On May 12th 2015, Rabbi Ascherman went on Israeli radio to debate with the legal advisor for the NGO Regavim, an organization pushing to destroy Susya. The interview, in Hebrew, in below, followed by comments in English:
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On May 12th 2015, Rabbi Ascherman went on Israeli radio to debate with the legal advisor for the NGO Regavim, an organization pushing to destroy Susya. The interview, in Hebrew, in below, followed by comments in English:
It has recently come to our attention that the extremist organization “Regavim” has distributed to the foreign press an English version of the document they produced in November essentially supporting the government’s position that the Bedouin of the Negev have no legitimate land claims and are “taking over the Negev.” We are therefore reissuing the English version of our response highlighting the inaccuracies upon which both the Israeli government and Regavim base their positions.
A government sponsored bill currently in front of the Knesset would likely lead to the demolition of tens of “Unrecognized” Israeli Bedouin villages in the Negev, and transfer of some 40,000 Israeli citizens from their homes to artificially created poverty stricken townships. They would be dispossessed from most of their remaining lands. The legislation has been temporarily frozen after an international “Day of Rage” on November 30th organized jointly by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories drove home the widespread opposition. Agricultural Minister Yair Shamir replaced former minister Benny Begin as responsible for the legislation, but in fact increased home demolitions and the approval of new Jewish communities where “Unrecognized” villages currently exist lead to great concern that the government intends to implement their plan without legislation.
The Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, along with the Israeli NGO of socially responsible planners, “Bimkom,” has created an alternative zoning plan showing that all of the 35 “Unrecognized” villages can be recognized and developed according to the highest planning standards, while allowing Israel’s other development goals in the region.
An RHR commissioned opinion poll indicates that most Israeli Jews believe disinformation, such as the claim also in the Regavim document that “The Bedouin are taking over the Negev.” When they learn that the sum total of documented historic Bedouin land claims are a mere 5.4% of the Negev for over 30% of the population, the majority of Israeli Jews indicated that this is fair.
PRESS RELEASE | February 4th 2014
The High Court of Justice rejects two petitions regarding the Palestinian village of Susya, enabling the IDF to evade responsibility for land theft
Rabbis for Human Rights:
“The High Court of Justice has enabled the State to evade its responsibility in preventing seizures of land belonging to Palestinian farmers. This is not a case of civil strife between two equal neighbours, but rather systemic military discrimination that has enabled and even supported coerced removal of Palestinian farmers from their lands.” Continue Reading
PRESS RELEASE | January 28, 2014
The High Court of Justice consolidates petition to expedite destruction of a Palestinian village with petition against blocking village residents from accessing their agricultural lands.
On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, the High Court of Justice will conduct an additional hearing on the right-wing organization Regavim’s petition demanding the demolition of the Palestinian village Susya in the South Hebron Hills. The High Court of Justice decided to attach the hearing on this petition to the hearing on Rabbis for Human Rights’ petition to allow Palestinian farmers from Susya access to their agricultural lands near the village, as well as to the settlement Susya.
Rabbis for Human Rights:
We cannot understand why the High Court of Justice decided to attach Regavim’s petition to demolish Susya to our petition against blocking the Palestinian residents from accessing their land. These are two separate issues.
Quamar Mishirqi-Asad, Attorney, Head of Rabbis for Human Rights’ legal department:
In several cases dealing with settler incursion into Palestinian land, we have seen the army attempting to shirk responsibility. In many instances, the army was negligent or even contributed to the incursion. Additionally, this is not a conflict between two neighbors of equal status, but rather a coordinated attempt by extreme ideological activists amongst the settlers to displace people without rights who are living under a military regime. Therefore, the security apparatus must take responsibility over this phenomenon accordingly.
WATCH: Regavim against Susya (Israel Social TV)
This week the Civil Administration informed the inhabitants of Palestinian Susya of its intention to soon carry out six demolition orders that were issued in the 1990s and in 2001. These orders apply to most of the area of Susya and relate to some fifty buildings, including residential buildings, animal pens, solar energy panels and water cisterns (Palestinian Susya, like most of the villages in the south Hebron hills, is not connected to the electricity and water grid). These orders add to numerous similar orders that were issued to Susya recently. These Demolition orders have been issued despite the fact that the land in question is a private land of inhabitants of Palestinian Susya disregarding the absence of amaster plan for Susya which denies the residents of Palestinian Susya any possibility of obtaining building permits from the Civil Administration. If these demolitions are carried out, hundreds of residents of Palestinian Susya will be cast out into the burning desert sun for the fifth time in twenty five years. The Israeli public does not know the local history and so we are presenting this guest article which details the history of the village.
