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Monday, 3 August 2015

Denying the History of Irish Racism in the US - Prof. Richard Jensen of Illinois University

Re-writing History from the Perspective of the Powerful - Junking a Junk Historian

Historians of the Right have an important role in seeking to justify oppression past whilst rehabilitating those who were in power.  This means doing their best to discredit, where possible, what they consider myths of oppression.

In this case Richard J. Jensen of Illinois University, posited as fact the idea that ‘no Irish need apply’ signs were merely a myth that the bog Irish used to guilt-trip other Americans.  Their victimisation and discrimination had been just a matter of self-indulgent fantasy and not based in fact.  It took a 14 year old girl to junk the junk historian.

His article "No Irish Need Apply":  A Myth of Victimization was printed in the Journal of Social History 36.2 (2002) 405-429 and he can be contacted at

In fact through undertaking a little research myself it appears that other people did uncover evidence that Jensen's poorly researched article was just that.  For example 'No Irish Need Apply' by Jarlath MacNamara on May 27, 2013

Tony Greenstein 
New York Times 10.5.1859

The Teen Who Exposed a Professor's Myth

The Internet has been buzzing about how discrimination against the Irish was a myth. All it took was a high schooler to prove them wrong.

Rebecca Fried had no intention of preserving the record of a persecuted people whose strife was ready to be permanently written off in the eyes of history as exaggerated, imagined, or even invented.
That's because Rebecca was too busy trying to get through the 8th grade.
the ubiquitous signs that Jensen couldn't find
In 2002, University of Illinois-Chicago history professor Richard J. Jensen printed “No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization.” His abstract begins:

“Irish Catholics in America have a vibrant memory of humiliating job discrimination, which featured omnipresent signs proclaiming ‘Help Wanted—No Irish Need Apply!’ No one has ever seen one of these NINA signs because they were extremely rare or nonexistent.”
Ohio Democrat 10.5.1883
In short, those famous “No Irish Need Apply” signs—ones that proved Irish Americans faced explicit job discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries? Professor Jensen came to the blockbuster conclusion that they never existed.
NYT 10.5.1859
The theory picked up traction over the last decade, but seemed to reach an unexpected fever pitch in the last few months. Explainer websites this year used it to highlight popular myths of persecution complexes that are, as Vox put it, “stand-ins for an entire narrative about how immigrants are treated in America.” That’s from the lede of an article printed in March called “‘No Irish Need Apply’: the fake sign at the heart of a real movement.”

Here, of course, is the problem: After only couple of hours Googling it, Rebecca, a 14-year-old, had found out these signs had, in fact, existed all along. Not only in newspaper listings—in which they appeared in droves—but, after further research, in shop windows, too.
New York Times
The Irish were persecuted in the American job market—and precisely in the overt, literally written-down way that was always believed.

All of this would have been written off as a myth if it weren’t for Rebecca Fried, a rising high school freshman—who one of the preeminent scholars on the Irish diaspora in the United States now calls a “hero” and “quite extraordinary”—and who simply couldn’t believe it, either.
Yorkville enquirer March 08, 1877
Rebecca never set out to prove the thesis wrong. She was just interested in an article her dad brought home from work one day.

“Now and then I bring home stuff for the kids to read if I think they will find it interesting or will convey some lesson,” says Michael Fried, Rebecca’s father. “Half the time they don’t read them at all. Sometimes they’ll read something if I suggest it. Nothing has ever come of any of these things other than this one.”

Rebecca wasn’t even trying to disprove her dad—let alone an academic at the University of Illiniois-Chicago. She just figured she’d Google the words and see what came up over 100 years ago.

"Just for the fun of it, I started to run a few quick searches on an online newspaper database that I found on Google,” she says. “I was really surprised when I started finding examples of NINA ads in old 19th-century newspapers pretty quickly.”

So she started collecting a handful of examples, then dozens, then more. She went to as many newspaper databases as she could. Then she thought, somebody had to have done this before, right?

“I didn’t see anything right away. This led me to wonder if it might be worth writing up in some form,” she says. “I showed my dad right away when I started finding these NINA ads. We just didn’t know whether this was already widely known and, if it wasn’t, whether it would be viewed as a topic worth considering for publication.”

Enter Kerby Miller, a newly retired history professor from the University of Missouri. He’s written everything from Guggenheim-funded books about the 18th-century Irish to the PBS documentary Out of Ireland with Paul Wagner. In 1986, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for history.

“It was out of the blue on May 1st, May Day—which is sort of fortuitous, now that I think about it,” says Miller. May Day is International Workers' Day, which celebrates laborers and worldwide.
They wanted to know if they were missing something. They weren’t.

In fact, for years, Miller wanted to know why everyone else was missing the opposite.
“From the first, my responses to Jensen’s claims had been strongly negative, as were those of a few other scholars, but, for various reasons, most historians, social scientists, journalists, et cetera accepted or even embraced Jensen’s arguments,” says Miller.

