In this third episode of the ISM podcast our guest is Sami Hurreini, who is a really inspiring youth organiser from At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. He’s part of a group called Youth of Sumud.
Sumud is an Arabic word meaning steadfastness, and its a central concept in the Palestinian popular resistance to the occupation.
We spoke to Sami in December 2022 about what people are doing to survive in the face of the occupation’s policies, and about what drew him to organising paricularly with youth.
f you would like an explanation of the terms used in this podcast, you 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]
Hey and welcome to the third episode of the ISM podcast. Our guest this episode is Sami Hurreini, who is a really inspiring youth organiser from At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. He’s part of a group called Youth of Sumud.
Sumud is an Arabic word meaning steadfastness, and its a really central concept in the Palestinian popular resistance to the occupation.
The South Hebron Hills is a rural,sparsely populated area in the South of the West Bank. Its incredibly beautiful, but subject to intense violence from the Israeli army and colonists.
I first met Sami in 2018, when Youth of Sumud were first becoming active. Youth organisers decided that they had had enough of watching the occupation taking more an more of their land, they decided to try to take some of it back. They did this by starting to renovate caves in the village of Surura, and establishing a community centre there, in order to restablish a Palestinian presence in the area. Youth of Sumud had a lot of success in Surura, but they were also met with repression. Sami has been imprisoned for his organising, and hospitalised by the violence of the settlers. But Youth of Sumud refuses to be intimdated. Right now in the South Hebron Hills, the Israeli occupation is preparing to evict the residents of the villages of Masafer Yatta, something that has been being planned for decades. Residents have been resisting the evictions in the courts for more than twenty years, But in July last 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the evictions could go ahead.
Local people are standing their ground, in the face of massively increased pressure from the Israeli state – which includes demolitions of houses and schools. The International Solidarity Movement is supporting the resistance of the people in Masafer Yatta – and is calling for international volunteers to join the struggle there. We spoke to Sami last December  about what people are doing to survive in the face of the occupation’s policies, and about what drew him to organising paricularly with youth. Okay, so we’re here with Sami from Youth of Sumud. And that’s an organization based in Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills. But right now we’re waiting outside of Ofer Military Prison close to Ramallah, for a comrade from At-Tuwani to be released from prison. And we thought we’d take the opportunity to do an interview about Youth of Sumud. So Sami, could you introduce yourself? And well, first of all, could you explain the pressure that people face from the occupation in the South Hebron Hills, and particularly the current situation? And in Masafer Yatta? If that would be okay.
Yeah, and thank you for being here with us today, and for this interview. Okay, so I’m Sami Hurreini, I am an activist from Masafer Yatta. I’m 25 years old. I was raised up and born in Masafer Yatta, in a family – in like a very struggling family against occupation. Starting from my grandmother [who was a] refugee in 1948, and then to my father. And my grandmother, when she was evicted from her land in ’48, coming to Masafer Yatta, growing up her family and raising up her family in, very awareness, to raise awareness of the situation and to continue to be involved in this struggle against occupation.
So my father and my uncles were all in the same path she did, resisting and struggling [against] the occupation. She was supportive of my dad’s choice in Masafer Yatta, in beginning of 2000, to support him in the choice of non-violent resistance against the occupation. Moving forward to election, she was also joining the protest he was organizing, and all those efforts he was doing, and continuing to encourage him. So as well as my dad was the leader, I grew up in this family. And me personally, so I am going on in the same path to continue this resistance and this struggle in the – against occupation. And despite all this aggression, and daily harassment and violent aggression, we live [in] and we face from this occupation, we need to continue to resist and struggle.
You were involved in establishing a group called Youth of Sumud. Could you tell us about that group and why you decided specifically to organize as youth in Masafer Yatta?
Yeah, I am the coordinator of small local youth group from Masafer Yatta, called Youth of Sumud. Our group was established in 2017. Our group was established after an activity called Sumud Freedom Camp where we all as activists started to go back and to live in [an] evicted Palestinian village in Masafer Yatta called Sarura. But we as youth, we saw like, yani, step by step, like we start to see a few people start to be present. So we start[ed] to have internal discussion that we would like to continue to live [in] this village and to go on with activity of Sumud Freedom Camp: Rehabilitating the caves and rehabilitating the life in the village, encouraging families who are evicted from the village due to settler violence and Israeli military harassment. So to encourage the people who were evicted to come back to their land to their villages.
