My name is Ali Awad. I was born and raised in the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta, one of twelve villages that were declared ‘Firing Zone 918’ by the Israeli military.
In 1999, my family was evicted from Tuba by the Israeli military. I lived through this eviction, but I don’t remember anything about it — I was just one year old at the time. So in my mind, it is something that lives in my imagination, in the stories I have heard my whole life. But then I remember that I really lived it. And I am still living it today, 22 years later.
My grandfather remembers every detail of this time, and I have grown up listening to his stories. He talks often about the heavy rain that came after the Israeli military left us homeless. They had confiscated the tents of even the temporary camp that we built after the eviction, so our entire extended family of over twenty people were staying in one tent. They confiscated everything, he says, even the food. It was a very windy and rainy night, and my grandfather spent it making a fire in the tent to keep the family warm. Meanwhile, there were sheep giving birth that night, without a fence or shelter left to protect them. In the morning, my grandfather found that 12 sheep had given birth, and all of their babies had frozen to death in the night.
My mother also gave birth that night to my fourth brother. She suffered in the cold, laboring through the night with no shelter. Luckily, my family got someone with a car to come and rush her to the hospital, through the muddy hills where even fixing roads is prohibited. My mother and little brother thankfully ended the night alive, unlike my grandfather’s little lambs outside.
Thank God, my family was able to return to Tuba in 2000. However, we have since been waiting for the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the status of our land. In the past 21 years, we have lived in fear of being evicted while simultaneously watching the settlements and outposts around us take over more and more of our roads and pasture lands.
My oldest memory is of fear. With the excitement of every house we succeeded to build in Tuba came the fear that it could be demolished at any moment. Everytime someone left the home — to go out shepherding with our flocks, to go to school, to go pick something up in the city — I felt afraid they wouldn’t come back.
Every morning, our family’s worry would begin anew. My father and uncles would leave in the morning to take out their flocks, in an area between our village and the outpost, which had become a regular site of harassment by settlers against my family. We knew that arrest and injury were real threats against shepherds who went out. I remember walking home from school one day in third grade and finding that an Israeli settler had chased my uncle and his flock and had stabbed one of his sheep fourteen times. An Israeli policeman who arrived at the scene casually remarked, “Fourteen stabs are enough to kill fourteen people.” But no justice was ever carried out. Because the sheep had been raised in a Palestinian village, and not an Israeli outpost, it was of no consequence.
When I was three, the Israeli outpost Havat Ma’on was built a few hundred meters from Tuba, directly on the single road that connected us to the rest of the West Bank. Within a year, the settlers began attacking us if we tried traveling on the road, and the military officially closed it off to Palestinian use. The nearest city of Yatta used to be about 3 kilometers from my home. Now, we take a detour of over twenty kilometers to get to Yatta, to access health care, water, and food.
The one exception to the closed road is for children from Tuba to walk on it to the closest school, in at-Tuwani. This was not always the case. At first, the children would hike around the outpost, a commute of over ten kilometers. When I finally started school in 2004, we started to use the road again but eventually had to finish the school year at another far-away school due to continuous settler attacks on the road. It was here, at the age of 5, that my childhood became defined by settler violence.
To solve the problem, the Israeli military decided to send an army jeep to accompany the kids to and from school every day. Instead of dismantling the illegal outpost, or punishing the settlers for their violence, the escort became their solution. I completed all twelve grades in school under military escort. I remember so many days that I arrived late to school, or was not able to attend at all, because the army never showed up. I remember being attacked by settlers, often with the soldiers right there, watching.
This routine consumed my mind and body. Everyday at sunrise and sunset, we were walking. By the time we would get home, our lunch was waiting for us, but it was almost dinner time. When I woke up, I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, and my mind had trouble computing when it was time for dinner. Sometimes it felt like there was just no space for food in my stomach, like I was too full of sadness. My mind wandered from my classes, too preoccupied with the fear of getting to and from school. I lived in a permanent state of movement and disorientation.
Fortunately, I have loved school since first grade. I developed a love for English while studying it as a second language. I learnt from a young age to build basic conversational sentences in English, and I learned some Hebrew, so I could speak with the international and Israeli activists who helped us go to school over the years.
I keep remembering the questions I asked as a child: Why is this our life? Why is this my life? And now, I am watching another generation of Palestinian children be traumatized by stone-throwing, arsonist settlers. They are growing up under the same shadow, their childhoods being defined by settler violence just as mine was. Now, as an adult, I still demand answers. But I refuse to allow terror and injustice to confine me.
Today, I am a writer, a human rights activist, and a university graduate with a degree in English Literature, and a Master student . In spirit, I walk on the road to school with the children of my village every day. In the meantime, I am studying, protesting, and documenting, working towards a different, better, safer, and more fair path for us and for all Palestinians.