Palestinian teens in a May protest in Washington DC. Liberation photo: Joyce Chediac.

This article originally appeared in the IMEU | September 7, 2021
By Sami Huraini

I have never known freedom. Not one day. I was born in Atuwani, a village in the West Bank shaped by Israeli military occupation and settler violence. Every day we risk beatings, incarceration, or even death, just to harvest our fields, graze our livestock, and build our homes. If you go to YouTube and search “settler violence, South Hebron Hills” you will see page after page of video evidence. You can see settler dogs biting Palestinians, settlers burning Palestinian fields, shooting and throwing rocks at us. There is a video of my dad getting beat up during a nonviolent protest when I was a child. Our children need a security escort just to go to school. I have been hospitalized from a settler attack with broken bones and incarcerated by the Israeli military for demanding my human rights.

Unfortunately, I have learned from experience that showing the world what’s happening through social media isn’t enough. Holding informational webinars, explaining over and over again how Israeli colonization destroys our lives and the lives of our loved ones does very little — unless it is attached to an advocacy campaign that is both winnable and impactful. Those of us who are continually on the frontlines of defending our lands and communities recently sat down to design a plan with these principles, the Campaign to Defund Racism. We agreed the campaign must be winnable in the short term. The settler movement is eating up lands in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere hand over fist. Settler groups like Elad, Ir David, Ateret Cohanim, and Regavim are preparing to wipe away any Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem. Time is not on our side.

Many of these groups are US-based and registered as charitable organizations in New York state, enjoying tax-deductible status with the IRS. They funnel millions of dollars each year to some of the most extreme, violent settlers in the occupied territories, who are violating not only international law but longstanding US policy on Israeli settlements. As a result, we are asking New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate their operations and to take action if she finds they are violating US law. We aren’t asking for anything radical. AG James only needs to enforce the laws already on the books and to be consistent when dealing with groups that support Israeli settler charities, just as she did when investigating the National Rifle Association and the Trump Foundation.

The Campaign to Defund Racism is a genuinely national Palestinian campaign. We have families from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem, Hebron, and in the Naqab in southern Israel, who are defending their homes and lands from encroaching settlers and the organizations behind them. This past summer showed us that the Palestinian community is envisioning a future out of the confines of the Oslo Accords and moving into space for real liberation of historic Palestine — of the independence of Jerusalem, the Naqab, Haifa, and Nazareth. If this is to become a reality, then Palestinians and our allies must begin the process of decolonization. And that starting point is the dismantling of the Israeli settler movement. We must begin to do that by cutting off the funds they receive through US nonprofits.

Education is crucial, and personal transformation is essential. Dozens of Israeli activists have gone through a deep process of change to become our committed allies for liberation. But the violence that is inflicted upon us isn’t just about the attitudes of individual Israelis. The violence is structural; it is state violence. Our oppression is the result of hundreds of Israeli laws and policies, which, when added together, constitute a system of apartheid, something a growing number of experts and others are recognizing, including Human Rights Watch and BT’selem, one of Israel’s most respected human rights organizations, who both released reports earlier this year documenting how Israel practices apartheid.

When we accept that this system of apartheid is about structural realities, rather than individuals who need to be enlightened through “coexistence programs,” then our approach forward must be centered on structural change. It has to be political. It means developing advocacy initiatives to change the laws and policies that keep Israel’s program of apartheid intact.

This is what we are calling for: Decolonization. Join us by encouraging AG James to launch an investigation into these groups, which make our lives so difficult and peace so hard to achieve. It is only by destroying structures of dominance that will freedom reign.

Sami Huraini lives in the village of Atwuani in the South Hebron Hills. He’s an activist for the grassroots organizations Youth of Sumud and has been arrested by the Israeli army ­multiple times for his nonviolent resistance.