In episode two of our podcast we speak to Gassim Hamad Tahan from the village of Mufagara, in Masafer Yatta, in the South Hebron Hills.
Gassim told us how the experience he had growing up is different to those of his children and grandchildren, and about his dedication to steadfastly staying on the land, despite violent attacks by settlers, and a colonial army intent on evicting Palestinians from the area.
If 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]
Hello and welcome to the second episode of the International Solidarity Movement podcast. My name’s Hazel and I’m happy to be joining you today. So this interview is with Gassim Hamad Tahan, who is fellahin – which is basically translatable to being a land worker, a peasant, or a traditional farmer – in the village of Mufagara, in Masafer Yatta, in the South Hebron Hills. We spent some time in Mufaqara as part of ISM’s work to be a presence in case of demolitions or attack by the occupying forces. We got to join in with some of the traditional work Gassim and his family do day to day, which involves looking after a herd of goats, donkeys, chickens, and other animals, building, as well as being shown how to bake sweets by the younger people in the family. We recorded this episode sat in Gassim’s family home. Some of the children can be heard in the background at different points whispering and bringing tea, and we also left Gassim’s full answers to our questions in Arabic in the podcast, so that English and Arabic speakers can listen. The valleys and hills of Massafer Yatta were ruled a closed military zone called ‘Firing Zone 918’ in the 1980s. This is an Israeli state ruling that claimed the area was supposedly ‘uninhabited’, and therefore can be used for the occupying force’s military practice, despite the fact Palestinians have been living and working in the region for many, many generations with traditional ways of life, like living in caves, shepherding, and subsistence farming, sometimes semi-nomadically. The occupying state has violently tried to force families out of the area for decades. This has been done through legal rulings in the courts, supporting settler violence and settlement expansion, and by carrying out demolitions of Palestinian homes and property. Now the residents of the firing zone are under a renewed, imminent threat of eviction. Gassim told us how the experience he had growing up is different to those of his children and grandchildren, and about his dedication to steadfastly staying on the land. Today we’re in the village Mufagara which is in Masafer Yatta in the Firing Zone 918 and we’re interviewing Gassim Hamad Tahan about his experiences living under the occupation and the resistance. So yeah, thank you very much for joining us. I’m just gonna pass over and ask you to just introduce yourself and your family and maybe the history of the village? And just say a bit day to day like what it’s like living here?
[translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic]
His name is Gassim Hamad Tahan from Mufagara village. What his daily life [is] here, it’s really about fearing and like scary day, like in any moment he is feeling that he could be killed or arrested. So fears and his worries are everyday in his heart and about his small children his sons and about his house. So like from all of the sides that his life is like surrounded of fear and worries. Like before the eighties, before even the occupation came to the Massafer Yatta area, it was like a good life, a safe life, like really having a good life with like the family, there was no threats on them so like he says that all his life is surrounded by worries and fear from [being] expelled evicted, killed or arrested even.
And is it possible for you to say a bit more about what it’s like day to day? He’s felaheen, so he’s like a farmer who’s living with the land. Is it possible to talk a bit about that connection with the land and maybe how it has been in the past and also how it is now. But what does the land like mean for him? [translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic]
His life as a farmer born before the occupation arrived and the settlers and everything else that happened. They were having a very good life, like, going with their sheep everywhere no one can prevent them to reach their land. They plough the land, farm it and harvest it, so they were like really having a simple life, living in caves and some tents and some like – what was in the past, there was nothing like services that like came to them. So after the occupation arrived, the confiscating of the land, stopping the people to reach their land, and even the settler harassment on the farmers and also the shepherds – they were killing the sheep, they were like shepherding with the sheep when settlers came and killed some of the sheep, and you know threatening them. So they started like, it was really something that scared them and prevent them to go, because they will risk their life for that.
So like he was asking like for all of the countries to stand with them, because they are simple farmers and they want to have their simple life. They want to live as the settler living in the illegal outpost that was established in the Palestinian land, that have all of the human services – they want to live like them. Not like if you want to go – if you want to build a simple tent to live in, like to go out from the cave, and to live in a simple house, or a tent, they will immediately demolish it and confiscated it. So he ask just for like a simple life, safe with no threats. I want to ask him also about what is his connection with the land.
[translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic]
So his land, like he used to think that cannot like lost it. So he just take it from his grandfather and his grandfather took it from his parents also. This like the land has come to him now, from his father, so now he’s like, he has the connection between him and the land, that he cannot like leave it. And he can pay any price in order to not to like leave his land. And even if he would go back to live in the caves, and if there is any threats on him, he will just stay on his land because there is no other way to go.
So we also mentioned that this is a firing zone, and I was wondering if you could explain a bit about what that means. Because the people who are listening will be coming internationally they won’t necessarily know what are the conditions, what legally does it mean, and what does it really mean for the people living here? So if you can explain a bit about that it would be amazing
Since the ‘67, when the Israeli occupation first occupied the West Bank, and until it reached Masafer Yatta in the 80s, they announced Masafer Yatta as a closed military zone. And from this, like they used this excuse to, to steal more land and expand more settlements. And settlers are in, in order to – as one of the tools that the occupation uses to harass the Palestinians and make them feel, like, scared and fear to lose their lands.
