So many stories of Palestine and Palestinians remain untold. The brevity associated with news reports barely scratches the surface of the ramifications of Israeli settler-colonialism, let alone allow non-Palestinians to ponder the intricate web of politics that sustains colonial violence. Unless Israel unleashes its military power against Gaza, the world largely remains silent. This year, however, the protests at Sheikh Jarrah marked a turning point in international awareness.
Jody Sokolower’s book, ‘Determined to Stay: Palestinian Youth Fight For Their Village’ brings Silwan’s stories to the helm. With an introduction by Nick Estes, who ruminates on the similarities between US and Israeli policies in terms of colonial violence against indigenous populations, the book gives a detailed glimpse into the ordinary lives of Palestinians in Silwan. As the people continue resisting forced displacement, Palestinian resilience is a permeating theme and reality.
Sokolower, who is Jewish, keeps the identity privilege visible throughout the book, to illustrate Israel’s apartheid politics. Indeed on several occasions the author ponders her positioning, her freedom in colonised Palestine, even as Palestinians’ freedom of movement is either severely restricted or completely eliminated. Sokolower’s positioning is particularly important, as it centres her role as a facilitator in presenting the Palestinian people’s stories of Silwan.
As we walked through the Old City and the streets of Silwan, we seesawed between walking in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation and reaping the benefits of looking like Jewish settlers.
From debates and observations in the US, to actually experiencing slivers of Palestinians’ daily life in Silwan, Sokolower brings the neighbourhood’s stories to attention and contextualises the violence experienced by Palestinians within the US’ political and military support for Israel.
“In all my conversations with youth there [in Silwan], I never met a boy older than eight who hadn’t been arrested once,” The author says. The book brings three main points on the colonial violence Palestinians face in Silwan – Israel’s targeting of Palestinian children, the families threatened with forced displacement, and the City of David national park project which aims to destroy Silwan under a veneer of purported culture and heritage.
Israel’s colonial violence spares no one. The ongoing targeting of Palestinian children, who are arrested and tortured in detention, is a systematic form of violence to coerce families into moving away from Silwan. Such is the nature of Israel’s forced displacement at times – the bulldozers are not always necessary if people feel threatened enough to move. Yet making life unbearable for Palestinians and its possible outcome should not be dissociated from forced displacement.
A child arrested for having a broken ruler, which the Israelis classified as a weapon. Children held under house arrest and later sentenced and sent to high security sections in Israeli jails. Palestinian children are also forbidden from learning Palestinian history at school, due to the education system being run by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality. A 16-year-old boy from Hebron working in Silwan without a residency permit out of necessity who says: “I have to take the risk because my family needs the money.” A 12-year-old boy tortured at the Russian compound. All the stories we do not hear, and which are silenced through non-utterance, are what non-Palestinians need to become familiar with, to avoid normalising Israel’s colonial violence as a mere news item.
The book dedicates ample consideration for how Israel uses archaeology as a colonial weapon. The City of David centre is built upon stolen Palestinian cultivated land. Most of Silwan’s land was lost after the 1967 war, rendering Palestinians subjugated to Israel whereas previously they had been landowners. Sokolower points out that much of Palestinian land has been buried under Israel’s colonisation project. Silwan is now endangered with Israeli excavations weakening housing structures. Complaints to the Israeli police are met with further vengeance – eviction orders are dished out to Palestinians.
Meanwhile, settler violence in Silwan is on the increase, and so is the appropriation of Palestinian land. In the introduction, Estes writes of his visit to Palestine in 2019, “One thing that shocked me was the intensity, speed and aggression of how Israeli settlers are taking over Palestinian land.”
The view is corroborated by Palestinians in Silwan.
They already have so much of our beautiful land. They have Haifa, they have Jaffa, they have the coast – why are they coming here to take our homes and throw the families out on the street?
It is within the context of Palestinian resilience that Silwan’s narratives are so important. “We will remain standing on this land and teach, because education is the strongest weapon,” one of Sokolower’s Palestinian interviewees states.
For Palestinians, education is an integral part of decolonisation. Sokolower draws comparisons to indigenous struggles in the US, particularly when it comes to land loss and memory. The book contains colonial expansion maps of indigenous terrain in North America and Palestine, indicating the similarities with regard to land appropriation and decolonisation struggles.
Sokolower’s book facilitates understanding of the Palestinian people’s daily lives. The author takes great care not to intrude on the people’s narratives; indeed part of the book’s strength lies in the author’s awareness as a coloniser in North America, and she does ponder what her role would have been had she been in Israel. A candid reflection which is not overlooked.
“To decolonise is to tell the truth. And to work with Indigenous people is to give the land back,” an indigenous woman from Berkeley tells the author.
Silwan’s stories are not in need of narrators but disseminators facilitating the understanding that the decolonisation process must be rooted in internationalist awareness and solidarity, without jeopardising the indigenous Palestinian people’s voices.