My “Simple Life” Under Israeli Occupation

Kelly James Clark
6 min readMar 28, 2023

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by Mohammad Hureini with the assistance of Kelly James Clark

Mohammad Hureini

Mohammad Hureini is an eighteen-year old peace activist and university student in the Occupied Territories. This is his story

I was born and raised in al-Tuwani, a small village in Masafer Yatta in South Hebron Hills, Palestinian Occupied Territories.

My village is a simple village and we live a simple life; we depend on livestock and cultivating the land for our livelihood. Before 2012, we had no running water or electricity, but I never noticed. As a child, I mostly just played with my friends. My daily ritual: get up early and go with my mother to pick up bread, eat breakfast and go to school. After school, I played football with friends; football was and still is the thing I love most. At night, I would go home, do schoolwork by candlelight or oil lamp, have dinner, and go to sleep.

Children of Al-Tuwani

But things are not so simple. Al-Tuwani, like many Palestinian villages in Masafar Yatta, is under constant threat. We live under Israeli occupation, and the occupiers complicate my life.

In the early 80s the Israeli government, in violation of international law, designated Masafer Yatta ‘Firing Zone 918’, a closed military zone. The declaration of a military zone is a ploy that Israel uses to drive Palestinians from their land. All of Masafer Yatta’s families were instructed to leave their homes.

My family has lived in Masafer Yatta since the Nakba (aka ‘Catastrophe’) in 1948. During the Nakba’s ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of historic Palestine; many who refused to leave were massacred. Despite being forced to relocate from our ancestral homes, al-Tuwani is our home.

Before the Nakba, my grandparents (like their grandparents and countless grandparents before them) lived a simple life in the village of al-Qaryatayn in Beersheba, South Palestine. During the Nakba, the occupation army killed two of my grandfather’s brothers. Fearing for their lives, my grandparents fled to the village of Susya. But the occupation army would then expel them from Susya (under the pretext that it was an archaeological site).

Forced from a second home, they fled to al-Tuwani. Their simple life was interrupted again when the Occupation Court declared Masafer Yatta a military zone, and the army began to seize the land for military training. To drive us out, Israel seeks to make our lives unbearable through nightly raids, demolitions of homes, arrests for no reason, destruction of crops, and intimidation.

Since the declaration of Masafer Yatta as a military zone, residents face forced eviction, demolition and deportation. The nearby villages of Khirbet Sarura and Kharoubeh have disappeared — all of their homes demolished. Our elementary school was destroyed and we are routinely denied access to our livestock and our land. We live under constant threat of violence by both the Israeli Occupation Force and Israeli settlers–a racist, armed, illegal civilian militia. Our home is under an official writ of demolition.

Yet we resist these “complications.” This time we will not flee!

My grandparents and parents have done what they can, within the bounds of peace, to stop the violation of their rights and the confiscation of their lands. And they have taught their children to follow their example.

In 1998, after the occupation army displaced eight villages, my dad organized a nonviolent popular resistance. His activism garnered international attention and support. The public outcry forced these issues into a court which heard evidence that the land belongs to the Palestinians. Some people returned to their villages; others, for fear of being displaced yet again, did not.

In 2006, the occupation attempted to build an apartheid wall around Masafer Yatta to control us. We succeeded, through peaceful resistance, in preventing the wall. But we paid a steep price: my grandmother lost an eye, my father and uncle were imprisoned for two months.

Our victory was short-lived, the occupation sought new ways to complicate our lives. Of course, the imbalance of power between the heavily-armed occupiers, on the one hand, and the peaceful protestors, on the other, favors the oppressors.

Our only “power” is to bring international pressure on Israel to stop the destruction and deportations. In 2009, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited our village and saw the injustices firsthand. He helped secure a plan for the village which allows for construction without threat of demolition.

According to international law, our villages are legal and we, like all people around the world, have the right to live in our homes in peace. Yet, Israel flouts international law and even basic human rights. On 4 May 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court authorized the demolition of every village in Masafer Yatta. The illegal, armed, settler thugs have been emboldened, their violence ignored (condoned) by the military and the police. Israel’s new, far right government is determined to encourage the settlers and crush Palestinians; it has approved, again in defiance of international law, 10 new settler outposts.

As a child, living under occupation was my “normal.” While my family kept me blissfully ignorant of both Israeli injustice and their own fears, blissful ignorance proved impossible to maintain after Israeli forces barged into our home in the middle of the night and kicked my family out into the cold; we fearfully clung together in the dark as they broke everything in our home. I was terrified when the masked and armed marauders shouted at and then shoved aside my father in his own home.

By the age of 13, I knew that, like my parents and grandparents, I also had to stand up for my rights and the rights of my community. I joined my brother, Sami, to create Youth of Sumud, a group of teenage human rights defenders, to peacefully resist the routine intimidations aimed at dispossessing us from our rightful land.

We organized Sumud Freedom Camp in Sarura, a village that had been evicted by the Israeli occupation in 1998. To encourage people to return, we restored caves that Palestinians had lived in long ago. We planted olive trees in the fields surrounding the village. And we left our own comfortable homes to live in the caves to encourage the return.

Our activity has expanded throughout the West Bank. We accompany shepherds to their fields and children to their schools; shepherds are often attacked by civilian-militia and schools are demolished. Faz3a helps Palestinian farmers during their annual olive harvest. Defend Masafer Yatta aims to spread awareness about our situation. And Defund Racism organizes protests against the injustices and helps people to relocate to caves when Israeli forces demolish their homes.

Yes, “relocate to caves.” The simple life?

We have suffered for our resistance: attacks by Israeli settlers have broken bones and shattered lives. The occupation forces broke my brother’s leg so badly it required surgery to repair. We face regular night raids by the military. Our homes are more likely to be demolished. Our parents are more likely to be harassed and harmed. In September of 2022, settlers broke both of my father’s arms. I was arrested 8 times before I reached the age of 18. My crime: peacefully defending my people’s rights.

But I press on, inspired by the peaceful resistance of my parents and grandparents.

I fear that Israel will not stop until there is a second Nakba in which Palestinians are driven from the land. And I believe that Israel will not be stopped unless and until they accede to international demands for justice.

I don’t condone violence as a response to the Israeli occupation. Yet I understand the forces that drive desperate, powerless young men to violence. Those who call them “terrorists” lack the imagination and sense of justice to understand the routine terror that the occupation inflicts on our simple lives.

Although we are angry, outraged even, by Israel’s vicious occupation, which gets worse by the day, most of us just want to live a simple life of peace. So I join arms with my grandmother, my mother and father, and my brothers and sisters to work until justice and peace embrace.

Mohammad Hureini with Kelly James Clark

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