bedouin squat is now known as “Sussiya Kadima”).

      Again the High Court has ruled against the Bedouins but due to meaningless petition filings meant to delay the inevitable eviction of the Bedouins and demolition of their five dozen plus structures, they have continued propagandising the issue.

      Before land can be stolen, you need to actually own the land in question.

      Reply to Comment