Miller says it all makes sense when you consider the parallels between Jensen’s arguments and the tone of anti-Irish propaganda after the Irish Civil War.

“This was a period dominated in Irish writing by those who collectively came to be known as ‘revisionists.’ What they did was, in some cases, take every traditional Irish Catholic belief concerning British Colonialists—some of which were heroic, even—and turn them upside down,” says Miller. “The British and Britain’s supporters were not to be seen as oppressors. They were now to be considered those taking down Irish Catholic oppression.”

Miller says it applies to all of Irish history, but recent history as well—even events and acts of persecution that the Irish lived through themselves.

“A lot of people were getting sick of this, but were afraid to speak out. They wanted to say it’s bullshit, but you would be regarded as an uncouth barbarian or an IRA sympathizer,” says Miller.  “The narrative was that, ‘They should stop their whining! They weren’t victims! They weren’t oppressed!’”

He’d been trying to bat down the conclusions in Jensen’s paper for 13 years. Miller says he knew something was fishy from the outset. First of all, he’d seen the advertisements years ago—well before something like Google Scholar made them easy to search for—as a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1970s. But something else tipped him off.

“Even more suspicious is that it seemed to fit into a political or ideological framework, in addition to his own writing, which was obviously polemically bent,” he says.

This is, after all, how the abstract in Jensen’s paper ends:

“Some Americans feared the Irish because of their religion, their use of violence, and their threat to democratic elections. By the Civil War these fears had subsided and there were no efforts to exclude Irish immigrants. The Irish worked in gangs in job sites they could control by force. The NINA slogan told them they had to stick together against the Protestant Enemy, in terms of jobs and politics. The NINA myth justified physical assaults, and persisted because it aided ethnic solidarity. After 1940 the solidarity faded away, yet NINA remained as a powerful memory.”

Miller says he wrote to Jensen at one point to contest it.

“Jensen’s email response to my criticisms was that they were to be expected because I was an Irish-American and a Catholic,” says Miller.

“In fact, as I responded to him, I am neither.”

Miller says he realized this might be an unwinnable fight when he went to New Zealand to present some work and he was bombarded with questions on why he didn’t believe Jensen. One man asked who in his family was Irish Catholic. Miller kindly reminded the questioner that the answer is no one—until he remembered his wife is.

“They said, ‘That’s gotta be it!’ That’s why I’m sympathetic to these Irish rebel terrorist scum!” he says, laughing.

“I hadn’t realized how extraordinarily dominant Jensen’s argument had become. I don’t know if that says something about the hierarchy of power in academia, or the others who accepted it because they bought into this revisionist interpretation.”

He wasn’t alone. Miller could name other scholars who questioned Jensen’s motives. He even tried to talk some of them into writing about it.

“They knew from their own research—or strongly suspected—that Jensen’s arguments were wrong or fallacious,” he says. “They were just too busy [to refute it], or preferred not to.”

Then May Day came.

“We didn’t know who to contact, but we saw that Professor Jensen’s article cited Professor Miller as someone who had erroneously believed in NINA, so we thought he might be a good person to try,” says Rebecca. “And he was obviously an expert in this area.”

Miller opened up Rebecca’s thesis. He quickly realized all of the academics too busy to take on Jensen couldn’t have done it better than a 14-year-old.

“She didn’t need any help from me on what she did,” he says. “I’d be surprised if she changed a single word.”

Rebecca says Miller then helped her and her father walk through what a scholarly article should look like. After all, no one in Rebecca’s family is an academic. Her parents are lawyers, and a scholarly article is not a requirement to get out of the 8th grade.

“I don’t want people to think she did this because she got expert advice,” he says. “[Rebecca and Michael] truly deserve all of the credit.”

Then, on Independence Day—fortuitous again—it became official: Rebecca printed “No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs” in the Oxford Journal of Social History.

“The article concludes that Jensen’s thesis about the highly limited extent of NINA postings requires revision, and that the earlier view of historians generally accepting the widespread reality of the NINA phenomenon is better supported by the currently available evidence,” Rebecca writes in her abstract.

When a story was written about the findings on the Irish website, Jensen congratulated Rebecca for her scholarship in the comments section, but took issue with her conclusion.

“I’m the PhD who wrote the original article. I’m delighted a high school student worked so hard and wrote so well,” he writes. “No, she did not claim to find a single window sign anywhere in the USA.”
But Rebecca’s article does include that information. She made it clear in a reply.

“I do have to say that the article does in fact list a number of posted physical NINA signs, not just newspaper ads. Pages 6-7 catalogue a number of the signs,” she wrote.

Jensen retorted with a numerical list of all of the “No Irish Need Apply” signs he encountered in her essay—ending with, “That’s very rare. In Chicago, only 3 ads in over 50 years. How rare can you get?”

