Beginning of fieldwork in the South Hebron Hills

Marwan Darweish, Mahmoud Soliman and Andrew Rigby spent ten days doing field research in the South Hebron Hills, in the south of the occupied West Bank, during October-November 2022.

A few weeks prior to our visit one of our co-participants in our research project, a community leader in the village of Al Tuwani, suffered serious injury at the hands of thugs from a neighbouring illegal settlement, who attacked him with staves and metal bars, breaking both his hands.

The settler-thugs acted with complete impunity – confident they would face no legal sanctions for their acts of violence. They are emboldened by the knowledge that the violence they perpetrate against Palestinians serves as a major informal tool of the Israeli state in its pursuance of its annexationist policies. In the words of a report by the Israeli human rights agency B’tselem, ‘settler violence is a form of government policy, aided and abetted by official state authorities with their active participation.’

In such an asymmetric struggle the local inhabitants have few resources of resistance beyond their own everyday courage, tenacity and stubborn steadfastness – sumud. To support them different Palestinian, Israeli and international agencies, organisations and groups have sought to offer various forms of accompaniment as agents of civilian protection, assisting the local Palestinian communities in their efforts to achieve a degree of ‘safe space’ within which to pursue their lives.

During our field work we interviewed local Palestinian community leaders and activists, in addition to members of international groups engaged in different forms of ‘accompaniment’. We are now engaged in the process of analysing the material we gathered from our interviews and observations. A number of interesting insights are beginning to emerge, which we shall pursue in subsequent fieldwork. 

1) The limitations of traditional approaches to accompaniment and civilian protection when the local population face risks to their well-being around the clock, with night raids by settlers increasing in frequency.

2) The symbiotic relationship between local Palestinians and international accompaniers. The accompaniers are there to enhance the security of the Palestinians, but the Palestinian in turn ‘protect’ the internationals – advising them of potential threats, identifying escape routes in case of attack, indicating where they should stand in order to minimise the risk of injury during encounters with settlers.

3) One of the key ways in which internationals can enhance the capacities for self-protection of local Palestinians is by letting the locals know that they are not alone. This awareness has a significant impact on local morale.

Mahmoud Soliman and Marwan Darweish talking to Abu Nidal from South Hebron Hills (Masafer Yatta), October 2022.

Soldiers from one side and activists on the other side. Al Tuwani October 2022.