In the fourth episode of the International Solidarity Movement podcast we speak to Hafez Hurreini, a veteran organiser from the village of At-Tuwani. Hafez is the father of Sami, who we interviewed in episode three.
When we did our interview, Hafez had a metal pin in his arm after a brutal attack by settlers in September 2022. His attackers had claimed that it was Hafez that attacked them, and he was arrested and imprisoned. It was only because of footage of the attack taken by international volunteers proving what really happened that Hafez escaped a long prison sentence.
We asked Hafez about the work of the Popular Resistance Committee of the South Hebron Hills, and about the successes they have had in their struggle.Hafez was also involved in founding the Popular Struggle
Co-ordination Committee, and he talks about that too.
Reimagining Liberation through the Popular Committees – by Layth Hanbali for Al Shabaka
Armed settlers assaulted a Palestinian man. Guess who’s in jail? by Oren Ziv for 972 Magazine
Masafer Yatta – communities Israel is trying to drive out – by Btselem
International Solidarity Movement call to action – Masafer Yatta
If you would like an explanation of the terms used in this podcast, youI can find a useful glossary on pages 140-154 of Shoal Collective’s Ebook
(you can also see this by clicking transcript in the player above)
Hey, welcome to international solidarity movement podcast [followed by Arabic translation]
Hello and welcome to episode four of the International Solidarity Movement podcast. In the last episode we heard from Sami Hurreini, about the anti-colonial struggle of young people. In this episode, we’ll hear from his father – Hafez Hurreini. omomWhen we did our interview, Hafez had a metal pin in his arm after a brutal attack by settlers in September 2022. His attackers had claimed that it was Hafez that attacked them, and he was arrested and imprisoned. It was only because of footage of the attack taken by international volunteers proving what really happened that Hafez escaped a long sentence. Hafez is a veteran organiser, who helped to establish the popular resistance committee of the South Hebron hills in the early 2000s. Popular Committees as a method of resistance have a long history in Palestine, going back to the late 1970s, and we’ve included a historical article about these committees as part of our show notes. We asked Hafez about the work of the Popular Resistance Committee of the South Hebron Hills, and about the successes they have had in their struggle. Years later, Hafez was also involved in founding the Popular Struggle Co-ordination Committee, and he’ll talk about that too. Right now International Solidarity Movement is calling for volunteers to come and support the struggle in Masafer Yatta and the South Hebron Hills. You can find out how by taking a look at the ISM website at palsolidarity.org We hope you enjoy the interview: Okay, so we’re here with Hafez Hurreini in At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. And we’re going to talk about the history of the struggle here in the South Hebron Hills. I wanted to start off by asking about what it was like growing up. And first of all, did you grow up in this area? And what was it like growing up for you?
Yes. I was born and I grew up in the village of At-Tuwani. Now I am 51 years old. Yeah, when, when I was growing up and when I opened my eyes, around, you know. I start[ed] like seeing all these injustices around by, you know, [them] stealing our land and establishing settlements, settlers attacks against us, all these things, you know. You know, as a child at night that this is like kind of occupation, and colonization or whatever. But, you know, little by little, I thought, like, knowing about this. This is an occupation. This is an apartheid. This is an ethnic cleansing against our people and injustices in this area.
Can you tell me when was – when did you first start to be active and to organize against the occupation and the settlements in the area?
Practically, I started the end of 1999 and in 2000. After the eviction crime that coincided with Israeli occupation of evicting Masafer Yata villages, which in the area that [was] declared by the Israeli authority as a Firing Zone Area, and I remember that. Like it was in November 1999, that big Israeli military forces raided these villages with big military trucks and bulldozers. And they started just like destroying tents, caves, wells for the water, and then they just put the Palestinian families’ things on these military trucks, and they threw them to the other side of [the road] Route 317. that they consider it as kind of broader way to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians, the big Palestinian town here. So at that time, I started like my activism, and by you know, involving, in bringing media attention and bringing solidarity for the area, and just to – you know – try to resist that crime at the time, the eviction. Yeah, and then I started like, involving [myself] with more Palestinian activist[s] in the area, and you know, we manage to create, like, a body for the area to resist the occupation and the settlements around. Activists from all over the South Hebron Hills. And we founded the Popular Committee of the South Hebron Hills. Yeah, at that time, and according to what was happening around, it was completely clear that all the Palestinian human rights [was] violated under this occupation by the Israeli forces and by the settlers, it means we must like defend our rights.