ThevillageofPalestinian Susyahas existed for centuries, long before the establishment of the settlement of Susya in 1983. There are documentary evidence of a settlement in the area dating back to 1830, and it is also marked on British mandatory maps from 1917. In 1948, the original population was augmented by Palestinian refugees who were expelled from the area of Ramat Arad and acquired land in the area. The residents of Khirebt Susya, now living nearby in isolated sites in the area north of the settlement, originally lived in the village Susya el Kadima (“old Susya”) in the area of the ancient synagogue of Susya, an area that was an inhabited village up until the 1980s. Their ownership of the land is has been legally esthbalished and attorney Plea Albeck, one of the architects of Israel’s project to seize control over lands gr in theWest Bank, wrote in a legal opinion from 1982 that the land was privately owned.
In June 1986, three years after the establishment of the settlement of Susya, the village lands were requisitioned “for public use” and the location was declared an archaeological site. Later on, the territory that was requisitioned was put under the jurisdiction of the settlement of Susya. Entry into this area is forbidden to Palestinians by an army order which forbids Palestinians from entering any area of settlement without a special permit.
The inhabitants of the village were expelled from their homes and their land and lost most of their possessions. The residents could not oppose the eviction but they continued to work on their (private) land and settled in an area about500 metersfrom their village, known today as Rojum al-Hamri, near the settlement of Susya. The nearness of the red-roofed houses of the settlement, whose inhabitants did not want these “new” – old neighbors, brought the a second expulsion upon the Palestinian inhabitants. One night in 1990, they were loaded onto lorries and taken (together with their belongings) to the Ziph Junction about15 kilometersnorth of Susya. As they had already been expelled from their village and from the Rojum, the residents returned to the agricultural areas that they owned and settled in caves and huts, and from now on each family lived on their agricultural lands.
Watch this video from November 2010, where you can see a soldier brutally attacking Naser a-Nawajaa, a photographer for B’Tselem and an activist living in Susya, who was protecting children who were looking after their family’s flock on family land. The soldiers were trying to detain them.
In the following ten years, the settlers of Susya took over their neighbors’ lands and actually created an unofficial closed area into which Palestinians are not allowed. In several cases inhabitants who entered this area were shot and killed. Among them was Mahmud Muhamed a-Nawajaa who was killed by a settler as he was shepherding his flock on his land in 1991, and Mussa Abu Sabha who was shot in the head by Yoram Shkolnik – after he had been arrested and handcuffed by the army. The way that the army treats this forbidden area, whose borders have never been defined and change frequently according to the whims of the soldiers and the officers, is well illustrated in this November 2010 video. We can see a soldier brutaaly attacking and arresting Naser a-Nawajaa, a photographer for B’Tselem and a local activist who was protecting children who were looking after their family’s flock on family land, when the soldiers tried to stop them.
In June 2001, following the murder of the settler Yair Har-Sinai in the area of Susya, the inhabitants of Susya became the target of a retaliatory action and were expelled yet again. The expulsion was carried out without warning and was exceptionally violent: Caves were destroyed, wells clogged, fields wasted and animals killed. The expulsion was accompanied by violent arrests and beatings. According to the testimonies of inhabitants, some of the perpetrators of expulsion were citizens and not army or police, and there is a suspicion that it was settlers who knew the area and who supervised the work.
On September 26, 2001 the Supreme Court ordered the destruction of buildings to stop. In the months after the expulsion, some of the residents of Susya returned to their lands and passed the summer in difficult conditions. Israeli activists joined in their fight against the expulsion order. In autumn 2001 there was a legal battle between the inhabitants, helped by the lawyer Shlomo Lecker, and the army. The High Court issued a temporary injunction and told the army to allow the residents to return, and decreed that this expulsion also, like the previous one, was illegal. The implementation of the Supreme court ruling on the ground was made possible only by a massive action on the ground of some 400 Israeli activsts. Further, Not all the inhabitants returned after the temporary injunction, and those who did were expelled for a fourth time apparently by the decision of a mid-ranking officer, implemented during the Jewish fast of Yum Kippur. This decision was reversed afterwards.
