The Palestinian village of Susya has existed for hundreds of years, long predating the Jewish Israeli settlement of Susya, which was founded in its neighborhood in 1983. Written records of the existence of a Palestinian community in its location exist from as far back as 1830, and the village is also found on British Mandate maps from 1917. The residents of Khirbet Susya, who today reside in temporary structures north of the Israeli settlement, originally lived in the village of Susya Al-Qadime, located near the ancient synagogue at Susya, where there was a settled village until the 1980s. The Palestinian residents’ ownership of this land is established in law.
In June 1986, approximately three years after the Israeli settlement of Susya was established in the area, the Palestinian village’s land was expropriated for “public use” and the location was designated as an archeological site. The State’s use of expropriation procedures proves that it recognized that this land was privately owned. Later, the expropriated land was attached to the regional jurisdiction of the Israeli settlement of Susya. Entry to this area is forbidden to Palestinians under the standing military order that forbids Palestinians from entering settlement territory. Village residents were expelled from their homes and their lands, and lost most of their property. The residents were unable to resist the expulsion, which, though conducted through a legal mechanism, did not take the fate of the villagers into account. The expelled village residents settled in caves and tin shacks in an area some 500 meters from their village, in an area today named Rujum al-Hamri, near the settlement Susya. The villagers continued to cultivate their (privately owned) lands. Today, Israeli settlers reside in an illegal outpost located inside the archeological site.
The villagers’ proximity to the red-roofed settlement, whose Israeli residents were uninterested in their “new” neighbors, led to their second expulsion. One night in 1990, the Palestinian villagers were loaded onto trucks and taken to an area near Zif Junction – some 15 km north of Susya. Having been expelled from their village and then from their new homes in Rujum, the residents returned to their privately owned agricultural lands and began to live in caves and huts, each family residing on its own agricultural plots from then on. The village’s communal life ceased to exist.
The Israeli settlement of Susya has elected to have no perimeter fence. Its residents subscribe to the ideology according to which having no fence means having access to more land. And indeed, in the late 1990s, the isolated farm originally called Magen David Farm and today known as Mitzpe Yair was expanded, and the prosperous agricultural outpost of Dahlia Farm was established. The farm earns an income from a large herd of sheep, which requires a large area of pasturelands to graze. In those years, the settlers of Susya and its outposts seized lands from their Palestinian neighbors and in effect created an unauthorized restricted area to which Palestinians are forbidden from entering. In several instances, Palestinians found on these lands were shot and killed. In July 2001, following the murder of the settler Yair Har-Sinai while he was herding sheep in the area, the residents of Palestinian Susya became the targets of acts of revenge and another expulsion. The expulsion was carried out without warning and was especially violent. Caves were destroyed, wells were blocked, fields were vandalized and animals killed. The expulsion was accompanied by violent arrests and beatings. According to the villagers’ testimony, some of those Israelis present at the expulsion were civilians and not soldiers or police officers – they were apparently settlers familiar with the area who came to supervise the expulsion.
First Petition – Ceasing the Illegal Expulsion
Following the third expulsion in 2001, a legal battle was conducted between the Palestinian residents and the IDF. The Israeli High Court of Justice issued an injunction which instructed the IDF to allow the residents to return to live in their caves and to cease the demolitions.
Second Petition – Access to Private Lands
Acts of settler violence continued to escalate. A routine of violence and blocking access developed – when Palestinians attempted to reach their lands, armed and often masked settlers would set out towards them and alert the security forces. Either the settlers or the security forces would remove the Palestinians from their own lands, despite having no legal justification to do so. RHR has documentation of dozens of complaints filed by Palestinians with the Israel Police regarding violence towards them, trespassing on their lands, vandalism of fields and trees, sabotage of wells and water tanks, poisoning of pastures and wells, and even arson attacks on tents and physical attacks on families in their homes at night. Only three of these cases are being heard in Magistrate’s Court. The protection and back-up provided by security forces – the IDF, the police and the Civil Administration – to the Israeli Susya settlers has allowed the settlers to establish their unauthorized restricted area as one forbidden to Palestinians, and within it, to occupy more and more lands belonging to the residents of Palestinian Susya. Over the years, the area of the outpost has grown to ten times (see map) the size of the settlement itself. In 2010, the residents of Palestinian Susya appealed to the High Court of Justice via Rabbis for Human Rights, seeking to restrain the settlers’ violence and to allow the village’s residents access to their lands. Thus far, the military commander has declared some 12% of the lands of the residents who participated in the appeal as “closed to Israelis” in order to prevent further seizures and trespassing. However, no solution has yet been provided for the remainder of the lands and the ongoing plight of the residents. Settlers have been evicted from just two privately held plots where they were squatting.