Then, ever politely, Fried dropped the hammer.

“Thanks again for the response. This discussion is really fun for me, and I appreciate the opportunity to have it,” she wrote. “Let me make one last point and then I promise I will shut up and give you the last word if you want it. You began this conversation by stating that the article ‘did not claim to find a single window sign anywhere in the USA.’ I think we now agree at least that this is not correct.”

She then makes a salient point: Even if it were 15 recorded instances per year or 1,500—the signs existed, the persecution was real, and discrimination of the Irish was not an imagined feeling, but a reality difficult to both express and quantify.

“NINA sign would be just as offensive and memorable to Irish-American and other viewers whether it was for a job, an apartment, a social club, a ‘freedom pole,’ or anything else,” she wrote.
Of course, then she ended with this:

“I’ll conclude by sincerely thanking you again for interacting with me on this. It is a real honor and I appreciate it.”

Later, Rebecca says she regretted how her comments came out, saying she "may have come off as insufficiently respectful."

“He has been doing scholarly work for decades before I was born, and the last thing I want to do was show disrespect for him and his work,” she says.

But Professor Miller says he could not possibly be more impressed.

“I have the utmost admiration and respect for her. I really just want to be in the background of this,” he says.

“Rebecca is the hero.”

Now, Rebecca says she might continue along this same path, “exploring other areas where digitized newspaper evidence might supply new historical insights.” She thinks there “might still be some low-hanging fruit for researchers.”

But maybe not. Maybe she’ll be something completely different. She’s 14 years old. She has to start high school in a month.

“For the longer term, it’s too early to tell,” she says. “But I’ve become really interested in history through this process, and I think that would be an incredibly fascinating career path.”

If she does want to be an historian, when she goes to college about a half-decade from now, it’ll be time for her to tell a story no one will believe, once again.

And, for a second time, Professor Miller will be happy to help her prove it.

“It is, indeed,” he says, “quite extraordinary.”

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Why All the Fuss – We Kill Children All the Time

A Response to ‘Israeli condemnation ‘not enough,’ say US Jewish groups, after baby killed’ 

Fatal firebombing of Palestinian family by alleged Jewish terrorists prompts unusually harsh criticism by mainstream US Jews

Below is my response to an article in The Times of Israel on the murder of a Palestinian baby:

The whole concept of terrorism is a useless one in trying to understand the barbaric murder of a Palestinian infant. It is not simply the action of the 2 crazed settlers.
 It was Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur who wrote Torat HaMelech (the King's Torah) which justified the killing of even Palestinian infants, because they may grow up to hate 'us', who are equally responsible. The same goes for all the rabbis who forbade the renting of apartments to Arabs starting with Safed's Shmuel Eliyahu.
 But the cancer of racism permeates the whole of the Zionist body politic. How can Netanyahus' fake condemnation be taken seriously when his own deputy Defence Minister Eli Dahan describes Palestinians as beasts and animals whilst proclaiming the superiority of the Jewish soul, yea even those of Jewish homosexuals.
Racist graffiti
 Or a 'Justice' Minister who posts a screed on her facebook page calling for the wiping out of the whole Palestinian people and its mothers in particular, so they don't give birth to 'little Palestinian snakes'. Or Naftali Bennett who is proud of having killed so many Arabs. Or Miri Regev who compares African asylum seekers to 'cancer' and then apologises to cancer sufferers for the analogy.
 Yet who was suspended for 6 months from the Knesset? A secular Arab woman MK Haneen Zoabi, not the Jewish racists, because Jewish racism is always exempt. That is what a Jewish state means.
 And why all the fuss over a couple of molotov cocktails that burnt alive a child and his family? Isn't that what Israeli pilots did over Gaza last summer? Perhaps next time a group intends to perpetrate a 'price tag' attack, someone can whisper in their ear that they should join the Israeli airforce instead. That way they can become heroes when kill Palestinian babies and people will watch them from armchairs on a hill overlooking Gaza whilst they drink coffee.

Tony Greenstein 

Debbie Fay - Idiot of the Year

The Excuses Racists Will Come Out With

I went onto the Facebook page of leading Israeli racist and Israel's Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, who is leader of Habayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party.  As often happens my eye was caught by a particular inane post, even by the standards of the Israeli Right.

Fay was complaining that Israeli President Reuben Rivlin had assumed that the arsonists who burnt alive the Palestinian baby Ali Saad Dawabsha were Jewish.  They were probably dastardly Arabs seeking to blame the poor Israelis for his death.  Typical anti-Semites!  As the picture shows I exchanged a few words with this idiot before she prevented me responding any further.

I wouldn't pretend she is a typical racist idiot but according to her, we don't even know how the baby died.  She didn't seem struck with the idea that it might be a case of spontaneous combustion.  Can't imagine why unless the cameras were laying it must have been something flammable.  Not being able to withstand  the criticism she soon blocked me.  Oh well, it takes all sorts...