The reality created on the ground by the settlers, assisted by the army, using measures that can be defined as “by-passing the courts,” became increasingly unbearable. Violence by the settlers increased. In addition, the settlers set up outposts on land that had previously been used by the Palestinian inhabitants. In 2000, mobile buildings were positioned in the area of Rojum al Hamri, in 2001 the outpost of “Havat Dalia” was set up ,this year also saw the expansion of ranch that was initally called “Havat Magen David” and today is known as “Mitzpeh Yair.” In 2002 another outpost was set up within the archaeological site of Susya, from which the Palestinians had been expelled in 1986. Today there are within the confines of the site a guesthouse, a swimming pool and a workshop that is apparently manufacturing parts for mobile hosues. Officially, the settlers are also forbidden from building within the archaeological site, but it seems that when building offenses in Susya are committed by settlers and not by Palestinians, the Civil Administration less than enthusiastic to deal with it. During all these years, the inhabitants continued to fight for their right to be on their lands, and they even tried to submit a master plan, an attempt which was foiled by the discriminatory planning policy of the occupation authorities.
The support that the army provides to the settlers enables them to seize more and more of the lands of the inhabitants of Palestinian Susya. Over the years, the settlers have escalated the violence, preventing the farmers from working on their land in an area ten times larger than the settlement itself, taken over agricultural lands of their neighbors and harmed anyone who disturbed them fulfilling their vision of controlling the area. The confrontations between settlers and Palestinians became violent. A petition to the Supreme Court that was filed in 2010, the inhabitants of Palestinian Susya represented by “Rabbis for Human Rights” demanded that settlers violence will be restrained and that they will be allowed access to their lands, enumerated 93 incidents of violence by settlers against Palestinians, some of them by hooded assailants. Since then, there have been many more. The destruction of fields and trees, the sabotage of wells and water tanks, the poisoning of fields of pasture and water wells, the systematic harassment of shepherds and even the setting fire to tents and attacking families in their houses in the dead of night – these are frequent scenes in the lives of the inhabitants of Susya. It should be noted that the police demonstrates an utter incompetence in enforcing the law on the settlers of Susya and its outposts
In October 2011, an army commander declared significant portions of the lands belonging to residents who petitone the Supreme Court as an area closed to Israelis, in order to prevent further taking over of land and trespassing. In an act of retaliation over the closing of the area ,the right wing organization “Regevim” and the co-operative of Susya (which runs the settlement) petitioned the Supreme Court (HCJ 1556/12) in February 2012, requesting the demolition of the village buildings which are described in the petition as “an illegal outpost.” . The Regevim petition referred indiscriminately and without exception to all the petitioners in the above-mentioned petition, even though most of them own land in the village but do not live there nor do they own buildings in the village. It seems likely that the petition of Regevim was filed in retaliation for the petition by the inhabitants of Palestinian Susya. In the Regevim petition, the claim is also made of a “security threat” faced by the settlers from the village’s inhabitants. The reality contradicts this claim, and the closing of the territory solely to Israelis in fact demonstrates the need of the Palestinians for protection against the settlers.
Further Regavim petition ignores the fact that the planning policy that Israel implements in Area C denies Palestinians living in this area the option of building in a way that is deemed legal by the occupation authorities. Since the 1970s, there has been a dramatic decline in the rate of building permits issued to the Palestinian population. In the year 1972, 2134 permits were issued, 97% out of those requested. From then on, the issuing of pertimes have been in a constant decline. In 2005, only 13 permits were issued, amounting to 6.9% of the 189 requests filed. It can be seen that, together with the sharp decline in permits, there was also a dramatic decline in requests. This trend has continued in recent years and even worsened. In 2009 only six permits were granted, in 2010 – seven. The demolition policy discriminates against the Palestinians.
According to the statistics produced bythe Civil Administration, between the years 2000-2007 A third of the demolition orders that were issued against buildings located in Palestinian community were carried out, as opposed to less then 7% of demolition ordered issued against buildings in settlements. In the years 2008-2011, the Civil Administration demolished 1101 Palestinian buildings. In those years, all the master plans that were filed concerning Palestinian communities were rejected without exception. The planning failure is also reflected in the lack of basic and essential infrastructure for the Palestinians such as electricity, water, education and health services. Meanwhile, the settlers enjoy splendid planning. From this data, we can see that it is not an issue of legal compulsion, but of deliberate policy ,behind which lies a clear program: to carry out the quiet transfer of Palestinians from Areas C, as is also shown in the reports of the delegations of the UN and the European Union.
The article was written by Dolev Rahat and Dror Etkes and Taayush Activists. special thanks to Adv. Quamar Mishirqi-Asad
Last week we represented the residents of the Palestinian village of Susya and defended them from the “Regavim” appeal. We realized that the court does not recognize the discriminating planning regime, which does not allow Palestinians to build their homes. Here follows our press release following the court hearing; comments by Rabbi Arik Ascherman who was present at the hearing; and an interview with Adv. Quamar Mishirqi-Asad by Tami Molad-Hayu for the Voice of Peace radio.
