A year ago, the Sair Martyrs’ Cemetery was marked with graves a decade or more old. Today more than half the tombs are marked with dates from the past eight months. Fresh wreaths of colorful flowers lay atop each of the close rows of stone — fourteen stone slabs that have taken up nearly every available space in the cemetery.
“We are trying to come up with options for a way to expand the cemetery,” Jamaal Faroukh, the head of the Religious Affairs Office in Sair told Mondoweiss.
“There is space for, one, two, maybe three more graves, but we are expecting that we will run out of room soon,” he explained, alluding to the expectation of more Sair youth killed by Israeli forces. “We are now working ahead to try and figure out a way to expand it.”
Sair village, located in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, has been one of several epicenters of violence since the start of upheaval in October. Since then, residents say the village has been blockaded by Israeli forces more often than it’s been open.
The blockades have sometimes taken place after Palestinian youth were shot dead during alleged, attempted or actual attacks against Israelis, but other times the closures seem random, residents explained, with no connection to any known action by anyone in the village.
“Sometimes we go to drive out somewhere in the morning and find all the entrances are closed, out of nowhere, it can be completely unpredictable,” one man from the village told Mondoweiss.
Israeli forces have also punitively demolished several homes belonging to the family members of those accused of attacks before being killed. Thousands of others have had their Israeli work permits confiscated by Israeli authorities.
The mayor of Sair village, Kayyed Jaradat told Mondoweiss that Israel’s actions against the village have only fanned the flames of violence.
“Pressure births explosions,” Jaradat said. “This collective punishment has only made things worse, the harder Israel pushes the harder the Palestinian people will resist.”
The mayor said the killings of Palestinian youth have caused a domino effect of attacks against Israelis, and a cycle of dead Palestinian youth.
“If you look at those who have been killed, most of them are related in some way, or they were friends with another who has been killed. This is a small community, and when a young man is killed we see his brother or cousin or friend is then killed trying to avenge his death, and again and again,” Jaradat said.
On January 6, three cousins from Sair were killed on the same day. Ahmad Salim Abd al-Majid Kawazba, Alaa Abed Muhammad Kawazba and Muhannad Ziyad Kawazba were shot dead during a joint attempted attack against Israeli soldiers in a nearby settlement intersection. No Israelis were injured, but all three cousins were killed. Their graves now lay in a row, nearly identical.
Later that night, a 16-year- old from Sair, Khalil Muhammad al-Shalaldah, was shot dead during another attack against Israeli soldiers stationed in front of a neighboring Palestinian village. His grave lies next to his brother, Mahmoud al-Shalaldah, who was killed two month previously during clashes with Israeli forces in Sair.
The last young man who was killed by Israeli forces from Sair was Arif Jaradat, a 22-year-old man with down syndrome who was shot and injured during clashes in the village. The young man fought his injuries for more than a month before succumbing to his wounds.
Posters announcing all these young men as martyrs are strung up throughout the village. Residents of the town can name off each of the fourteen dead without hesitation, pointing in the direction of each of their homes. Each death has been a personal loss for every villager in an area where community is life.
Jaradat said that Sair came to the forefront of the uprising due to the villages close ties to Jerusalem, and deep passion for their religion.
“Sair is a traditional place, it is a religious community, and many of the families here have family they have been cut off from in Jerusalem because of the wall and Israel’s occupation, but we have strong ties to Jerusalem and to the Al Aqsa Mosque,” Jaradat said. “So when these right-wing Israelis started causing problems at Al Aqsa last year, the people of Sair were deeply affected by that, they stood up to defend Al Aqsa — that’s how this started.”
He also stressed that Sair was not the only hotspot of “resistance” in greater Hebron, where at least 62 of the 219 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since October are from.
“This is happening across the Palestinian territories, but we do see that in Sair and Hebron we have had a large number of youth killed compared to other villages,” he said.
One old man, dressed in traditional Palestinian clothing on his way home from afternoon prayers, said he had lived his entire life in Sair, and could not remember a more difficult time since the Second Intifada ended 15 years ago.
“Since October things in Sair have been worse than the First Intifada even,” he said. “When the Israelis close the village sometimes we cannot get vegetables and other food products inside, and we have to wait for food to come in. People can’t come and go to work, it’s been a disaster here.”
Mohammed, a young man who helps run a stone cutting business in Sair said life has come to stand still since the start of upheaval.
“We are going through all this on our own, the Israeli government started this, but the Palestine Authority has done nothing to help, and the international community doesn’t change anything. We are on our own, so we find our own ways to cope and take our own action,” the young man said.
One such phenomena has been the creation of a community first responders group made up of volunteers spending their own time and money to try help residents of Sair.
“When someone gets shot at clashes or inhales too much tear gas or has other health problems it’s the Sair first responders group that get them out, they are all we have,” he said. “Israel will not come if there is a house fire, the PA is not allowed to come and many times the Red Crescent isn’t allowed in, or can’t get here in time, so this was our only choice.”
Mohammed said if not for the community sticking together, Sair would be in much worse condition.
“When things get bad, we come together, that is the only way to survive here, and it makes our community even stronger,” he said.
Jaradat, the mayor of the village, said the only way to stop the attacks against Israelis coming from the people of his village is to end the Israeli occupation.
“As long as the occupation continues, this violence will continue in a circle,” he said. “It cannot be broken while the occupation of the Palestinian people continues.”