By Gordon Smith
It was with some trepidation that I joined a trip to the South Hebron Hills organised by Yachad. I come from a family of Zionists and lived in Israel from 1948 to 1956. We have a home in Tel Aviv, where our daughter lives with her family, having made aliyah some 20 years ago. We left our comfortable Tel Aviv bubble to join 20 other participants on a coach journey to a small Palestinian village called Susiya in the southern-most tip of the West Bank.
We were welcomed by villagers under a large shady tree near their makeshift tents and cave dwellings. They had no permanent homes owing to the complex bureaucracy of the Israeli administration, which either forbade the building of homes or demolished them for arbitrary reasons being possibly, military, archaeological or security concerns that changed regularly.
It is important to remember that Susiya residents have lived in that area long before the 1948 war or the establishment of Israel, let alone the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank.
We were taken to see beautiful ‘legal’ and not so legal Israeli settlements with water, sewers, electricity lines and power – none of which was available to Susiya residents.
We stopped at a barrier erected by the IDF across the only road out of the village to Yatta, the nearest main Palestinian town, which was locked, depriving the villagers access to medical facilities or shops. We were told this barrier had been erected for security reasons during Pesach.
We stopped at a hill on which was an Israeli settlement, from which rocks had been hurled onto Palestinian schoolchildren – necessitating daily protection by the IDF on their walk to school.
During the trip, we were guided by a young IDF officer belonging to the Breaking the Silence group, who told us of his experiences. They made for very sombre hearing alongside the testimonies in the booklet he gave us. We saw a side of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank rarely aired.
It was a thought-provoking day. I challenge anyone on a similar trip not to be moved by some of what they see and hear. I’m glad I went as you can never justify your own beliefs until you stand in the shoes of the other.
Yachad is trying to achieve just that, so if you want to take part in a different and challenging trip, go to www.yachad.org.uk