And since then, we, as we expected, everyone went after some months, so we remained there, we continue with the idea and step by step we called ourselves you know, Youth of Sumud. And also we wanted to practice our activism and our role in our community, led by our decision, by our determination. So we started to say that we are here to, yani, to move on from a new generation perspective. Not to continue following the lead of the – yani – being haunted by the old generation. So we can be independent in our work and in our struggle and really to occupy this youth energy against occupation from you know, yes, youth perspective. Then we started moving on from Sarura to other activities, like with the children and their shepherd accompaniment with international activists, then we started to move on, step by step by step to get involved in more and more with organizing protests and activism.
Just about Youth of Sumud – I wanted to ask you about that name, Youth of Sumud, because that, that word is really important in Palestine, but people listening, they probably won’t understand what it means. So why did you choose this name? And what does it mean? What was the concept of Sumud, steadfastness in Palestine?
Yeah, good question. Yani – sumud means in Palestine, exactly; sumud means steadfastness, means resilience, means resistance. We have like, it’s a very known word in Palestine, which is – yeah – sumud. And we are also, yani, in Youth of Sumud with strong youth, with very powerful youth. Because yani, especially with what we lived, and we have, what we faced in Sarura, due to occupation, harassment – it wasn’t something easy. We were beaten, were attacked, we were arrested, we were imprisoned in order [for them] to evict us from the place and from the land. And this didn’t succeed. And that is what’s the meaning of Sumud. Despite all this violence, despite all this craziness, you are continu[ing] to resist and never giving up. This is [the] meaning of Sumud.
So this is this is a term, which existed before the group, right. It’s a term which is really important for Palestinian resistance.
That is very true, yani Palestinian[s] have been doing a lot of great stories of sumud and steadfastness in front of this occupation since more than since ’48. You know, we are continuing until today to [be] steadfast, to struggle, and never giving up.
And what were the difficulties that you faced in organizing the youth? Was it easy for people to be involved and what were the obstacles that you encountered?
It’s not easy work. Because we are facing so many challenges and threats by the Israeli occupation that since the beginning of creating our group, we were fighting hardly, we had army coming in raiding us in the middle of night. Taking us to interrogations to – in the end of these interrogations – threatening us to stop us from what we are doing. And we [were] still in the beginning of the idea. So in the end of the interrogation, a lot of guys were interrogated, uh even minors because… Okay, [they said] “in the end, why, what you’re doing here is causing to troubles, if you continue to be there, you will be imprisoned, go home, don’t try to stay there, blah, blah, blah.” And so that means there, there was like really, so many challenges and even yani, this is the occupation side, which wanted – don’t want any movement from going on.
And additionally to that we have the also internally which is very difficult sometimes because it is also [that] people have commitments, you need people to be committed 24 hours. But we try and we had some challenges of university and schools to make this continue to happen, because our goal in Sarura [was] to maintain 24 hour presence. So we started really hardly in the beginning, gathering all the guys together, but in the end, we managed to succeed to go out with a proper plan, when someone had lectures in school and others can cover. People stay for nights and some people stay for day[time]. And so in this way we could manage to continue this presence and to continue to the idea to move on with… you know, even sometimes families [are] scared for their children because as I told you, like I was personally ran over by settlers [with a] car. This is also mak[ing] them scared for their kids, but also this is [happening] there to prevent us from really having the group existing. And having the group continuing on working and reaching to where we are now a more and more involved in, in the political situation.
When you were run over by the settlers and was that Sarura or the village that you were trying to bring people back to?
Yeah it happened in Sarura during our working program, we were organizing, we were building a toilet for a cave which belonged to a family. [That is] like one of the things we are doing is to build and to plant the land and to really recreate a total life in evicted places in order to get, encourage, people to get back [to the villages]. So during this activity: Yeah, I was run over by settlers from Havat Ma’on with the car. It says like targeting also me personally as my role was appearing in the group – so they really wanted to target me, and hit me, so… that’s what they did. I was not able to work for months [because of] that.
And you think they targeted you because you were an organiser in the group?
Yeah, yeah. For my role and for my you know, I was appearing a lot in my role, and my work there.
And have people faced prison also for their organising?
