“Sumud”—The Will to Resist

By Gary Fields, author of Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror

“Sumud” (صمود‎‎) is an oft-used term in Palestinian Arabic meaning “steadfastness” and refers generally to the resistance of Palestinians to Israeli takeover and settlement of Palestinian land. This idea of resisting dispossession is a major theme in my recently-completed book, Enclosure and I decided to celebrate its publication by spending ten weeks in Palestine this past summer. Unlike previous research trips, however, where I documented stories of steadfastness, my time on this trip was taken up by studying Arabic intensively at Birzeit University and visiting informally with Palestinians who had conveyed their stories to me for my study. Among Palestinians I have come to know, Mona and Fayez T. from the village of Irtah near Tulkarem are two of the most heroic practitioners of sumud I have encountered.

I met Mona and Fayez in December, 2004 when I stayed with them for five days on my first research trip to Palestine. The couple told me of three major shocks to their farming operation. In the 1990s an Israeli waste and recycling firm, the Geshuri Company, which had been in violation of Israeli environmental laws, relocated its plant across the border to the Palestinian West Bank – immediately adjacent to the farm Mona and Fayez and created untold problems by polluting the area with untreated wastewater runoff. In 2002, the couple received a second shock when the state of Israel decided to build the Separation Wall – Fayez and Mona refer to it as the Apartheid Wall – right across the middle of their farm. As a result, the family lost half of its farmland and had only 30 dunums (roughly eight acres) remaining.

Harvesting zatar on the farm of Mona and Fayez in the shadow of the Wall. Photo by Gary Fields
Mona T. Cultivating beans. Photo by Gary Fields

The following year, the Israeli army along with two large bulldozers came to their farm one day and informed the couple that their land was now a closed military zone. Protected by armed soldiers, the bulldozers plowed up all of the crops planted at that time which Mona and Fayez estimated at $350,000. During the next ten years, this plowing up of the couple’s farmland occurred two more times. Such instances of land confiscation and crop destruction are central themes in Enclosure.

When I visited this summer, I saw many changes on the farm of Mona and Fayez. They have implemented an intensive program of water reclamation, energy conservation, and heirloom seed preservation in an effort to transition their land to organic farming. As a result, Mona and Fayez are now two of the most celebrated organic farmers in Palestine cultivating a wide variety of fruits, field vegetables, and nuts. They also regularly host groups of people from all over Europe and the Middle East who come to see how they are utilizing scarce resources while supplying local and regional markets with organic produce. In addition they are also the main supplier for some of the most well-known restaurants in Ramallah. At their house this summer over dinner, Fayez and Mona emphasized to me that cultivating crops was the most steadfast form of resistance to the Israeli occupation. “When we cultivate crops, we plant ourselves in our land,” they told me. “We will not be moved.”

Picking Molokhia. Photo by Gary Fields
Taking a break from picking and packing peppers. Photo by Gary Fields

Gary Fields is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

His new book Enclosure marshals bold new arguments about the nature of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Fields examines the dispossession of Palestinians from their land—and Israel’s rationale for seizing control of Palestinian land—in the contexts of a broad historical analysis of power and space and of an enduring discourse about land improvement. This comparative framework also helps readers in the United States and the United Kingdom understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the context of their own histories.

Read a sample chapter.


On the Anniversary of the Six-Day War, Recommended Reading for Understanding the Occupation

Fifty years ago this week, the Six-Day War transformed the Middle East. Fought from June 5-10 in 1967 by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the conflict lasted just six days, yet its impact endures today. For Palestinians, this year marks fifty years of military occupation. During the war, Israeli forces captured east Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza — as well as the Golan Heights and Sinai. In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, we’ve selected a list of recommended titles for understanding the nature of the occupation, the reasons for its longevity, and its impact on Israeli and Palestinian lives, with the following deeply researched titles.


A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict by Gershon Shafir

“An indispensable guide for anyone who wants to understand the occupation that has blighted Israeli and Palestinian lives for fifty years.”Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism

In these timely and provocative essays, Gershon Shafir asks three questions—What is the occupation, why has it lasted so long, and how has it transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? His cogent answers illuminate how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. Shafir expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenge.

This excerpt from the book, just published in Mondoweiss, asks the question: Why has the Occupation lasted this long?

Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom by Norman G. Finkelstein | available January 2018

“An exceptional, singular work that will stand as a vital contribution to the literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while also securing an essential place in the fields of international and human rights law.”—Sara Roy, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Norman G. Finkelstein presents a meticulously researched and devastating inquest into Israel’s actions of the last decade, arguing that although Israel justified its violent assaults in the name of self-defense, in fact these actions were cynical exercises of brutal power against an essentially defenseless civilian population. Based on hundreds of human rights reports, Gaza scrutinizes multifarious violations of international law Israel committed both during its operations and in the course of its decade-long siege of Gaza.

This week in Mondoweiss, Finkelstein discussed the history of the Six-Day War, its impact on U.S. Jewish life, and its mythology, saying, “It’s arguable that Israel became a different place after ’67. . .  If not a qualitative, then a quantitative transformation occurred in ’67.  Still, it’s perhaps not too late for Israel to repair some of the damage done to the indigenous population, and itself. Look at Germany and Japan.”

Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror by Gary Fields| available September 2017

“An original and eye-opening argument which places the dispossession of Palestinians by Israel within the age-old system of land enclosure—a broader and deeper logic typifying the political geography of modernity.”—Oren Yiftachel, Professor of Geography, Ben-Gurion University 

Enclosure marshals bold new and persuasive arguments about the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. Revealing the Israel-Palestine landscape primarily as one of enclosure, geographer Gary Fields sheds fresh light on Israel’s actions. He places those actions in historical context in a broad analysis of power and landscapes across the modern world. Examining the process of land-grabbing in early modern England, colonial North America, and contemporary Palestine, Enclosure shows how patterns of exclusion and privatization have emerged across time and geography.

Israel’s Occupation by Neve Gordon

“A powerful and convincing structural framework for explaining Israel’s changing methods of rule in the Palestinian territories from 1967 and until today. This book will change the debate on Israel and its occupation.”Yinon Cohen, Columbia University

This first complete history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip allows us to see beyond the smoke screen of politics in order to make sense of the dramatic changes that have developed on the ground over the past forty years. Looking at a wide range of topics, from control of water and electricity to health care and education as well as surveillance and torture, Neve Gordon’s panoramic account reveals a fundamental shift from a politics of life—when, for instance, Israel helped Palestinians plant more than six-hundred thousand trees in Gaza and provided farmers with improved varieties of seeds—to a macabre politics characterized by an increasing number of deaths.

Yesterday in The Nation, Gordon wrote about this shift from “a politics of life to a politics of death” which he covers in the book. He says: “To really understand Israel’s colonial project, it is crucial to examine the mechanisms of control.”

One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States edited by Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg

“A coterie of bold, open-minded international academics offers a fresh paradigm for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. . . . A visionary approach so daring that it could actually work.”Kirkus

One Land, Two States imagines a new vision for Israel and Palestine in a situation where the peace process has failed to deliver an end of conflict. “If the land cannot be shared by geographical division, and if a one-state solution remains unacceptable,” the book asks, “can the land be shared in some other way?”

Leading Palestinian and Israeli experts along with international diplomats and scholars answer this timely question by examining a scenario with two parallel state structures, both covering the whole territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, allowing for shared rather than competing claims of sovereignty.


Sustaining Conflict: Apathy and Domination in Israel-Palestine 
by Katherine Natanel

“In chapter after chapter, Natanel records the relentlessness of a kind of detachment that allows for Israelis to live a ‘normal’ life while only miles away from them a brutal apparatus of occupation attempts to pacify Palestinians.”Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, University of London

Sustaining Conflict examines how the status quo is maintained in Israel-Palestine, even by the activities of Jewish Israelis who are working against the occupation of Palestinian territories. The book shows how hierarchies and fault lines in Israeli politics lead to fragmentation, and how even oppositional power becomes routine over time. Most importantly, the book exposes how the occupation is sustained through a carefully crafted system that allows sympathetic Israelis to “knowingly not know,” further disconnecting them from the plight of Palestinians.

Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel edited by Mark LeVine and Gershon Shafir

“This wonderful volume illuminates the human dimensions of the complex and often painful history of modern Palestine/Israel by exploring how [individual] experiences have been profoundly shaped by the recurrent struggles over this land.”Zachary Lockman, New York University.

With contributions from a leading cast of scholars across disciplines, the stories here are drawn from a variety of sources, from stories passed down through generations to family archives, interviews, and published memoirs. This wide-ranging and accessible volume of personal narratives brings a human dimension to a conflict-ridden history, emphasizing human agency, introducing marginal voices alongside more well-known ones, defying “typical” definitions of Israelis and Palestinians, and, ultimately, redefining how we understand both “struggle” and “survival” in a troubled region.