The Palestinian village of Susya is in danger of being totally destroyed. It presents an example of the efforts of many groups to remove the Palestinians from where they live in Area C. In his recent column, Bezalel Smotritz of “Regevim” tried to justify this process, and accused human rights organizations of not letting the facts confuse them. Rabbi Arik Ascherman examines why they do not keep to the facts when they justify mistreatment, and what end they think justifies such doubtful means.
Let us begin with a specific point on which there is no argument: Smotritz implies that the Palestinian village of Susya its on state land. The state itself and Plia Albeck – the one who established the system of declaring large areas in the West Banks “state land” – recognized private Palestinian ownership of the Susya inhabitants’ lands.
Susya’s inhabitants have lived since at least the 19th century in the village which was requisitioned for “public use” in 1986 and replaced by an archaeological site. Smotritz exploits this to assert that you cannot see the present village in old aerial photos. Obviously, it was only after the requisition that the residents were forced to move and live on private agricultural lands – there they live today in spite of unending attempts to expel them for planning purposes.
But the most significant distortion lies in the claim made by “Regevim’s” lawyer that the so-called discrimination in the planning in Area C is in favour of the Palestinians. Anyone who travels to the South Hebron Hills can see villas with red roofs, not always built legally, opposite shacks, tents and caves of Palestinians who are not connected to water or electricity. In contrast to the settlers, the 150,000 Palestinians who live in Area C have no representatives on the planning committees, which are in effect military committees. It would be interesting to see how “Regevim” would react to a situation where Palestinian security forces planned for the settlements. The Palestinians in the territories also do not have the vote and have no representation in the Knesset, in the military courts or in the Supreme Court, they do not have any power in the governing bodies. Given all this, is it likely that there is discrimination in their favour?
Smotritz points out that more than 470 plans were approved for the Palestinians in Area C in the last ten years. Actually, these are development plans that preceded the Oslo period, and by far most of them deal with areas that are today defined as Area A and 40% B in the West Bank, areas for which the Palestinian Authority and not Israel does the planning.
Building authorized in Area C
According to the organization “B’mkom” using data from the Civil Administration – between the years 2005-2012 were approved in Area C less than 5% of master plans for Palestinian villages than for of the land authorized for building on by the settlements in the same period. Even if we ignore for the moment the important fact that 85% of West Bank Palestinians are prevented from using 60% of the West Bank (defined as Area C), the Palestinians are still clearly discriminated against in the assignment of land for building. To all this should be added – in the case of Susya – the expulsion from their homes and removal to areas marked for agriculture. Who benefits from this systematic discrimination?
Anyone who knows the Palestinian villagers of Susya and similar villages in the South Hebron Hills knows that the population is poor and lives on the fringes of Palestinian society. All these people want is to continue their traditional agricultural way of life, tending to their flocks and working the land. If we take from them their ability to support themselves, who will take on the moral responsibility for their welfare?
“Do not wrong or oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt” it says in the Book of Exodus, and for good reason. This central Jewish tenet is now being trampled on by “Regevim” and by the Civil Administration, when they promote in every way possible plans whose purpose is the displacement and not the development of the West Bank Palestinians. Such discriminatory and oppressive policies damage both basic Jewish values and the interests of the majority of the Israeli public which wants to live in peace and mutual respect.