Monday, 25 October 2021 12:25 GMT

'Squeezing life into the cracks'

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) Determined to Stay: Palestinian Youth Fight for Their Village

Jody Sokolower

US: Olive Branch Press/Interlink, 2021

Pp. 229


This book couldn't be more relevant or timely. It focuses on Silwan, a Palestinian village south of Jerusalem's Old City, which has much in common with Sheikh Jarrah where settlers' attempts to expel Palestinian families from their homes unleashed a chain of events in May linking Jerusalem and Gaza.

Both of these Jerusalem communities have long been subject to Israel's ethnic cleansing policy, and in both cases, the Palestinian residents have resisted with whatever means at their disposal. What was new this time was the unprecedented outpouring of international solidarity with the Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid, and the vibrant leadership of a new generation of young Palestinians.

Neither such international solidarity, nor fresh leadership, occur out of the blue, but are the result of sustained political education, information campaigns and activism, such as described in this new book,“Determined to Stay”. The author, Jody Sokolower describes herself as“a white, Jewish, high school social studies teacher” who“was critical of how Israel treated Palestinians”, but didn't teach about it until visiting Palestine in 2012 and deciding to write this book about Silwan. 

The book includes excellent photos, maps and historical narrative, but its distinguishing feature is the author's analytical approach largely developed via interviews with many Silwan residents, especially the staff of the Madaa Creative Centre which has many diverse activities for women, children and youth, from traditional embroidery to hip hop. As Sokolower writes,“I had learned so much about Silwan from the interviews and from watching how everyone here squeezed life into the cracks and crevices of the occupation: Providing the children with as much love and support as possible, building resistance to the destruction of Silwan into every piece of their lives... This was what I had to share with youth and their families back in the United States.” (p. 199)

Don't think that reading about one neighbourhood is too narrow, for what has happened in Silwan mirrors to a great extent Israeli policy towards the Palestinians everywhere at various times. In addition, Sokolower gives the book an international perspective by comparing the situation of Palestinians in their homeland to the treatment of Native American and African American communities in the USA. The book is introduced by Nick Estes of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, a professor, author and activist for indigenous rights, who visited Palestine and writes:“Being in Palestine changed my life… What I experienced was a deeper sense of what resistance feels like… I was amazed at the level of resistance among everyday Palestinians, from young children to elders.” (p. 5)

Settler moves against Silwan date back to 1988, but what has made the situation more acute in recent years is Israel building a theme park there, called The City of David, after digging tunnels under the village and causing local structures, including an UNRWA school, to cave in, disguising their colonial ventures as archaeology. The book includes an excellent account of how Israel wields archaeology as a weapon against the Palestinians, hoping they will relinquish their rights to the land. 

The building of the theme park was accompanied by an escalation of repression against the population of Silwan, attempting to push them out of their homes. Young people were especially targeted, with a dramatic increase in the arrest of children for arbitrary or even frivolous reasons, and otherwise preventing them from going to school. In 2011, the year before Sokolower first visited Silwan, almost 200 children were arrested in Silwan, and many of them were interrogated in the notorious Russian Compound in Jerusalem. Rather than leading Palestinians to leave their village as Israel intended, the spike in arrests pushed the Madaa Centre to expand its counselling services, providing academic, psychological or legal help to young people and their families, to help them go on with their lives. The Israeli policy of arresting so many young people causes Sokolower to make the parallel to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the US.

Being Jewish and American, the author was able to move around more freely than her Palestinian friends in Israel's apartheid system, but she was ever alert to discrimination. As she writes,“Although I have lived in the United States my whole life, much of it spent teaching about and fighting racism, I have never had such a visceral experience of white privilege as in the streets of Palestine.” (p. 69)

“Determined to Stay” provides much historical as well as contemporary documentation of how Israel has dispossessed the Palestinians and built an apartheid state. Sokolower presents this material in an engaging way, chiefly through various Palestinians telling their own story. An original resident of the nearby village, Lifta, tells about the village before and after the 1948 Nakbeh. Another relates how Palestinians survived the homelessness that followed the Nakbeh in desolate camps, but most are stories from young people about the activities of the Madaa Centre and various modes of resistance. 

The author returned to Silwan in 2017, chronicling the changes that had occurred since her first visit — mostly new Israeli encroachments but also on going resistance. This is a book that warns of what could happen if international solidarity with the Palestinians is not further escalated to bolster their on going resistance.


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