Today’s initial High Court discussion regarding the petition of “Regavim” demanding the demolition of the Palestinian village of Susya was largely procedural, but highlighted the dangers to the village:
1. In all likelihood the court will accede to Regavim’s request for an order freezing all building by the Palestinians.
2. The judges exhibited a very narrow and formalistic approach to the situation.
Wednesday’s High Court discussion largely dealt with the procedural question of whether to unite Regavim’s petition to demolish Susya and other petitions to prevent the demolition of Susya. However, during the course of the discussion the judges indicated that they were inclined to accede to Regavim’s request for a temporary restraining order that could paralyze the lives of the residents. This approach unfortunately indicates a formalistic “Law and order” approach which doesn’t take into account the radically different civilian and legal status of Palestinians under military rule, as opposed to settlers who are citizens of the country ruling the territory. We hope that the Court will eventually favor an approach focusing on the actual realities, as opposed to a formalistic and procedural blindness to the inequality inherent in the status of the two populations. The procedural approach ignores questions of institutionalized discrimination in the Occupied Territories which are incompatible with the basic principles of democracy.
Even according to the a dry and formal approach the regional military commander is obligated to the principles of international law that require the military regime to attend to the welfare of the population over which it rules. It can not be said that the regime is doing this in situation in which the village can not legally build even one home for its residents, after the army as the ruling authority has twice forcibly expelled from their lands.
Rabbis for Human Rights, representing the residents of Susya against Regavim and the adjacent settlement also named Susya, will continue to fight for justice in the rest of the High Court discussions. We will attempt to expose and debunk the underlying base assumptions which Regavim has used to mislead the Court, even has the State has acquiesced through silence.
An unexpected result: Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s impressions from the court hearing of Regavim’s petition against the residents of the Palestinian village of Susya:
After all our preparations we had an unexpected result when the Supreme Court judges decided to join together the different cases of Susya, and to set an additional court date in 4 months. Nothing essential happened in court. Even the indication that the court will issue an interim order to freeze the building in the village of Susya, reflects the preservation of the status quo. But, as we explain in our press release, the atmosphere was distressing.
In the time between this hearing to the next one we will be again in court (on July 25th) with another appeal. It is our demand along with partners the village council of Dirat-Rafa’aya, The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and The Society of Saint Yves- The Catholic Center for Human Rights to give the Palestinian authority to plan their communities in area C.
I do not have enough words to thank all those who worked many hour to help to defend the residents of Susya: Adv.Avital Sharon; the head of the legal department Adv. Quamar Mishirqi-Asaad and the rest of the legal team: Keren, Mia, Neta, Muhamed and Guy; the communication team: Yariv, Mati and Kobbi; the secretaries Rivka and Tiferet;Dror Etkes; the backup of the organization’s Executive Director, Ayala; our partners from Taayush and Breaking the Silence; the organization’s rabbis; Rabbi Wittenberg from British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights, and all the diplomats who came to court; special thanks to those who translated in court; and a big thank you to the brave Susya residents who experience the pressure and violence, and who trusted us and let us represent them in court.
The curtain rose; no one can know what will be the end of the play, but we promise to do our best to reach a just ending.
The Court Hearing on the Voice of Peace radio
Adv. Quamar Mishirqi-Asaad in an interview on Tami Molad-Hayu’s program talks about the Palestinian Village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills, the village that Regavim organization is trying to bring to its eviction.
More on the Issue
The right-wing organization “Regavim” wants you to overlook why the Palestinians in Area C are pushed into building “illegally”; Regavim wants you to ignore the fundamental inequality of status between Palestinians and settlers.
By Yariv Mohar
The first High Court hearing will be held tomorrow (Wednesday) on a petition submitted by the right-wing organization “Regavim” which demands the demolition of the entire Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills. Regavim’s strategic goal is to expedite the Israeli policy of pushing as many Palestinians living in Area C, which is most of the West Bank, into the crowded and small enclaves of area A. Usually this is done household by household, but Regavim aims to up the ante by seeking to force out an entire Palestinian village, a poor village called Susya.
Next to Susya sits a Jewish settlement with the same name: Susya. Palestinian Susya has already experienced expulsion once, in the 80s, when its residents were moved from their original location to adjacent farmland. The village was built “illegally,” naturally: from the outset the residents of Susya had no possibility of obtaining valid building permits, and thus were never given the option of ”obeying the law.”