But at the same time, we have to think deeply about – about which [what] is like an effective way to resist that? According to our experience and our knowledge, that [the] occupation has the power – I mean, internally inside the Israeli society, and outside, that, you know, they control the media and they show the Israelis and the internationals that the Palestinians always like kind of terrorist – yeah, like terrorist people. And they want just like, you know, to convince the Israelis. It means you – we have to like switch the way of the resistance, you know, we shouldn’t like follow our anger and just like to respond in a violent way. And it means we have to organize our own selves to go through non-violent means at that time. Yeah. And then we started our activities in non-violent means. I mean demonstrations, actions all over the area.
And then, at the same time, we, we also – we fighted them by their own law and their own rules. So back to the eviction – we contacted like Israeli lawyers, Palestinians, internationals, and we managed like to raise the issue of eviction to the Israeli Supreme Court. So after about three months of eviction, there was like, this decision that said that the Palestinians can get back to their villages. But at the same time, you know, the case is still open, like, kind of negotiation between the Palestinians. And the resistance of Masafer Yatta and the military administration, you know, to find some kind of a solution. So since 2000, until last May 2022 there was like the final decision, that the Supreme Court gave the army the green light to evict again, and to destroy again, Masafer Yatta.
You mentioned around 20 years ago, the formation of the Popular Committee in the South Hebron Hills. So can you explain the idea of a Popular Committee? And where this idea comes from? Is it an idea that existed already in Palestine? Were you organizing with, with other popular committees in other areas?
So, South Hebron Hills and Masafer Yatta is [an] integral part of the whole West Bank and integral part of the Palestinian villages, that they are resisting in Area C, according to [the] Oslo Accords. When we started, like organizing resistance from South Hebron Hills under this kind of principle, you know. We have to defend our own rights, like by non-violent means. It means we have like to achieve a progress on the ground, you know, and we have, and we must, like, share the reality here. So I mean, in this way, because, you know, all the Palestinians, you know, [are] under threat of the occupation. And even if they are like silent, if they – if they don’t resist. But already, it’s, it’s kind of, you know, the daily resistance of the Palestinians, you know, for example, freedom of movement, you know, usually, and almost every day, we have like checkpoints, or harassment, and between the villages… We talk about the confiscation of the land under different excuses, you know. So the Palestinians go to defend their rights. I mean, to stop the stealing of the Palestinian land, usually they’ve got arrested and, you know. The Palestinians, even when they go to cultivate, to work on their land, you know, they end up [with] threat of being, you know, attacked by settlers, or being arrested. And, you know, the children when they go to their school, you know, the same story. We have the struggle with children until today, you know, that Palestinian children, you know, they can’t like reach their schools safely. They have to be escorted by Israeli soldiers, you know, to protect them from the settlers. So, in general, all the Palestinians, they are resisting. But you know, we took the responsibility, how to unify, I mean, this resistance, by creating this body that represents all the villages in Masafer Yatta, and how to keep going and defending our own rights.
So, yeah. So we, we can see that we succeeded, like to keep the resistance, like alive until this moment, and we can see, say that, you know, we get to successes. But at the same time, we can say that, the big success [is] that you know, we are still existing on our land, and in our villages until this moment. If you can imagine the whole and the huge suffering of the Palestinians, you can see around, you know, all the Palestinian villages around without any basic human services for life, you know; water, electricity, roads etc. So you can see, they have none of these.
In addition to all these crimes that’s committed by the Israeli army and by settlers, but you know, at the same time, until this, this moment, you know, the Palestinians you know, they are practicing sumud, which is a kind of reality that people still have the steadfastness to stay, and the determination to continue even so with all these, you know, crimes that’s committed by the occupation. So with this we, you know, we continue, and we have, like, even relationships with other popular committees in different places, you know, in the West Bank, from here until the north.
