Susya Threatened Again | November 2013
Photo: Susya, West Bank (Activestills)
(For a full history of Susya, please see here.)
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.
An Absurd Decision: RHR Responds
The Committee overstepped its mandate and determined that the plan we proposed sought to keep the residents of Palestinian Susya in “poverty and ignorance” [page 11, end of second paragraph in attached decision], because it is supposedly preferable for the residents to integrate into the nearby “urban fabric” (of the town of Yatta) rather than remaining in a small community (which inherently leads to poverty and ignorance as far as they are concerned).
This is an especially infuriating and cynical statement by the military regime authorities in the West Bank, considering they expelled the village residents and nationalized a portion of their lands; placed numerous obstacles in the way of building a school for the village children at its location after the expulsion (and a demolition order was issued for the school after it was built); when they are preventing development in the village and left it for decades without infrastructure for electricity, water, sewage, roads and sidewalks; while those same authorities destroyed the caves and meager improvised dwellings of village residents several times, including after the major expulsion, and did not defend the poor residents from the theft of their lands and their harvest by extreme settlers; and while they propose to the village residents, farmers by trade, to be forcibly transferred to the Palestinian town of Yatta which is beset by unemployment and poverty and to almost certainly lose their agricultural lands, the source of their income [settlers have already managed to take control of 400 dunams of Palestinian land in the area, even while the farmers are present on the lands]. If anyone is promoting poverty and ignorance in Palestinian Susya, it is precisely the policy of military authorities and the “Civil Administration”. Life in a small community does not necessarily mean poverty and ignorance.
The policy promoted by Israeli authorities in the West Bank is unconnected to a desire to eliminate poverty and ignorance and does not advance this goal. Rather, the policy promotes neglect and underdevelopment with one central goal: driving the Palestinians into as small an area as possible; and specifically driving Palestinian farmers in Area C [which is under Israeli control] into the small crowded enclaves of Area A [which is under Palestinian control].
All the facts show that the overall trend is this relocation, also hinted at by the government announcement which states, with regards to the proposed plan to leave the village in its current location, that: “…the Committee found that planning is not feasible for construction at such a great distance from Yatta, which is the city that comprises the regional center of life in this area.” The State clearly expressed a desire to transfer the residents of the Palestinian village of Susya to Yatta or adjacent to it. Yatta is a town in Area A, all of five kilometers from Susya, and not at “such a great distance” from it. Therefore, the State’s stance is completely unreasonable, and seems unrelated to the matter at hand, meaning that it is not by nature a matter of civilian planning – that is, a matter of the good of the residents – but rather a matter of driving out and expulsion.
The village of Susya originally stood where the archaeological site of Susya is located today, and the villagers were expelled from there to their nearby agricultural lands. In contrast with the claims of settler organizations, the existence of the village was recognized by the deceased jurist Plia Albek, who was identified with the settlement enterprise. In her written opinion about the area, which led to its being declared in the 1980s an archaeological site containing an ancient synagogue, she wrote, “The synagogue is found in a location known as the lands of Khirbet Susya, around which is an Arab village amidst the ancient ruins. The lands of Khirbet Susya are registered in the Land Registry. According to this entry, the land – an area of approximately three thousand dunams – is privately owned by numerous Arab owners.”
The case of Susya also demonstrates the importance of our principled appeal to return planning rights to the Palestinians in Area C.