Friday, 31 July 2015

Susya - Destruction of Palestinian Village Put on Hold

Susya – the reason why Israeli Settlers can Burn Palestinian Infants to Death 

Today a settler attack on two Palestinian homes killed a Palestinian infant and severely injured his parents and siblings.  Palestinian infant burned to death in West Bank arson attack; IDF blames 'Jewish terror'  This attack did not come out of thin air but was the consequence of an Occupation that treats Palestinians as little more than human animals. 
Photos of Ali Saad Daobasa, an 18-month-old Palestinian killed by suspected Jewish extremists, lie in his house that was firebombed in the West Bank village of Douma, Friday, July 31, 2015. Photo by AP
Israel’s proposed demolition of the Palestinian village of Susya has, after massive international pressure, been put on hold.  However it is, but one, of many dozens of such evictions.  All the publicity however goes to the demolition of two buildings in the Bet El illegal settlement and even then the Government and the Army’s Civil Administration did their best to retrospectively allow the construction of settler buildings on private Palestinian land.  Israel: Eviction ofsettler zealots near Ramallah exposes cracks in Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet 
When you demolish Palestinian homes without a seconds thought, then you are dehumanising them.  They don’t have ordinary needs for shelter, warmth and food.  They are the untermenschen.  It is little wonder that settlers then absorb that message and decide to expedite the process and set fire to inhabited buildings.  If there are deaths, so much the better, because then the Palestinians will get the message that they are not wanted.
Damage to the home of the Daobasa family after Friday's arson attack, July 31, 2015. (Credit: AFP)
Netanyahu’s Cabinet contains the Party of the Settler Pogromists and Arsonists, HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home).  They have given consistent support to the repression of the Palestinians inhabitants of the Occupied Territories and are supporters of transfer, i.e. expulsion.  To weep crocodile tears now over the death of a Palestinian infant after having whipped up racial hatred is the height of hypocrisy.  But that is Zionism. 

Activists with ‘All That’s Left’ prepare a banner that will read, ‘Stand With Susya,’ June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
When Palestinians are found to have killed Jewish settlers their houses are demolished, thousands of Palestinian homes are raided and they of course are locked up for decades and tortured.  When or if the culprits of the latest tragedy are caught, their homes will be safe.  After all how can you demolish houses in a settlement when you are committed to building new settlements?  They will no doubt be subject to psychological analysis and found to be incapable of pleading or otherwise sick rather than criminal thugs.  The settlement(s) where they lived will not be raided.  In other words the treatment of settler killers is entirely different to that of the Palestinians.  

Diaspora Jews bring solidarity to south Hebron Hills

Over 70 Jews from around the world headed to Susya last weekend, where they stood with the residents of the West Bank village under threat of demolition against displacement and settler violence. 

It was part anti-occupation activism, part Jewish summer camp, part WWOOF and a little reminiscent of young foreigners coming to volunteer on a kibbutz. Over 70 Jews in their 20s and 30s, mostly from English-speaking countries, spent last Friday and Saturday in the impoverished Palestinian village of Khirbet Susya, whose residents are living under a looming threat of a second forced displacement from their homes. The first time was 30 years ago.
It was my second time in the village that week. A few days earlier, I went to cover a solidarity visit by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the heads of mission of every single European Union member state. The tent erected by local Palestinian authorities to host their prime minister was still standing when I arrived in Susya on Saturday. This time instead of an assortment of body guards, PA systems and television crews, the large tent was full of sleeping bags and handful of activists painting banners.

The youngsters came as part of a delegation from a group called All That’s Left. Two and a half years ago, I was among the 15 or so core founders of the group, whose self-defined common denominator was to be “unequivocally opposed to the occupation and committed to building the diaspora angle of resistance.” And although I soon dropped out, I have watched them closely since, curious and often proud of their creative, inspiring activism and seemingly bottomless reserves of energy and optimism.
The trip to Susya had been in the works for months. The plan was to bring as many Jews — and others — somehow connected to overseas communities to the south Hebron Hills, where Palestinians live in a spattering of villages often composed of a few dozen tents without any connection to electricity or running water. Almost all of them are under constant threat of demolition by the Israeli army, and almost all of them are located within a few hundred meters of Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law but protected and provided for by Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (center-right) inside a tent in the West Bank village of Susya, June 8, 2015. (photo: Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
All That’s Left was asked to come, invited by local residents who know the value of solidarity. Susya has become one of the flagship cases of 21st century dispossession in the West Bank. Countless Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, diplomats, artists and many others have come to express their support in recent years. Villagers work closely with organizations like B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush and Breaking the Silence. At the official event earlier in the week, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for the West Bank optimistically noted that public campaigns and international efforts have succeeded in preventing planned displacements in the past. Maybe it could work here, too.
Nasser (left) speaks to members of All That’s Left as Yuval, a member of the group, translates from Arabic to English, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
But the primary aim of the two-day visit by the young, mostly American and British Jews, was to make an immediate, tangible and positive impact on the lives of the Palestinian residents of Susya and two neighboring villages, Bir el-Eid and Umm al-Khair. For weeks beforehand they held fundraisers and launched a Kickstarter-type online campaign in order to buy building materials, work tools and plants. The villagers wanted help with two things: repairing their derelict, dirt access roads, and planting new fields of za’atar, a variant of thyme common throughout the Levant.

