Palestinian and Israeli activists chant and beat drums during a demonstration near Susya in the South Hebron Hills on June 22, 2012. Israeli authorities have issued demolition orders against the entire Palestinian village of Susya, which is located near an Israeli settlement with the same name. Photo by RRB/Activestills.org
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