Suzanne Hammad on Embedded Palestinian Resistance in Bil’in in West Bank: Rooted in Land and Home

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 12 Feb 2024

Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

6 Feb 2024 – I wanted to share a foreword that I wrote to an exceptional ethnographic study of everyday resistance by residents of the Palestinian village of Bil’in, quite near Ramallah, based on the Suzanne Hammad three years of residence and informed observation. It enriches our understanding of core forms of resistance embedded in home and land. It offers a parallel to the common perception of resistance as distinct protest activity, both violent and non-violent, for which Bil’in was previously international known as a result of its weekly protests that were provoked by the intrusive construction of the Israeli separation wall. This book written well before October 2023 when the genocidal onslaught by Israel on Gaza was published in 2023 by Rowman & Littlefield, and available in a Kindle edition, unfortunately with a high price-tag.

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Suzanne Hammad, Toward a Theory of Emplaced Resistances: Everything Starts and Ends with the Land, Foreword by Richard Falk, 2023

This fascinating book gives us not only creative ways of grasping the underlying continuities of the Palestinian ordeal but also a truly original conception of why the long arc of resistance and resilience, stretching across time and taking certain distinctive forms, has been sustained for more than a century in the face of assorted trials and tribulations. None of these tests of Palestinian resistance was greater than the double assault on the fundamentals of Palestinian normalcy in the West Bank than that posed by the ever-expanding settlement movement and the connected construction of an encroaching Separation Wall on mostly occupied Palestinian land commencing in 2001.

Suzanne Hammad views the evolving Palestinian reality through an ethnographic lens that complements what the media reports, leaders and intellectuals have to say, and militants achieve by direct confrontation with the daily experience of Palestinians living under the heavy boot of Israel’s apartheid regime which pursues with accelerating vigor its own agenda of ethnic cleansing and dispossession of people from their land. To carry out such an exploration led Hammad to conduct her field research for three years in a single West Bank community, the village of Bil’in. The implications of her findings have a broad resonance for Palestinian studies as they illuminate the realities of many similar villages subject to occupation, and indeed inform the situation and consciousness of all Palestinians regardless of whether living under occupation, in Arab refugee camps, or in pre-1967 Israel.

In this sense, Bil’in with its population of less than 2000 offers us a rich metaphor by which to decipher the entire Palestinian predicament, and better appreciate the various modes of response that underpin resistance not only to the existential abuses being experienced under occupation but to the foreshadowing of an inevitable liberation that Israel’s state violence is capable of punishing harshly, yet unable so far to destroy. It might even be unable to comprehend such resistance. It is bringing to light these under-appreciated facets of Palestinian sumud or steadfastness that makes this book illuminating reading for all who wish to gain a deeper comprehension of this tragic struggle that remains horizonless as to beginning and end.

Although Bil’in is but one of many West Bank villages, its selection by the author as her main case study is hardly accidental or arbitrary. This village distinguished itself from many other superficially similar villages in at least two important ways. First, residents experienced the severe intrusion of the Wall upon its living space, vividly exemplified by the barbed wire, electrified fence passing through Bil’in in ways that cut its residents off from 60% of their agricultural growing and grazing land, as well as the surrounding ‘empty’ areas used for recreation, reflection, and spiritual growth, including gatherings of the whole community during holidays, and even more during the harvesting times, especially of olives.

Bil’in’s inhabitants were cut off by a permit system that was required to pass the single gate in the wall that granted them permission to go beyond the mostly residential part of the village, and in some cases, gain access to their own farmland. Secondly, residents reacted through collective anti-Wall protests every Friday for at least 15 years starting in 2005. The continuity and persistence of these protest dramatized Palestinian opposition to the Wall and the resolve of villagers to resist non-violently, yet with courage and resolve. This activism in Bil’in contrasted reliance on peaceful methods with the violent brutality of Israel’s apartheid regime, which imposes Jewish supremacy even in occupied Palestine and in defiance of international humanitarian law.

In relation to the Wall, Israeli defiance became overt as Israel rejected the near unanimous (14-1) findings of the World Court’s Advisory Opinion of 2004. Such an authoritative legal endorsement of Bil’in fundamental grievance added legitimacy to the Friday protests by confirming that it was unlawful for Israel to construct a supposed security Wall on Occupied Palestinian Territory, and hence the Wall should be dismantled, and the Palestinians given reparations for the harm sustained. Implicit in the Advisory Opinion was the related idea that Israel’s situating the Wall on Palestinian territory was more a land grab than a genuine security measure.

We ignore the special contribution of Hammad’s inquiry if we are content with this most visible level of interaction, which is to depict both the depth of Palestinian suffering and its transcendence in the lived daily life of the residents of Bil’in. On the one side a deprivation so severe that it prompts inhabitants to pronounce their condition by such sayings as ‘we’re alive only because we are not dead yet” or “if we had the chance we would choose death over living under occupation.” And yet, this is not at all the bleak understanding that Hammad seeks to impart, which is rather a seemingly contradictory sense in Bil’in that our life is not worth living and yet if we will go on living our values, resisting Israel’s encroachments, and transcending their harmful intentions, by nurturing the pride and pleasure associated with sustaining our way of life in the face of hardships, humiliations, and humbling adjustments we will be living the best possible life given the circumstances.