And me personally, I am one of the founder[s] of the PSCC, which is like the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee that [was] established in 2009. And I am a board member of this committee that represents the Palestinian popular committees in the whole West Bank. And we still going and, you know, recently, because, you know, like, we are getting old and you know how to keep the resistance and defending of the Palestinian rights alive. So, me personally, I am the founder of the Youth of Sumud group that, you know. They are continuing to struggle, I mean, because, you know, all the younger generation, you know, they are following the way.
And you mentioned that the Popular Committee was like helping to organize resistance for all the villages of Masafer Yatta. And I wondered how would you organize? Would there be representatives from each of the communities who would take part in the Popular Committee? I wondered how that how that was.
As I said before, like, the Palestinians, they are struggling and resisting in their daily life, but when there’s like a big action that, you know, to respond [to], for example, for stealing Palestinian land under you know, [the] military, army, [or] whatever. So, we invite everyone, you know, just to come. Because, you know, actually, there exists on the ground a big resistance. This is like, additional things to do it. So, it’s like, an open for everyone. So, is it free, you know, to join that. And most of the Palestinians here, like, you know, they are involved and we are like, you know, activists in this, because – if they today, if they steal your own land, tomorrow, they will steal mine. It means, you know, we have to be together in order to just stop that, you know.
And has the resistance organized by the popular committees, has it been open for men and women to take part?
Yeah, we have a very long experience with that. So we can say, in 2006, the occupation army started like establishing a wall to separate the whole area. I mean, establishing this wall along the bypass Route 317. It was completely clear for us, like, you know [if] they succeed, like to build this wall, it means they will cut the movement. And they will prevent the Palestinians to move from the [one to the] other side of the road. Okay. So, at that time, we started, like organizing weekly demonstrations, and the participants were everyone: Men, women, young, old, you know – even children, you know. They participated in that. So we used to go down to the roads, to sit down and block the road. Okay, so for about more than one and a half years for that, I mean, weekly demonstrations. Okay. At the same time, they keep, like, you know, working on that, which was along, about, 41 kilometers in the south in one way [direction]. And really they finished that, but at the same time, you as I said before, usually we go through – we fight them through their own law. Because, you know, the army, they were like saying “this is for security reasons, you know, [that] we are building that wall”, which it is completely not, okay.
And then by lawyers, you know, there was like another decision by the Supreme Court that said that the wall was illegal. Building that wall was illegal. It said it should be dismantled, okay. But as usual, you know, that was like a decision. If we, if we didn’t continue, you know, demonstrating against that [wall] they will never dismantle the wall. So we demonstrated until, you know, we forced them to dismantle and remove that wall. That was one of the big successes for the non-violent resistance and, you know, the participants. Everyone participated, you know, so the role of the women in particular, it was, you know, completely clear for everyone.
And you said that the formation of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, it was a way to kind of work together with other Popular Committees around around the West Bank?
Yes, yes. Well, you know, when we thought about like founding like this committee, the main goal was to unify the non-violent resistance all over the West Bank, so we succeeded to do it. I mean, if there’s like a demonstration for them in Bil’In Okay, so all of the committees, you know, they join or they participate in the demonstration there. So if we had demonstrations in Kafr Qaddum, or Nabi Salih, or in Jordan Valley, or here, there is something for everyone, everyone is joining.
And you and your comrades in the popular committees, do you have like a shared vision for what you’re working towards, amongst yourselves?
Actually, you know, we are struggling. And mainly we are work[ing as] human rights defenders, and, you know, we defend our basic human rights, you know. That’s like, you know, we are activists, but you know. We must like keep this alive, because we are fighting a state, okay? And [it is a] colonizing state, you know, that, you know, [they are] working day and night, just, you know, to ethnically cleanse all of us, you know. It means that, you know, we must do our best, I mean, to continue the struggle and never give up, you know. If we give up and stop for a day, you know, it means we will die, and we will leave soon.
