The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat has always been a joyous occasion for me. Tu Bishvat, also known as the “Rosh Hashana Ha Elanot,” or the New Year for the Trees, is celebrated in the dead of winter, as the first signs of new growth start to appear in the natural world around us. As a child, I planted trees around my community, including olive trees, a traditional symbol of both peace and Jewish ritual. Yet as I have grown older, the meaning of Tu Bishvat has grown more complicated for me.
For not all olive trees mean peace, and not all Tu Bishvats are causes for celebration. For the residents of the Palestinian village of Susya, this year’s Tu Bishvat instead brought tragedy and impending destruction. On Feb. 1, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled to allow the Israeli Civil Administration to demolish a portion of seven structures in the village— including the homes of more than 40 of the village’s 350 residents. Unfortunately, the Court’s decision is not an isolated occurrence, but a part of a long chain of injustices, reaching back decades. Over the last 30 years, Susya has faced wave after wave of demolition and indignity. Residents suffered an initial eviction in the 1980s – for the sake of an archeological dig – and more recently, the chopping of the village’s olive trees and destruction of its solar panels and cisterns.
The situation in Susya on its own is a human rights catastrophe. But Susya is not the only West Bank village under threat of demolition. All throughout Area C of the West Bank, Palestinian villages have been placed in the same position as Susya, trapped between an Israeli Civil Administration that claims their homes have been constructed illegally and increasingly powerful groups of far-right Israeli settlers who wish to expand their presence deeper into the West Bank. Just this weekend, two classrooms in the Palestinian Area C village of Abu Nuwar were senselessly demolished.
The consequence of the constant demolition of West Bank villages, if left unchecked, is nothing short of complete, unlawful Israeli annexation of the West Bank and the collapse of any hope for a two-state, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This process of “creeping annexation” has been quietly going on for years, but the Trump administration’s recent policy decisions about Jerusalem have only served to embolden the settler movement in Israel.
Despite the power the right-wing settler lobby has in Israel, there is still hope— both for the people of Susya and for all those who wish to put an end to the unlawful occupation of the West Bank. International pressure has successfully postponed the demolition of Susya multiple times before. On our own campus, J Street U Stanford has worked over the past two years in White Plaza to raise awareness of the demolition situation in Susya through our celebration of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which commemorates the time the Jewish people spent as displaced people. Our work, alongside the work of other J Street U chapters and activists across the country, has helped to increase Susya’s public profile. Last November, 10 senators, led by California’s own Senator Dianne Feinstein, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging his government to not demolish Susya and other West Bank villages.
We would like to thank Senator Feinstein for denouncing the approval of the demolitions in Susya as “heartbreaking” and as an act that “jeopardizes the two-state solution and a peace agreement,” as well as the other members who have supported the people of Susya in its most vulnerable moments. We call on those politicians and community leaders who have yet to speak out on behalf of the people of Susya to do so now and to refuse to look away from this ongoing injustice. As a Stanford community, we cannot be silent as all hopes of peace are chipped away and countless families are displaced and forced into increasingly precarious living situations. We must instead stand against the demolition of Susya, and for the rights of all people to live securely in their homes, without the fear of violence or displacement. Let’s fight for a peaceful Tu Bishvat next year – one in which we can celebrate growth and renewal, rather than destruction and demolition.
Jacob Kuppermann ‘20, on behalf of J Street U Stanford