Early Friday morning, 50 or so All That’s Left members set out from Jerusalem, hoping to get in a few solid work hours before the sun made it impossible to break through the packed earth and move an endless supply of rocks. That night, they slept in the tent erected for the diplomats and Palestinian prime minister.
By the time I arrived Saturday morning, in a bus with two dozen activists and a few +972 bloggers, the volunteers had already left for their day of road flattening in a nearby village. After a short briefing on the problems Susya is facing and the type of work they need help with, we were brought to a small za’atar field with no more than a dozen rows and instructed about which weeds and rocks needed to go and which were “good for the za’atar.” Gardening tools and buckets in hand, the activists got right to work. The atmosphere was energetic — reminiscent of something between a Habitat for Humanity project and foreign Zionist volunteers in the 1950s coming to help “reclaim the land,” albeit this time for Palestinians.
All That’s Left activists planting working on the za’atar field in Susya, June 13, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
After a couple of hours, though, the sun was bearing down and all but a couple of the volunteers — who were determined to get every last weed — decided that their work was done, sardining themselves into the comically scant shade of a few freshly planted olive trees. A few hours later, the chain-gang contingent returned for lunch and everyone squeezed back into the prime ministerial tent, adorned with left-over Fatah flags and banners of current and former PLO chairmen Abbas and Arafat. As people finished their lunch of bread, vegetables, tahini and — not quite vegan — tuna, the men who had been accompanying us most of the day noticed young settlers coming down the hill from the adjacent settlement that long ago took over not only Susya’s land, but also its name.
Graffiti reading 'revenge' found at the scene of the arson terror attack in Douma, July 31, 2015. (Credit: AP)
Aside from the press event with the politicians and diplomats earlier in the week, all of my previous experience visiting the south Hebron Hills has been while reporting on the work of Ta’ayush, a group that, pretty much on a weekly basis, puts its bodies in between aggressive, violent settlers and Palestinian herders and farmers. The south Hebron Hills is notorious, along with the hill country south of Nablus, as an epicenter of settler violence — the Wild West. This is a place where the Israeli army escorts Palestinian children on their way to school, to protect them from settlers. It is an area where videos of settler violence long ago stopped being a newsworthy phenomenon.

And here they came. The All That’s Left group had received briefings on how to react in case this type of thing happened. Non-violence was key, and nobody really wanted to get arrested — a regular occurrence when left-wing Israeli activists stand between Palestinians, settlers and the often clueless soldiers dispatched to whichever remote, arid valley in which the settlers have decided to make their presence felt that day. The activists there on Saturday ran, or walked quickly toward the interlopers — but everybody stopped short after 100 meters or so when it became clear that they weren’t actually coming to make trouble. Back to tea, and a little bit of group learning.
A view of the tents that comprise the village of Susya. Located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, the village does not have electricity or running water, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
An hour later, however, different settlers were spotted on another hill a couple of small valleys over — this time approaching a patch of olive trees owned by residents of Palestinian Susya. A handful of the Palestinian men and a dozen children start running in their direction. I grab my camera and another dozen of the activists and I follow suit. By the time we arrive the settlers are gone and Nasser, the group’s point man in the village, is talking, distraught and out of breath, to three soldiers who have just arrived.

It seems that a few settlers had come down from the direction of the settlement of Susya and started snapping off branches from the relatively young olive trees. When Nasser approached, they started throwing stones. A lone female soldier who was positioned at a watchtower seemingly in the middle of nowhere and yet smack in the middle of all the action, had tried to tell Nasser to leave. Maybe she told the settlers to leave, too. Either way, nobody really cared. She had to duck to avoid being hit by the stones being thrown by the settlers. Nasser got the whole thing on video.

A few minutes later, a civilian police officer and an officer from the Civil Administration, a nice term for a Military Government, arrived. The police officer looks at the broken olive branches and remarks, “the settlers wouldn’t cut down trees — it’s Shabbat.” But he seems far more interested in the video of the stone throwing. With his cell phone, the cop films the video, interviews the female soldier who witnessed the whole thing, and promises to look for the culprits.
Nobody really takes them seriously. According to research by Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, only 7.4 percent of Israeli police investigations into settler violence and vandalism against Palestinians result in indictments. More often than not, the official reason cited for closing the investigations is “perpetrator unknown.” In other words, for whatever reason, the police cannot locate a suspect — often times in spite of video evidence and eyewitnesses.