So, yeah, that’s why, you know, we are thinking about, you know, how to keep this choice of the resistance to keep it alive through the, like, the new generation, I mean, let people to keep going with that. But at the same time, you know, the site, you know, we trust, like our determination, you know, but also we ask in everyone who believe in the human rights and to the whole world – just to take part and to be part of this struggle,
Okay. And one of the concepts that you’ve talked about in the interview so far is the concept of sumud or steadfastness and that’s a term that we hear very often here in Palestine, when people talk about their resistance, but the people listening outside of Palestine might not be so familiar with this idea. So could you just explain kind of what it means to you here in Palestine?
You know, sumud became like, kind of a very deep meaning for the Palestinian life itself, that [is] present [in] the Palestinian life itself. For example, in here, I mean, being – or living in – in this situation, if you can imagine. That all your basic human rights is violated every single day, okay. And if it’s like violated, it means [either] to defend your rights, or to give up and you know, to help [to] let the occupation to reach their goal. But as the people, you know, believe in their own rights, and they know, well, that the goal of the occupation with all these aggressive tools, all these violations, with all these attacks, their main goal is to kick you out. So practicing your life, defending your own rights under this such situation, it’s like the resistance and this, like this is the sumud itself. This became kind of part of our own culture, that sumud is being connected to the land, defending your rights, whatever the price is. So that’s why you know, you can see the Palestinians for, for example: me myself, you know, my mother, many times got attacked by settlers, like, on our own land. She was hospitalised, she got fractured in her jaw, in her leg, in her head, okay. But she never thought about [to] give up and to go away from the land.
And what happened also with me, myself, [I have] been attacked so many times, and you know. Just like three months ago, [on] September 12  I also got attacked, you know, I fractured my two arms, and I [got] arrested and so on. But even so, whatever happened and whatever will happen to me: I never, I never will leave my land. Because you know it’s completely clear what they do. It’s like, pushing me to leave my land, but I never do it. And this is, you know, practicing my life. Okay. Under all these, you know, violations. Under all these crimes, under all these attacks, this is the real sumud, this is like, for me surely, it’s like the the meaning for sumud.
Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say to people listening from from outside?
Yeah, for sure. You know, like, it’s kind of a message for everyone who believe in human rights, who believes in peace, who believes in dignity. [They] must like take steps in that. That’s like, you know, all the people all over the world. They have like their own government, but maybe most of them will see and they never trust like those governments. Because you know, they are under pressure by the global policy. We can say, that [will] never be on our side, but you know, we are calling every human being who believes in peace and dignity and believes in human rights – [they] must stand with us to get our rights, you know. What’s going on that, you know, we are facing here in Palestine in South Hebron Hills we are facing the ethnic cleansing which is a big war crime. And everyone must like stand with us, you know, even [when] you know, probably you can’t come – here – to see by your own eyes,
what’s going on. But at least you know, you can try just to learn more about what’s going on here. Because, you know, we can see all the Western people and the Western world, they are victims, mostly they are victims of the Israeli propaganda around the whole world. And you should open your eyes, and to see the reality and to be part of the struggle to stop the crimes that’s being committed since decades against us in Palestine
So this is my message, you know, you have to act and you have to be part of our own struggle against, like, the Israeli occupation and against apartheid, and the ethnic cleansing that we are facing.. Finally, would you like to see more international volunteers coming here to join the struggle in Masafer Yatta? So, really, I invite everyone to come down and to be part of our own struggle here, you know. We feel that you know, we can breathe through like all these activists who are coming from all over – around the world – just like to, I mean, to join us and to be with us like on the ground. Because I said before, and I keep saying: we are fighting in our daily life. Yani to survive and to defend our rights. And the basic human rights is really violated every single day. That’s why, you know, I am calling everyone to and invit[ing] everyone just like to come down and to be part of, to be with us in our struggle.
Thank you very much Hafez, and yeah, if people want to learn more about the struggle in Masafer Yatta you can take a look at the Save Masafer Yatta website. And to learn about joining the struggle as an internationalist you can, you can look at the International Solidarity Movement website, which is palsolidarity.org. But thanks so much for, for talking, talking to me this evening. Yeah, thanks so much. And, yeah, we wish you victory in the struggle and we wish for a free Palestine.