For sure, yani, this is something if you’re [an] activist in Palestine, something you will have to experience here, which is prison. Also me personally, during Sarura I was in prison, based on pressure from settlers and the military. There was also my colleagues in the group – most of them also were in prison and [experienced] interrogation because of being and working in Sarura and resisting there. Because the main goal was there to maintain presence in order to stop settlement expansion because Sarura is very close to Havat Ma’on [an illegal settlement], and presence of people there – it is the best way for stopping the settlement from expanding. And so they were trying to all the time do all the ways – prison and whatever – to pull us out of there. And besides, you know, all this, the main goal, we went in that place because there was also settler strange movement around that land and in that area in that period, where we moved us to go there [to Sarura].
And the settlers in the area – can you say a little bit about them – that they’re a particularly violent group of settlers, right?
Yeah. We have like really very violent settlers in the South Hebron Hills and especially where Sarura and At-Tuwani is, where I come from, that is my village. Sarura and At-Tuwani are next to Havat Ma’on outpost, which is known in the area as one of the most violent [places where] settlers [are] in the area. Which is, they are organizing a lot of activity: violent and criminal activity against us in there. We [can] talk about attacking shepherds with sticks and with stones, or by slingshot, yes slingshots. We’ll talk about burning fields, destroying olive trees, attacking kids who are going to school. We’re talking about stabbing people. A cousin of a colleague in our group was stabbed by settlers from Havat Ma’on from his way, from Tuba to At-Tuwani. We have poisoning of water wells that [is] where we gather water for Masafer Yatta. And these wells in the ground – settlers came and poisoned them, poisoning the fields of the grazing area where our shepherds go. We are well known in Masafer Yatta for grazing and with planting the lands. So the settlers – for grazing, they throw poison wheat seeds and barley seeds, so sheep will eat them and die. And also, we talk about yani, we talked about burning fields where people after a long time harvesting and gathering their fields or crops, they come and burn them or burn the caves, like what happened in Sarura, destroying cars [that belong to] us. I mean, attacking kids – like I said it was last September in 2021. Settlers made a big violent attack in Mufaqara – attacking people, kids. [A] small child, his skull was fractured. We talk about something you can’t really imagine, all these acts done by settlers.
And who help[s] the settlers to continue moving on with these criminal programs? It is the Israeli soldiers and police because they give them the full protection and immunity to do all these criminal attacks. When they don’t face any consequences or judgment for [what they] actually do they just continue to be more and more professional in this, in this violent and criminal attack[s]. This is continu[ing] to confirm to everyone that what’s happening here: cooperation between Israeli settler and military and police in order to kick Palestinians out from their land, ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land and to, yani, confiscate Palestinian land. What we see in Masafer Yatta, there are settlements, even inside what the military has, what the so called Firing Zone 918, and the settlement and the settlers face no consequences. But the one – the only ones to face consequences is Palestinians. We have a new [Israeli] settlement expanding in the firing zone, they face no consequences, they face no threat of demolition.
So this is confirmed that the main goal of evicting villages in Masafer Yatta under the title of firing zone is to kick us out and then give the land to the settlers. So, big settler colonization, colonial project, of Palestinian land here [is] happening, full cooperation between military and between settlers to kick out Palestinians, to put settlers [here], to delete our identity from this land after evicting us.
So you talked about the evictions going on from, and then the demolitions going on inside the firing zone. And just yesterday, there were confiscations of tents and demolitions which happened. And just this year, the court ruled that there was no legal barrier to the eviction of villages inside the firing zone. Is that right?
No like I think what’s happening in Masafer Yatta, 40 years ago, more than 40 years ago, Israeli authorities designated the area as a firing zone area to train them Israeli military. This is the excuse they found to target our land, where we live exactly. So all the villages in Masafer Yatta, live inside what is designated as a firing zone area, which we are living here in this land, and for decades went peacefully and with a beautiful life. But then when the Israeli military came and these military rules and with the settlement in the beginning of the ‘80s, as well, the life started turning upside down from the, the ongoing demolishing, from the ongoing harassment, preventing any main services of life to access to us. So the main goal really, between these two, like what’s the wider goal is this: because they wanted to make an environment of forcible transfer – for forcible transfer – for our people to leave the land. This didn’t work. So then in ‘99, there was the first crime of eviction and demolition Masafer Yatta, where the Israeli military trucks and forces started to raid the villages, demolishing homes, transporting people with their properties, and throwing them out from the area close to the city of Yatta in the South Hebron Hills.
When this didn’t work, because they were evicting people, people were coming back in the same day in the same night, digging their caves, again – that the military has demolished – to live inside them. So all the area was evicted in that time. But by the beginning of 2000, because of so many activism and struggle and pressure, there was a decision by the Israeli court, that Palestinians are allowed to go back to their land and to their villages.