The police left. The army left. Nasser promised to go to the police station later to file an official complaint and hand over a copy of the video. We all headed back across the two cracked valleys toward the tent. It was getting late and the bus was coming soon to take us back to Jerusalem. The organizers of the All That’s Left group started their debrief session, asking participants to talk about their experiences, discussing strategies for moving forward and logistics for the trip home.
An Israeli police officer films video of settlers throwing stones, being shown to him by Nasser under an olive tree just meters from where the incident took place, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
At some point I decide to wander toward the main road in order to take some photos, when an army jeep approaches. An officer gets out. A captain. He yells to me, “hey, kiddo! Come over here.” I walk over, not quite knowing what to expect. “Call over Nasser,” he tells me. “We caught the guys who were throwing stones and I want to see his video to make sure it’s them.” A little stunned, I point him in the right direction. The lieutenant doesn’t want to walk into the village. Maybe it’s all the activists, maybe he’s lazy, maybe he doesn’t feel safe. Who knows. Another Palestinian man approaches and, after getting the same explanation, starts yelling for Nasser. Nasser brings over his laptop. In an almost identical scene as before, they crouch below an olive tree to mitigate the harsh glare and watch the video. It’s them, the officer says, adding, “they’re not from here. The people in [the settlement of] Susya don’t want trouble either, you know.” “Sure,” Nasser says with a shrug, promising to bring the video to the police station the next day.

And so it ends. There’s no way of knowing if it would have ended differently had dozens of international and — Jewish — Israeli activists been there that day. It’s clearly an anomaly, but maybe the soldiers and police took their job more seriously that day? Maybe they just got lucky? Maybe the suspects won’t even be charged. It doesn’t really matter. Susya is still facing imminent demolition, its residents in danger of forced displacement. The army wants to move them into Palestinian-controlled cities, out of Area C, the part of the West Bank Israel retains complete control over, and which many in Israel’s government hope to one day annex.
The story of Susya is not extraordinary. The same thing is happening — without dozens of Jewish solidarity activists — in other communities in the south Hebron Hills, in the E1 area near Jerusalem, in the Jordan Valley and even inside the Green Line in villages like Al Araqib. In all of those places, the Israeli army is trying to move Palestinians out in order to move more Jews in, or at least to give them control over more land. Susya is not extraordinary, it is probably not the village that will get the world’s attention. Susya is one story of the occupation. And the solidarity visits, by diplomats, foreign college students or Palestinian and Israeli activists, is one story of resistance.

A traffic jam in the middle of the desert 

The rendezvous was scheduled for 11:30 am, outside the Arlozorov Street Railway Station in Tel Aviv. I arrived at 11:35. "Three buses have already been filled, but don’t worry – the fourth bus will soon arrive" said the organizers’ representative. "There will be a place for anyone who wants to go to the protest in Susiya."

It is long since there was such a wide response to a call for a demonstration in the wild West Bank. Among the passengers could be seen quite a few long-time activists who had however not been seen in recent years. Why did the case of Susiya evoke so much attention, in Israel and throughout the world? (Circulating on the bus was the current New York Times op-ed page, featuring a moving personal story of a Susiya resident). This tiny threatened village is in every way worthy of support and solidarity - but in the past, quite a few instances of no less outrageous injustice have been perpetrated and met a virtually complete indifference and silence. One can never know in advance which particular case will become the focus and symbol of a struggle.

Little more than an hour's drive separates the vast metropolitan Tel Aviv from the godforsaken hamlet of Susiya in the middle of the desert. First the travel is along congested intercity highways – then, through back roads which become ever more narrow and in bad repair, the further one continues to the east and south. Somewhere, without noticing, the Green Line is crossed into the territory where there is not even a semblance of democracy, where the landscape is predominantly brown rather than green - apart from the occasional green patch of a settlement, which had the privilege of being connected to the Israeli water system.

At the end of the trip, the narrow road forks, and the sign to the right side says "Susiya" - but nevertheless, we turned to the left. The sign erected by the military authorities refers to the other Susiya – the Israeli settlement Susiya, which claims to be the continuation of a Jewish village of the same name which existed on this location during the Roman and Byzantine period. "Come and see Susiya - an ancient Jewish town" says the sign on the road we had not taken.

The Jews who lived here 1,500 years ago had lived in caves. In the Twentieth Century, Palestinians had been living in these same caves, until in 1986 the army came to expel them and turn the caves into an archeological site managed by the settlers. The Palestinians had to move to miserable shacks erected on what was left of their land. Is it possible that they actually were the descendants of those who resided in those caves in the Fifth Century? At the beginning of the Zionist Movement David Ben Gurion brought up that at least some of the Arabs in this country are descendants of Jews who lived here in the past, and who at some time were converted to Islam and started speaking Arabic. In 1918 Ben Gurion even published an entire book on this subject, in cooperation with the future President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, including detailed historical documentation to support this theory. But before long it became clear that, even if some of the Palestinians’ ancestors had been Jewish, at present they have no interest whatsoever in being Jewish or promoting the Zionist Project. So, Ben-Gurion and his colleagues lost interest in further promoting this issue.