To get at this interface between despair and transcendence, Hammad enables us to listen closely to the voices of Bil’in’s people, which dominate the text. This witnessing by Bil’inians decries the pain of profound loss yet seamlessly affirms their pride and meaning of life by maintaining organic connections as best they can with the land and their ancestral homes by doing as much of what they did before the Wall by walking alone or with a friend in the arid wilderness beyond the fertile land or convening the village children and elders to take part in the annual olive harvests that are more than agricultural and livelihood happenings, but are truly sacred rituals that combine work, play, festivals of remembrance, and defiant reaffirmations of a sense of belonging that guns, settlements, and provocations are incapable of damaging, let alone destroying.

Along the way we become privy to many telling details that add credibility to this seeming impossible atmosphere of existential contradiction. For instance, the residents of Bil’in do not waste a moment of regret lamenting their decision to stay in their homes as near as possible to their land on the wrong side of the Wall, come what may in terms of settler violence, encroachment, and Israeli tactics of repression. On the contrary, those Palestinians who departed from their homes and land increased their experience of injustice and suffering associated with Israeli 1948 tactics of dispossession and subsequent reenactments of the nakba; in retrospect, those so coerced, should for their own sake have stayed, resisted, and even accepting death as preferable to displacement, however cruelly induced to attain the Zionist settler colonial goals.

In another telling example, Hammad show us how those Bil’in residents rendered unable to grow their own subsistence food on their diminished farmland, losing the dignity associated with living off the produce yielded from one’s own land as generations before them had done. A further creative initiative undertaken not only for practical reasons, but in the spirit of nonviolent resistance is a food sovereignty movement in Bil’in which seeks to act collectively as a community to maintain local subsistence living standards without outside dependence.

These ways of balancing the ordeal of the occupation against a resolve to live as authentically as possible in traditional ways is what most truly captures the complex truths of life in Bil’in. In other words, the weekly protests that gave Bil’in worldwide prominence are the visible display of stubborn resistance. These marches to the wall opposed by Israel’s active military presence are the front story, but it is the back story of the daily lived life of residents that is the core of a resistance-unto-death that is quietly enacted on an hourly basis by the people of Bil’in. This extended exposure to the voiced experiences of Bil’in’s residents also abandons the conventional reliance of scholarly inquiry on the binary optics of oppressor/victim or victim/resister. This enriches the appreciation that Palestinian life under occupation is not properly interpreted as an either/or reality, but is more truly constituted by a richer interwoven texture of creative adaptation, stubborn revolt, depressing captivity, and liberating defiance.

Suzanne Hammad’s relationship to this account of her experience in Bil’in is at once deeply personal while at the same time managing to uphold the best traditions of academic rigor. She does not obscure her own background whose father left Nablus in the 1967 War for the sake of economic opportunity to start a family outside, taking refuge in an Arab country. She makes no effort to offer a balancing rationale for the Zionist Project or set forth the Israeli security narrative, yet this book came across to me as not only revelatory but entirely trustworthy. Hammad attains her goals by allowing the people of Bil’in to speak about their lives in ways that enlighten readers no matter how familiar they are with the large literature on the Palestine struggle. This study is also a rebuke to those who insist that objectivity requires a total detachment from partisan perspectives by achieving an understanding of Palestinian resistance that has eluded conventional scholarship for more than seven decades.

There are some lingering questions that make me urge Hammad to consider undertaking a sequel.

–Is this attachment to home and place especially strong in Bil’in because the fence/Wall bisects the lived life of the village, or has this sense of loss transcended the physicality of Bil’in to become part of a broader Palestinian imaginary by way of empathy and projection?

–If after a few years, will a renewed immersion in Bil’in after a year or so confirm the persistence of Hammad’s findings, given the heightened Israeli provocations of the extremist leadership that took over the Israel government at the start of 2023, and put the West Bank at the top of its expansionist policy agenda?

–How do the daily lives of city dwellers in Jenin or Nablus exhibit resistance in ways that either resemble or differ from Bil’in and from one other?

–And even more wider afield, is everyday Palestinian resistance, with its pride of place and home attached to sumud unique to the Palestinian reality, or is it paralleled in other national situations of sustained repression of an ethnically distinct people in similar or differing ways? For example, Kashmir, Western Sahara, Catalonia, Tibet, Rohingya (Rakhine State, Myanmar)?

Hammad’s inspiring study has many additional ramifications that invite further study, but as a way of conceiving the Palestinian ordeal this book presents the most convincing, compassionate, and imaginative understanding of just how deep and abiding are the roots of Palestinian resistance. It is a great achievement as well as a loving tribute to the forms of resistance enacted by the village people of Bil’in against the apartheid regime of mighty Israel.

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Prof. Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

Go to Original – richardfalk.org

 

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