But it is a temporary decision, [it] will continue to be a temporary decision until a new decision will come and cancel it. So since 2000 until May 2022, we were in courts, in the Israeli courts, facing and judging and having different court sessions and court hearings in order to… against the eviction, but since the same decision in 2000, came out in May 2022, is the eviction again. So this is confirmed that Israeli – because Palestinian[s] bring the ownership of the land in Masafer Yatta, Palestinians brought all the proofs and testimonies, testimony of the ownership of the land and of the history of living in that place. From shop registrations and other examples. This all was brought to the court, but all this was thrown into the garbage because the head of the court also was a settler. So, and then the decision of eviction was again. Now the eviction decision saying now for eight villages. But that is a big lie – because if eviction takes place for eight villages, it will take place all others that are not mentioned in the decision, because [inaudible]. And as I said, settlement is existing and they are not facing anything.
Yesterday in Masafer Yatta there was the the demolition and confiscation of tents in Khallet a-Daba’ for example. Khallet a-Daba’ is one of the eight villages which now have demolition order for all the structure, and everything there. So now they are using the policy of demolishing stuff step by step, which is they don’t want to make the same way they used in the ‘99 which is carrying people in trucks. they now want to use demolishing, homeless-ing people – making people without a home. I’m not allowed to have any shelter: and then people will go away. That’s that’s the Israeli plan. But on the other hand, we as an activist, we started also trying to organize some other, I dunno, small initiative on the ground now. Because investing in the caves, the renovation of the caves – so there will be plan B if demolition is carried out. But this is not a solution because the eviction will continue to run after our people. So we need a really serious solution for this and which is to stop the eviction, stop the occupation, [and] racist policies against Palestinians.
Because if we succeed to have in Masafer Yatta, then it will succeed to happen in other places, because in this century, where we are living, which is all the international law, international law exists. And international law and [the] international community eyes are open to the situation. Israel is brave to do this because of the hypocrisy of the international law. Maybe Israel will also show that the international law will not do anything. So that is also a big problem; we are facing a war crime in our land, which is considered – this is [considered a] crime by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and we don’t see any really serious acts against this by the international community, which is making us all really upset and angry. And this is confirming the hypocrisy of the international law towards [the] Palestinian cause and Palestinian rights.
Can you explain the work you’re doing as Youth of Sumud with people in Masafer Yatta to resist at the moment. And also what would you need from people from outside and in terms of support, to support your resistance?
Yeah in Masafer Yatta, yani, we really call upon everyone to come down to Masafer Yatta and spend time in Masafer Yatta. We have really so many different spots now. We have the village of Khallet a-Daba’, we have Sfey school that was also recently demolished, we have schools now [that] will be demolished in Fakheit, in Jinba – we are having a big problem that we also need people to be here on the ground with us to support us, to support our work, to join our work, to resist this occupation to bring to help us to transfer our message from the reality of what we are living on the ground. And to really help us to stop this eviction from happening. We ask everyone abroad to visit, to talk, to contact to his elected person in parliament in the government, to put pressure on them to take act[ion] for Masafer Yatta to put more pressure on the Israeli government to stop this from happening. And do it everyone should get involved on the ground. Beside this, to join BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement] to put more sanctions. And in Israel, because Israel [is] without facing any sanction without any boycott, Israel will just continue to do whatever it wants without taking into consideration of an international law or an international agreement in this settler colonial project of Palestine that Israel is doing. So we need really immediate act[ions] right now from people to do and to have. And we have really a lot of activities, people can come and help us. They can join us with the protests, they can join us with working programs who are organizing to support our people, to document, to be there to help us to defend when bulldozers come… and I have so many things people can join and participate [in] and we call upon everyone to come here to be here to work, and help us here and resisting this war crime that is happening.
Okay, and just a final question like, so you’ve been involved in youth organizing now for five years. And I wonder if you could share some successes of the youth organizing that you’ve done in Masafer Yatta in those years?