In the direction of Palestinian Susiya there was no road sign. For the Israeli authorities, it simply does not exist. "The competent military authorities take the position that there had never existed an Arab village named Susiya" stated on the Knesset floor Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, of the Jewish Home Party. "Palestinian structures were built without permits on that location, and were demolished during the 1995-2001 period. Illegal construction continued, against which demolition orders were issued. In May 2015 the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Palestinians for an interim injunction against the demolition of these structures."

There are no road signs, but it is not difficult to find Palestinian Susiya, with the Palestinian flag painted on rocks along the road. Four buses arrived from Tel Aviv and three from Jerusalem, plus quite a few private cars, and a minor traffic jam was created in the middle of the desert. "Pay attention, it is now the hottest hour of the day, it's one of the hottest places in the country, and there is almost no shade" warns the young woman in charge of my bus. "Please be sure, all of you, to cover your heads and take water with you. For those who have not brought it with them, we provide bottled water". On a low ridge above the bus could already be seen a human stream winding its way towards the rally.

The concrete cover of a rainwater collection cistern has become a makeshift podium, with several loudspeakers and a Palestinian flag flying. When the group from our bus arrived, the speeches were already under way, in a mixture of Arabic, English and Hebrew. "67 years after the Palestinian Nakba, it is still going on! They want to expel the residents of Susiya from their land! Are we going to let them do it?" cried former Palestinian Minister Mustafa Barghouti, eliciting a loud chorus of "No! No!". "After the Apartheid regime in South Africa fell, Nelson Mandela said that the fight is not over, the next part is the Palestinian struggle. We are here, we are struggling. We will go on struggling until Palestine is free!" (Chanting in Arabic and English "Free Palestine! Free Palestine! Free, free Palestine! "

Susiya resident Nasser Nawaj'ah, a leader activist of the struggle, spoke in Hebrew to those who came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: "Welcome to Susiya, all of you, welcome to Susiya, the fighting Susiya which will not give in! Our struggle is already going on for decades. In 1982, they erected the settlement of Susiya on our land. In 1986, they expelled us from the caves and turned them into an archaeological site of the settlers, then we moved to the farmland, all what was left to us. In 2001, they destroyed everything and drove us away, but we came back and set up our village again. You are most welcome here, we are grateful for the solidarity and support of all those who have come here. You are the other face of Israel, the face which is different from what we see of the soldiers and settlers who come to us every day. You give us hope, the hope that we can still live together, Palestinians as Israel's neighbors in peace."

He was followed by Professor Yigal Bronner, who teaches history of India at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a prominent activist of the Ta'ayush Movement, which is active already for many years in support of the residents of the South Hebron Hills. "We are here in Susiya. What is Susiya? Not much. Some cisterns which the army had not filled with dirt, a few sheep which the settlers have not yet stolen, some olive trees that have not yet been cut down. What is Susiya? Susiya is 350 people who hold on to the land, clinging and clinging and holding on and not giving up, because it's their home. Quite simply, this is their home. Opposite us is the other Susiya. The Susiya which is armed and surrounded by a fence, which is connected to to water and electricity and sewage and has representatives in all the corridors of power, and it wants to grab what little is left of this Susiya where we stand. Susiya against Susiya, this is the whole story. The Palestinian Susiya has no soldiers and no police and no representatives in the Knesset and in fact it does not have the vote. But it has us. We are here to stand with Susiya and we will not leave. We will do everything we can to be here and prevent the destruction. And if does take place, we will be here the next morning to rebuild, together with the residents. Susiya is not alone! "(Chanting of "Susiya, Sussiya do not despair, we will end the occupation yet!" in Hebrew and "Yaskut al Ikhitlal", "Down with the Occupation" in Arabic.

"It is very important that you all came here, it is important to continue the struggle. There will be here another demonstration next Saturday, and on August 3 at 9:00 am there will be the hearing on the appeal of Susiya at the Supreme Court. It is very important to be there! Susiya is not alone! Susiya is not alone!"

After the speeches - the march to the edge of the ridge. "For anyone who feels badly affected by the heat and sun, there is a tent with shade and plenty of water. Don’t get hurt unnecessarily. And now – forward!"

