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“This race is going to happen”: Masafer Yatta’s challenge to the Israeli army

Jerusalem24 – For more than four decades, the residents of Masafer Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank have faced violence, harassment, expulsion, and the threat of ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Israeli military, settlers, and state.

But the 1,200 residents of the south Hebron hills, who are under imminent threat of forcible displacement after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of forcible transfer set forth in international law was “not enforceable” in a domestic Israeli court, are not passively awaiting their fate.

Known for their activism, certain members of the community have taken to their cameras – and to social media – to document their story.

Others, such as the organization Youth of Sumud, coordinate activities that celebrate and highlight the need for (and lack thereof) normalcy in the daily lives of the community. Indeed, in Masafer Yatta, just walking to school or to your field is a dangerous, logistical challenge.

“Israeli military and settlers are both cooperating in hand to hand to kick us out [and] confiscate our land,” activist and Youth of Sumud co-founder Sami Huraini tells Jerusalem24. “We have been holding up in this place for more than 40 years. This is what we call: ‘existence is resistance’. Despite all this, we never give up.”

(Sumud means steadfastness in Arabic – a seemingly appropriate name for the organization.)

Youth of Sumud is no stranger to the Israeli army or settlers trying to stop their activities from going forward, by harassing, intimidating or arresting activists, or setting up checkpoints and roadblocks and preventing people from elsewhere in the West Bank from travelling there.

But – in the name of sumud – no one in Masafer Yatta surrenders to these acts of violence. They have never deterred them before, nor are they deterring them now, one day ahead of a solidarity race planned for Friday.

The 5km race on Friday 5 May, organized by Youth of Sumud in partnership with Right To Movement Palestine, will start in the village of Al-Tuwani (considered the main ‘gate’ to Masafer Yatta) and then will continue its path around the villages of the hills.

All are invited to attend, and there has been such a positive response so far that the shared transportation planned by the organizers (for anyone wishing to attend who doesn’t have a vehicle) has already been fully booked.

Why a race, though, in a place where freedom of movement is so notoriously restricted? (The Israeli military refuses for several of the communities to even build a road connecting them to the outside world.)

“Through sports, through this kind of activity, we are trying to move the world to act for Masafer Yatta, to save Masafer Yatta, and to stand by the Palestinian cause,” says Huraini.

These normal activities in marginalized areas such as Masafer Yatta help to let people know that the community there has the right to practice normal, daily life activities like anywhere else in the world. Huraini feels that through these activities they will be able to connect more with the world.

And what about the possibility of an Israeli army or settler attack on the race tomorrow?

“We will continue with our life, we will continue to exist here, and we will continue to organize activities that they all the time try to attack and destroy,” Huraini says. “This [race] is going to happen – and we challenge the occupation that we are going to do this race.”

“It’s our land, that’s a clear message for them. We’ll never give up, we’ll never leave our land, we’ll continue all the time to resist and exist, because our fight is about the identity that the Israelis want to delete.”

Listen to the full interview on Vibes.

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