It is important to be organizing [as] youth because we are living in a community which is always preferr[ing] to be led by old[er] generation, which will not give you the space that you will decide what you want to do, and the way you want to resist, or the way you want to act and anything. So, we want to go out from being all the time linked to this old[er] generation – that we will have our own space. We can – through our collective – take our own decision[s] from youth perspective. And the new generation, with a new vision – not to be stuck to the same vision that [the older generation] have, or anything you want to ask them or to be involved with them. So we took this space. So we have our own decision and what we want to do will not wait, [without] anyone to tell us what to do. We started to do this work because we believe now youth have more energy than [the] old generation. We want to occupy this energy on the field itself. We are really able to handle so many things, really youth has so [much] energy – that’s the main thing we have, so from this point we wanted to do all this activity really more fastly – not to be waiting, and maybe, not tomorrow. No, we take our decision we do stuff now. This is as a first motivation point for me, as a personal level, why [I] wanted this to be led by youth – why this should be all the time by youth. So yeah, I will say that. And we were happy to cooperate with them – with [the] old generation. That in fact is the main point for me, we are happy to work with them to cooperate in things – not to fight, not to be against each other. But also we want to have our own body, our own choice, decision, to take to work our work [and] working space. Because also we want to be independent.
Do you work with other youth organizations around Palestine also?
Yeah, we started with the Youth of Sumud to [make] other connections with different youth groups, Hebron and Bethlehem and Ramallah, north west Jerusalem, Nablus. We want to started to build like this, networking, and doing different activities together. Like go and do activities and work in north west Jerusalem, invite them to Masafer Yatta, invite them to do activities with children, with activist[s], with youth. It was like a lot of youth exchange activities we have done and we are doing, and doing really good.
And in those years of youth organizing can you can you pick out like, have you had some successes, like, are there moments where you think – where you thought – that you’re being effective and successful?
Yani we had a lot of yani efforts and things we did. And we are happy that at least we are doing all these efforts towards [resisting the] occupation to support the sumud of our people. And that is something we are happy to say, that we are proud that we manage. And we succeed to do this. Because all our activities we are doing [are] mainly aiming to really continue to support sumud of our people in all levels. I mean, logistically, also with some intellectual lectures, with lawyers – with so many different things of raising awareness, all this stuff, we were very proud of it as a step in the ground. We were very happy and proud of launching [a] campaign like joining [the] olive harvest farmers in different places, in the whole West Bank, against settler violence. In order to continue to encourage people to go to their land, despite all the violence they see. So the people in connection to their land wont be weak. So we want to continue to support it. Even with the violence of the settlers etc., We have a lot of campaigns we have launched online, and we were very proud that we are doing all this work, to raise awareness to ask people to take actions, to defend Masafer Yatta or defund racism and moving on with so many campaigns. And the other thing we have, like we see that the work we are doing is getting [an] audience. Like we started with also a few people listening and watching to what we do, but we see now a lot of people are following us and our work, especially in social media, we now have, what, 7000 followers on our account and this stuff. This also means that we are kind of having our place, our own seat, and our own work, which is – we are very happy and very proud about, and moving on with other activities. And I see now, the recent project of renovation of caves. I’m so happy about it, because we as Youth of Sumud started in 2017 from the caves and now we are continuing with [it]. It’s a heritage; we need to protect it, and we are now with the political situation. We are starting to [with] people – we need to renovate the caves because they are a heritage thing and also for political reason that now if eviction happened, they will be emergency spot[s] where people will take it as a shelter to live inside again. And people were very excited and happy to go back to this one.
Well there’s some amazing organizing that has been going on over the years and how many people want to know more about Youth of Sumud and the campaign, the solidarity with Masafer Yatta. You can look at the Save Masafer Yatta website. We’re here volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who supports and works with the people from Youth of Sumud and Masafer Yatta. And you can take a look at our website palsolidarity.org. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Yes, and I’m sorry that I forgot this point, which is thanks for ISM for all the organizing and the work and effort they’re doing, representing the international solidarity, support and solidarity in Palestine. Because something also on a personal level – very, very important – when my dad was attacked and imprisoned in September and jailed, how much the international presence was important as a testimony and as [a] documenter for the attack that happened to my dad, which has saved him from years and years of prison. When the activist from ISM had recorded a video [of] 23 minutes showing the whole incident, when settlers attacked my dad. Even [though] he was [the one] attacked, my dad was in prison. And settlers said my dad attacked them. But the video of the ISM guy saved him from prison for life. And for all the work of defending Masafer Yatta, [that] ISM is doing for all this time – is very important for us and really supporting our work there so much.
We ask everyone to, yeah, to be connected with ISM, to follow and to connect and come here, InshAllah, and to see all of you and to get more involved in resistance here, and in supporting Palestinians.
Thank you so much for talking to us.