Third petition – Demolitions
In February 2012, the right-wing organization Regavim, together with the settlement Susya, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice as an act of revenge against closing areas to Israelis and against the residents of Palestinian Susya’s petition regarding their lands. The petition demanded the immediate demolition of all of the structures of the village, which was described in the petition as an “illegal outpost.” The basis for the demand was what the settlers perceived as the “security risk” posed by the villagers. Reality contradicts this claim, and in fact restricting certain areas to Israeli access demonstrates the Palestinians’ need for protection from the settlers.
The attached map shows illegal Israeli construction in the area. The map demonstrates the cynical nature of the settlers’ petition, whose purpose was not to maintain law and public order, but rather to expel non-Jews.
The villagers were first expelled from the privately-held lands on which they lived in ancient caves in 1986. In the almost-thirty years since, they have not been offered any housing solution. The Civil Administration has not prepared a master plan for the village, and in the absence of such a plan, building permits cannot be acquired. Previous attempts by the residents of Palestinian Susya to arrange a master plan were rejected and all of the village’s structures, approximately one hundred buildings in total, received demolition orders. These demolitions will result in hundreds of residents of Palestinian Susya being cast out under the desert’s blazing sun for the fourth time since the area was conquered by the State of Israel.
Working towards a Fourth Petition – Planning
In December 2012, residents of the village Susya submitted a master plan for their village which would authorize all of the structures in the village (approximately 100 temporary structures exist in the village). In May 2013, the Civil Administration’s Subcommittee for Planning and Licensing discussed the plan and in October 2013, issued a detailed decision to reject the plan. At the same time, the Subcommittee for Supervision decided to issue final demolition orders against all the structures in Susya. The Subcommittee for Supervision gave an extension of 60 days for appeals to the courts.
The written decision to reject the plan begins with the Planning Subcommittee stating that it refrained from providing detailed and professional instructions to the planner because of a lack of substantive justification for advancing the plan in this location.
The primary arguments for rejecting the plan included:
- Urban structure broadens horizons while rural residences built based on family structure do not provide tools for social advancement, job opportunities or cultural and educational empowerment to the individual. The existing structure also prevents Palestinian women from escaping the cycle of poverty and advancing in education and employment.
- Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Yatta Municipality can provide educational, welfare, religious or healthcare services to Susya over time because of the wide dispersion which would burden public coffers. External support from international entities, which sometimes exists here and sometimes in other countries, also cannot be considered a healthy, strong or permanent structure able to provide services to the population.
- The small size of Susya’s population does not allow for growth or proper community life. In addition, Susya is an uncontrolled development of Yatta and therefore will weaken the city’s institutions and condemn the village to life without adequate services.
The conclusion of the decision recommends that Susya residents initiate an alternate plan for a location closer to Yatta, at which point the Subcommittee will consider allocating state lands. However, a cursory examination of the map confirms that Susya is less than three kilometers from Yatta and bordering on Area B. Therefore, the recommendations of the Subcommittee effectively mean transferring the residents of Susya out of Area C, where the Subcommittee does not have planning or allocation authority.
Within 60 days, Rabbis for Human Rights will submit a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of the residents of Susya against the decision to reject the plan and against the clear subversion of human rights according to international humanitarian law.
The planning policy carried out by the State of Israel in Area C prevents Palestinians living in this area from building in any manner which would be considered legal by the occupation authorities. Since the 1970s, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of building permits issued to the Palestinian population. Whereas in 1972, approximately 97% of the 2134 requests were approved, in 2005, only 13 of the 189 requests filed (6.9%) were approved. Along with the sharp decrease in the number of approvals, the dramatic drop in the number of requests is also worthy of note.Furthermore, the discriminatory demolition policy directed against Palestinians has become more severe: According to Civil Administration data, between 2000 and 2007, approximately one third of demolition orders issued for Palestinian communities were carried out, compared to less than 7% in Israeli settlements. From 2008 to 2011, the Civil Administration demolished 1101 structures in Palestinian communities. During the same time period, all plans filed regarding Palestinian areas were rejected without exception.
The lack of planning is also evident in the absence of basic and critical infrastructure for the Palestinian population, such as electricity, water, education and healthcare, while the settlers enjoy magnificent planning. The evidence demonstrates that this is not an issue of legal constraint, it is rather an intentional policy with a clear purpose: the quiet transfer of Palestinians out of Area C – as is evident also in the reports of UN representatives and the European Union.