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Waiting for the sunrise in Susiya: messages from Masafer Yatta

This is a story based on texts exchanged over recent days with an international activist part of a group staying in Masafer Yatta, in occupied Palestine.

They arrived recently in Susiya and they are staying in a homestead which is some distance away from other families living in the area.

About 40 families with 100 people in total live in Susiya spread out over an area of 3km2 (3000 dunum).

I asked her what was going on and she wrote: ‘In Susiya nobody is now able to go out and get food because the roads are closed and if people leave, the settlers will attack. So the Israeli activists have started bringing food parcels.’

As in other villages, inhabitants cannot take animals to pasture and extra food has to be brought in to feed the flock. She sent me a picture of a woman form the host family doing exactly that, as we spoke.

‘Can’t take the sheep out because army and settlers restrict the people to a small area and the settlements are too near. It is not a ‘formal rule’ but the settlers have taken law into their own hands and if people take their sheep outside the narrow area around their homes, settlers will attack. They have done it here. They have beaten our host and his brother who came to visit from Yatta. Army comes while the setters are attacking but they just stand around and do nothing.’

‘We are very close to a dangerous settler road, it is 200 -300 meters away’, she said. I asked her to send me a picture of the road and she responded with the smiley and ‘Do you want me to get killed?’. She sent me a picture and explained ‘We were asked not to go on the road. There are two soldiers watching, so I better not go any closer. Palestinians are now not allowed on this road at all and again, that is the rule the settlers have created and they are enforcing it by beating up people. ’

I asked if settlers were coming to their hosts’ homestead and she responded that both settlers and the soldiers go nearby constantly.

They don’t seem to come on the property when foreign or Israeli activists are around, but one can never be sure.

This morning my friend wrote at 5am and I asked what she was doing up that early. ‘Watching sun rising above Susiya’, she said with a smiley. ‘A woman we are staying with looks at me with haggard face and swollen eyes and says “I haven’t slept since the war started”, so we decided to stay awake overnight in shifts so that the family could get some sleep.’

The family sent their two little girls to stay with relatives in Yatta to keep them safe.

This morning my friend was just finishing her ‘night guard shift’ and was looking forward to a hot taboon bread the hostess was to make and the food brought by the Israeli activists. She sent me the picture of the woman carrying a tray with dough to the taboon oven.

‘The night was OK, I think… a guy checked the place out from a distance at 3am and there were no problems. Haven’t heard bad news from other international teams. From across the valley, they kept an eye on us, to ensure we didn’t stray out of the patch of ground they have decreed is all the pasture this family is entitled to’, and she added ‘I think there are more watchers than sheep’.