Together with the Palestinians, locals and those who especially came, we all moved ahead to the rhythmic beating of the "Drummers Against the Occupation", and the heat did not seem to reduce their energy and enthusiasm. Above the crowd were waving the placards of "Combatants for Peace", one of the demonstration's organizers, with the caption "There is Another Way" in Hebrew, Arabic and English.  "Though shalt not rob thy fellow" read the big sign carried by Rabbi Arik Asherman, who already for many years did not miss any demonstration, "Rabbis for Human Rights" being another of the protest initiators. Other Biblical slogans: "Have we become the like of Sodom, did we assume the face of Gomorrah?", "Save the poor his robber, protect the miserable from the heartless despoiler" "Zion shall be built on Justice", "Each shall sit in content under his vine and his fig tree."

A five years old Palestinian girl held upside down a large sign in Hebrew reading "No more land grab!". One of the Israelis drew the attention of a woman in traditional Palestinian dress, apparently the grandmother. The granddaughter, laughing, turned the sign in correct direction before the press photographers arrived at this part of the march parade. Near was walking a strapping young man wearing a T-shirt of the FC St. Pauli soccer club of Hamburg, Germany, whose fans are known for their fight against racism, and next was a woman whose shirt proclaimed "Stop the Pinkwashing!", protesting the cynical use made of LGBT people by the government international PR apparatus ("Hasbara"). The text on the bag of a veteran Jerusalem activist referred to the elctions earlier this year: "We did not succeed in throwing Netanyahu out, which is very harsh and painful, but at least let him keep his paws off Susiya!"

At the end of the march, dozens lifted with great effort a 30-metre long sign reading: "Susiya is Palestinian, and Palestinian it will remain!". When the buses on the way back passed the official sign about "The ancient Jewish town" we could see it at the top of the ridge above the road.

If Susya falls so will others

It’s ramshackle – and it’s home. A child in Susya, photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Israel, Don’t Level My Village
By Nasser Nawaja, NY Times July 23, 2015

SUSIYA, West Bank — IN 1948, as Israeli forces closed in on his village of Qaryatayn, my grandfather carried my father in his arms to Susiya, about five miles north, in the South Hebron Hills area.

“We will go back home soon,” my grandfather told my father.

They did not. Qaryatayn was destroyed, along with about 400 other Palestinian villages that were razed between 1948 and the mid-1950s. My family rebuilt their lives in Susiya, across the 1949 armistice line in the West Bank.

In 1986, my family was expelled from our home once again — not because of war, but because the occupying Israeli authorities decided to create an archaeological and tourist site around the remains of an ancient synagogue in Susiya. (A structure next to the abandoned temple was used as a mosque from about the 10th century.) This time, it was my father who took me in his arms as the soldiers drew near.

“We will return soon,” he said.

If, in the coming weeks, the Israeli government carries out demolition orders served on some 340 residents of Susiya, I will be forced to take my children in my arms as our home is destroyed and the village razed once again. I do not know if I will have the heart to tell them that we will soon go home; history has taught me that it may be a very long time until we are able to return.

In 2012, the Civil Administration branch of Israel’s Defence Ministry issued demolition orders against more than 50 structures in Susiya, including living quarters, a clinic, shop and solar panels. The reason given in these orders was that our village was built without permits from the Israeli military authorities.

The new Susiya was built on Palestinian villagers’ private agricultural land, but that is no safeguard. In practice, it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian living in what is known as Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under both civil and security control of the Israeli military — to receive a building permit. According to Bimkom, an Israeli nonprofit focused on planning rights, more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C from 2010 to 2014 were rejected.
The threat has now become immediate. Following the initial distribution of demolition orders, there was a political and legal campaign spearheaded by the residents of Susiya that had support from Palestinian, Israeli and international activists and rights groups. The village was not demolished, our case returned to the courts and the pressure let up.

But this past May, a few months after the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Supreme Court justice Noam Sohlberg, who himself lives in an Israeli settlement that is considered illegal under international law, caved in to pressure from right-wing and settler organizations and ruled in the High Court that the Israeli military could go ahead with demolitions in the village — despite the fact that the higher-ranking Supreme Court had scheduled a hearing for our case on Aug. 3.

Earlier this month, I learned from lawyers working against the demolition of Susiya that representatives of the Israeli military had stated their intent to demolish parts of our village before the Aug. 3 hearing. Since the May ruling, we in Susiya have been grateful for an outpouring of support and solidarity. Last week, the State Department’s spokesman, John Kirby, made a strong statement on the issue.

“We’re closely following developments in the village of Susiya, in the West Bank,” he said, “and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian village or parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes, would be harmful and provocative.”

That was a step in the right direction, but we need more than mere declarations now. If the Israeli government demolishes all or part of Susiya once again, it will be for no other reason than that we are Palestinians who refused to leave, despite immense pressure and great hardships of daily life under occupation.

The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well.

If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.

This story is not a story of Jews against Muslims, or even a story of Israelis against Palestinians. We’re grateful for the many messages of support our village has received from Jewish communities around the world, and the groups and activists working by our side include many Israelis. This is simply a story of justice and equality against dispossession and oppression.

Nasser Nawaja is a community organizer and a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.