Regavim, whose subtitle translates roughly to “Preserving the [Jewish] Nation’s Lands,” defines itself in its petition to the court as a non-political movement, but a quick look through its newsletter reveals that Regavim’s Zionist vision is defined explicitly in a way that discriminates against Palestinians. For example, about a Supreme Court decision to cancel tax breaks for Jewish “periphery” towns only (within the 1948 borders) Regavim writes: ”[this decision joins] a chain of severe rulings that erode the State’s Zionist character and forbid the state from giving preference to Jewish settlements.” Regavim is basing its current lawsuit on these shaky ideological foundations and is asking the Court to erase the Palestinian village of Susya from the face of the earth.
Susya, an extremely poor village made up of tin-roofed structures and tents, is regarded by the IDF and settlers in the area as a nuisance, and its population is seen as unfortunate surplus. Despite the fact that there are no disputes over ownership of the land, the residents of Susya are referred to as ”taking over the land,” i.e., intruders. The people of Susya went to live on their agricultural lands after they were expelled from their historical dwelling place, which was declared a “national park” and thus confiscated. Repeated efforts have been made to expel the residents of Palestinian Susya, efforts ranging from land confiscation, to violent attacks by extremist settlers, to continued infrastructure neglect by the authorities (including the Palestinian Authorities). All of these factors have damaged the social fabric of the village.
Regavim’s petition compares planning policies for settlers to those for Palestinians, and claims that there is discrimination against the former. Aside from the phenomenal lack of precision that characterizes Regavim’s petition, such a shallow comparison between settler and Palestinian planning rights simply has no basis. First, Palestinians do not have civil planning bodies with representation for the local citizens, as is customary in democracies. Instead all planning is done for the Palestinian areas in Area C by the IDF. If Regavim is concerned with equality in terms of planning rights, perhaps it should advocate for Palestinians to receive planning rights that resemble those given to the settlers or to transfer the building rights of the settlers into the hands of another nation, with absolutely no representation from local residents: perhaps settlers’ planning rights should depend on Palestinian security forces.
Second, according to the logic of equality: maybe as a starting point, settlers should be stripped of citizenship and their right to vote in the Knesset elections, so that they will not be able to exercise political power to change their situation in terms of planning rights. If some people in a certain area are forced to live under military rule, then shouldn’t all the people in that area be forced to live under military rule?
Regavim wants you to overlook why the Palestinians in Area C are pushed into building “illegally;” Regavim wants you to ignore the fundamental inequality of status between Palestinians and settlers.
Unfortunately, this discussion is relevant to far more than one village, and the threat against hanging over Susya is a threat that hangs over many Palestinian villages throughout the occupied territories. Even if Regavim’s petition fails in Court, it’s still likely to encourage the State to destroy more Palestinian structures built “illegally,” and even if rejected, it will probably be due to formalistic and narrow views of military law, and not through any meaningful moral/constitutional reexamination of the insane day to day reality of the occupied territories.
To the residents of the settlement of Susya, we say the following: The fact that you did not build a wall between your expansive villas and the “slums” – the tin-roofed structures of Palestinian Susya – is a good sign. I’m sure the yuppies of the luxury Sharon area (a largely affluent, snobbish and liberal area within 48′ border) would have built a tall fence if they happened to live near a village like Susya. You’ve acted rather humanely in not doing so.
In the same vein, do you truly want to live as equals with your Palestinian neighbors, under some political arrangement or other [to be determined by the politicians]? Or do you actually want to continue a discriminatory regime in which you live as privileged elite over Palestinian subjects lacking all rights? If you erase the existence of the village of Susya, how can you honestly criticize Palestinians who seek to destroy your settlement? There have been suggestions about how to create Jewish villages under Palestinian rule, suggestions which have been approved by people at high levels in Palestinian society who could, in a different political environment, overcome opposition within their society. But when you actively trample Palestinian rights, so too your rights will lose their legitimacy. Strength alone will not protect you, and it is incumbent upon you to remember that you will not always be strong.
The discussion of the case will take place, as stated, tomorrow, Wednesday, at 9:00 AM in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.
Yariv Mohar is a former journalist, a blogger and a campaigner for social and political activism”
FATE OF HUNDREDS OF PALESTINIAN HOMES LIE IN THE BALANCE Continue Reading
High Noon will come a bit early this Wednesday. At 9:00 we have one of the most important High Court cases that RHR has ever been a part of. The results of this trial will affect the fate of hundreds of Palestinian homes throughout the Occupied Territories, perhaps thousands. Continue Reading
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