University students and faculty members came together in Allbritton to listen to six Palestinians discuss their experiences living in the West Bank on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The event, “Real Talk: Expulsion, Occupation and Demolition”, focused on educating University students through a historical and technical look at the systematic disenfranchisement of Palestinians, accompanied by first-hand narratives of the fear and destruction in Palestine.
The delegation included Fatma Nawajaa, her four-year-old son, and her nephew from Susiya; and Sadin Hatleen, Nima Hathleen, and their daughter from nearby Umm al-Kheir. The event was made possible by a collaboration between various student groups and departments: Students for Justice in Palestine; Wesleyan’s Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Chapter; JVP-New Haven Chapter; the Anthropology Department; the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) Department; the American Studies Department, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life; the Center for the Americas; the Student Budget Committee; and the Adelphic Educational Fund.
“Real Talk” opened with Donna Beranski-Walker, founder of the Rebuilding Alliance, a nonprofit which helps reconstruct war-torn communities. She stressed that its goal is to prevent demolition rather than respond to its aftermath.
Beranski-Walker explained to the audience that Susiya stands as a symbol of larger Palestinian planning rights. Currently, there are active demolition orders on countless villages in Palestine. Therefore, every day that Susiya and other villages like it stand is another day of defying the constant threat of violence at the hands of the Israeli government.
The threat of destruction, however, became more real when the Israeli Army said the village would be demolished at the end of Ramadan in July. International outcry was the only thing that kept the village standing.
The Palestinian group came to the U.S, giving two briefings in Washington, D.C.—one to the House of Representatives and one to the Senate—before coming to New York and then to their last stop at the University. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently signed on to help the delegation lobby the Israeli government against tearing down the village.
Fatma Nawajaa is a woman from Susiya whose work with the Rural Women’s Association of the South Hebron Hills helps empower women through education and skill building. Her story, translated by Serene Murad ’18, recounted the constant threats to her village. Since Nawajaa was born in Susiya in 1978, she has witnessed the destruction of 8 houses by the Israeli Army. In addition to daily threats of demolition, the people in her village face other barriers, which include an obstruction of education and a consistent lack of affordable water.
She said that though historically, the media has refrained from reporting on the conditions in Susiya, this is changing.
“Using publicity they’ve been able to make Susiya’s problem very well known throughout international outlets,” Nawajaa said.
Nawajaa concluded her portion of the talk by informing University students that they can help change policy by learning about the issue and appealing to their senators.
“Please continue to support us and spread the truth,” she said. “I invite you all to Susiya to see how we live.”
Her nephew Aysar, 14, gave a short speech in English.
“I’d like to spread peace, happiness and respect among everyone,” he said. “It is my right to live in a home without the threat of demolition. I’d really like to ask your help to help save my village, Susiya, and to stop the settlers’ violence toward women and children.”
Sadin and Nima Hathleen have also seen the devastation firsthand in their village of Umm al-Kheir. One day, Nima came home after soldiers came into their house to find her mother outside and her daughter crying.
“My daughter ran thinking a soldier was behind her,” she said.
Sadin, a sculptor whose handmade works repurpose structures demolished by Israeli bulldozers, said that the soldiers bulldoze in the middle of the week, especially in November through January, when the winters weather is the harshest. He said the soldiers beat Israelis and Palestinians alike who try to stop the demolition process.
“They don’t care about you, they don’t care about the elders, they don’t care about the children,” he said. “They want to demolish the houses in 15 minutes.”
He also pointed to the door and said he can see into the Israeli settlers’ houses, and notices their amenities, such as swimming pools in their backyards.
“They see you when you are suffering, but they don’t care about you,” he said. “The people feel this racism.”
Lastly, he hopes that his trip will help raise awareness of the imminent danger he and his town are in.
“For some years I wanted to speak to different people and tell them what happened,” he said. “They didn’t know what happened there really. We hope the United States can open the case of demolishment with the Israeli government. It could help.”
Students for Justice in Palestine, and attendees of the event, declined requests for comment.
The University was the only school the delegation has spoken at, an experience that Donna Beranski-Walker says was important. She says the experience of speaking to a full house of attentive listeners was ultimately a success.
“Bringing them to Wesleyan was something I knew they would value deeply,” she said. “It’s been so important throughout for them to tell their stories, so being able to come to a receptive audience that’s welcoming them to hear their stories just from the start was really important.”