Fragmentation has many faces in the area where the Sumud Story House is located. Once the busiest highway in Bethlehem, the Hebron Road close to checkpoint 300 is presently empty except for taxis and vans transporting workers from and to the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint. Everywhere are walls close and distant, creating separate roads for Israelis coming from Jerusalem to Rachel’s Tomb and for Palestinians struggling to find their ways along various narrow roads since the wide Hebron Rd leads to nowhere.
Across the walls, there is a view on some of the 700 hectare lands between Bethlehem and Jerusalem which since years have been made inaccessible to their Palestinian landowners. The women groups at the Sumud Story House, a section of the Arab Educational Institute, come here weekly together for awareness and advocacy activities to communicate sumud [steadfastness] values including commitment to a just peace, not leaving the land, national volunteering, and mutual care.
They often raise their voices crossing walls, whether through choir singing, uttering prayers, guiding visitors, or telling stories. Over the years they have searched for methods to educate an international audience. An example are the large weather-resistant wall posters – the so-called ‘Wall Museum’ – that tell stories of sumud of Palestinian women and youth. Many visitors and locals notice the posters which communicate the reality of Palestinian daily life through long rows of simple, straightforward texts on the Wall around Rachel’s Tomb.
In testing out a new awareness-raising method during this Christmas season, the women are coming together to play card games of sumud confronting the fragmentation with unbeatable spirit. Thus, they play a permit card game in which the players collect cards handed out by the authorities of ‘Permitland’. You may know that there are over 100 different types of permits handed out to Palestinians as a kind of ‘favor’ allowing them to visit their own land, or implement projects there.
One lady asks another to look at the quartet ‘Permits to go to Holy Places in Jerusalem’ and hand over one of the following cards: ‘blacklist’, ’frustration’, ‘restrictions’ or ‘patience’. Under ‘Permits for Projects in Area C’ they ask for cards titled ‘collaboration’, ‘resources’, ‘(title) deeds’, and ‘frustration’.
Not a sweet game, but it is the launch of a campaign over the year 2019 to raise international awareness about the plight of the aforementioned 182 landowners unable to access their huge tracks of land. (These lands are quite possibly destined for a settlement expansion that will further squeeze Bethlehem).
The women symbolically communicate how the Wall and occupational politics treat people like as if they are on the losing end of a game. It is all too often said that the occupation plays with people’s lives. In response, the Sumud Story House makes calls for exchanges or twinning arrangements between communities abroad and the northern Bethlehem community including the landowners. Not as a game but in order to help educating and involving foreign audiences and communicating Palestinian voices, stories and rights.
In this spirit the Sumud Story House says: “Celebrate Christmas, but don’t forget today’s Bethlehem!”
Arab Educational Institute