So since the you know, these like, policy that, you know, they’ve announced Masafer Yatta as a closed military zone, and there are people who’s living in this area, and they [the Israeli occupation] didn’t have the right even to announce [the military zone as uninhabited] because there are the people who are living here. And this is a threat on the people to be killed. Because this is a very dangerous thing on the people. So this like, what they announced as a closed military zone, is an excuse in order to evacuate the Palestinians from their lands, from their villages – from their own villages. He’s like, even imagine that he’s saying that, that the village is now in 2022. And until now, there is the fighting and the eviction, you know. This is like we want to imagine the future could be a good future, not a bad future. So he just wants to have days that are like those in the past, there is no occupation, no harassment, no threats, nothing.
So he’s like, just hoping for all of these violations to stop, and for the Israeli occupation forces to go out, and take the settlers and the settlements – to take them out. And this what he means, you know, I just – he mentioned something and I just mentioned from me just to give them the real idea.
So is it possible to say a bit more about like, if you remember before the Firing Zone, what it was like growing up here, and could you expand a bit more on what the conditions were like how it felt in those times?
[translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic
So he was born in Mufagara village and his beautiful moment in his life was when he was a child because there was no fear. Nothing to care about. Life is like funny. You go to study in Yatta walking like one hour and back. And this shows how in the past everything was – you can go wherever you want. wherever you can go, and your parents will not be worried about you, because there is nothing or any threats on you. So, he said like, these are the best days that I have lived in. Now, today like, after he has grown up and all of these threats came and all of the occupation started to harass the Palestinians.
Even you know, now that his children now they are studying in At-Tuwani village, and even though the distance between here and At-Tuwani is just one kilometer. And they send their children in the morning and you know, they feel the fears and worries about them. You know, they just count to ten to take them to the school and to come back, because there is no safety, there is settlers – they can attack them or they have threats. And with your children you cannot like put them anywhere. So like he said like there’s a very big distance between the past and today.
Is it possible to just say like how many children live in the village and you know what it’s like for them growing up here? We’ve met a lot of the kids and they’re really amazing, and very funny, and very friendly, they’ve really welcomed us as guests very very well, and I really thank them for that. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about and what it might be like for them.
[translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic
So he said like these children [are] born under the risk and under the occupation. And even they said when we want to walk them to school sometimes, they send the police sometimes, because maybe the settler will meet them in the road and they will attack them. So they used to go with them to take them to school and back. So their like routine – these children like while they’re playing up there, when they see an army or settler, he just run[s] to his father and he says ‘there’s army or settlers, maybe they will do [something to] us, they will attack us’. He says ‘no, just don’t worry’.
So the last thing that I want to add to what is happening. And really, as you can say a massacre here, that very big huge number of settlers from the illegal outposts of Havat Ma’on and Avigail, they gathered and they attacked this village, brutally. And the army were with them, even they were like saving them, you know, and protecting them. They were having guns, they were throwing stones on the houses and there was one child that was injured on his head. He was sleeping and there was one big stone it was it was like [thrown on] his head. So he was hospitalised.
And even then, there was no justice that day. The cars were burned , and the house were destroyed. And after that every child here was having a very, very big problems with his psychological things. So, he was even after that, when he wanted to go, when he saw settler or army, he would just ask his father ‘will they do the same thing with what they have done the last year?’, or something like that.
So these like, also the families, they are just taking care of the children to like – to get this fear out of them and you know, to resist as they resist, during their lives. And you know, he just wants his children and the children in the community to have their rights as other children in the world. That they’re having the safety. All of the rights of education to go to school safe, not to face the checkpoints, to not have the injustice, the attacks. So he just hopes to his children to have all their rights as other children in the world.
I’m really sorry to hear about the attack. It’s absolutely horrible, and especially a child being injured is completely unforgivable and really disgusting. I was wondering if there was anything else that you wanted to share and also, if you wanted to say anything about – about or for – international people coming here about why they should come? And if there’s any other message to give to the people who might be listening?
[translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic] [translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic]
So he’s very grateful for the presence here and he is very thankful for all the efforts that they do that they came to be in solidarity with the people. And for example like including he is going to shepherding at least he feels some people that are standing with them, that there’s still some people who really care about that case, the Palestinian case, about all the violations that happens against them. And even now like just to show how the international presence is important is, for example, it happened with them when one time is one settler he was going to attack them, but there was international people with them. And they said for them ‘come tomorrow without these people’ you know as he just want to attack them.
So we know that Khallet Al-Daba’ is facing eviction at the moment imminently and we’re just wondering. if they’re evicted does that mean that this village also will be next? Is it that this will then be evicted as well? [translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic] [translation of question then answer from Gassim in Arabic]
So he say, he hope not, to the [eviction of] Khallet al-Daba’ village, but he said if they will evict the people and demolish everything there they will – they will not just on[ly] this village, they will go around all the Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta. So this will be a threat on all the people around, in the community, and he hope not to happen this thing, and to have a big solidarity from everywhere from outside Palestine or inside, to stop all of this eviction and ethnic cleansing that the Israeli occupation is doing.
Shukran, shukran. Hurriya Filistin!