A few words about Susiya
South Hebron Hills is one of the most beautiful and most difficult parts of Palestine. Its nights are cold in the winter and what little rain there is does not nourish the fertile ground; the summer days are hot, and its wells are parched. The residents of the area live in extreme poverty in very basic conditions, without adequate infrastructure for electricity, water, and transportation. This situation is partly the result of neglect by the Palestinian Authority, but first and foremost, the Israeli occupation is to blame. The occupation has made the lives of the residents unbearable: the residents of South Hebron Hills constantly are harassed by the settlers, threatened with demolition of their homes, and expulsion from their land by the army or the civil administration; above all, they are denied the freedom of movement and the right to make an honorable living.
Susiya is located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, about 15 kilometers south of Hebron. For years, the residents of Susiya suffered immensely under the Israeli occupation. In 1986, Israeli authorities expelled the residents, who then were living in caves, after nearby archaeological ruins were declared a national archaeological park. They then settled on their land, located between the archaeological site and the Israeli settlement of Susiya, until 2001 when the army returned and destroyed their homes and their wells and again expelled the residents. This time they also did not give up, and with the help of individuals and Israeli organizations, they appealed to the Israeli High Court, which gave them a temporary injunction order allowing them to return temporarily to their land. In 2007, this order was annulled. Recently, the residents of Susiya appealed again to the High Court to claim rights to their land. In the decade that has passed, the village has created ties with Israelis and internationals, and Susiya has become well known among those interested in the fate of the cave dwellers of the South Hebron Hills.
Taayush and Rabbis for Human Rights Report on the Background of the Latest Developments in Susya
Following the Regavim petition, which requires the state to destroy the village of Susya, yesterday the “civil administration” issued six immediate demolition orders. These are based on old orders from the ‘90s and from 2001. Orders that Israel had chosen not to implement so far. Although the original orders applied to individual structures, these new orders are applied to intact, thousands of square meters, compounds, some of them including dozens of buildings. The orders apply to most of the village of Susya. Among the structures expected to be demolished are a kindergarten, clinic and renewable solar systems, the only electricity generator for the village. In those six compounds liveavim, an NGO with naakedly expansionist about 200 persons and hundreds of animals. They are expected to remain homeless.
While Palestinian residents are anxious about the coming of bulldozers, in the settlement Susya, bulldozers are preparing and building. Some background on the village of Susya and the Regavim petition:
The Palestinian village of Susya has existed for centuries, long before the modern Jewish settlement of Susya was built in 1983. In 1986 the Israeli authorities expropriated part of the village’s residential land in order to establish an “archeological site”. Several villagers from Susya were evicted from their land and homes and suffered incalculable anguish.
Immediately after the eviction, having no alternative, the villagers moved to nearby agricultural areas that they owned in an attempt to rehabilitate their lives.
However, in 2001 several families from the village (the Nawaja’a, Halis, Sharitach, Abu Sabha, and other families) became the victims of a second eviction. This time it was exceptionally violent: tents, caves, and cisterns were destroyed and blocked. Agricultural fields were dug up and farm animals put to death.
At the same time, the settlers established their own outposts. In 2001 the “Dahlia Farm” was set up and in 2002 an outpost was put up in the “Susya Archeological Site” where the Palestinians had been evicted on the pretext that the land was intended for public use.
On September 26, 2001 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the structures torn down and the land returned to the villagers. Despite this, the army and settlers continued to attack the Palestinian villagers and prevent them from reclaiming the 3000 dunam (750 acres) around the Jewish Susya settlement.
The prevention of this reclamation was the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court (5825/10) in 2010. The aim of the appeal was two-fold: to allow the villagers to reclaim their land and to stop the settlers from attacking the villagers.
In October 2011 the military commander announced that large tracts of the appellants’ land were “off-limits to Israelis” hoping in this way to end the flagrant trespassing and the takeover of the land.
A few months after the Palestinian villagers’ appeal was submitted, the settlers submitted a counter-appeal.
The upshot of the counter-appeal was a third eviction of the Nawaja’a family that had managed to return to its own land in 2001.
Susya today: At least 42 orders to halt work and 36 requests for building permits have been submitted. At least 19 cases are still in the courts.
The Regavim plea was submitted against anyone who complied with the Supreme Court Decision on Susya and in revenge for the appeal. Evidence of this is that the plea was submitted automatically without examination, it was aimed at anyone who co-operated with the Palestinian appeal (land owners) even though only a few of them live in the village and/or have buildings in the village.
In this appeal the appellants are trying to paint a false picture of symmetry between homes in the Palestinian village of Susya and the Jewish outposts. The transfer of a civilian population, the settlers, to the occupied territories runs counter to international law. The Palestinian villagers did not “take over” their land. This has been their private land for generations.
In the appeal, the charge was raised regarding the villagers as a “security risk.” Reality challenges the logic of this claim.
The Susya settlement purposely doesn’t have a fence. Closing the area to Israelis illustrates the Palestinians’ need for protection from the settlers. Within the framework of the Susya appeal, 93 events were presented as cases of violence perpetrated by the settlers, some of them as masked vigilantes. Since then many more incidents have occurred.
There is a basic failure by the authorities responsible for the planning in the region. This is especially obvious in Area C. The authorities are pursuing a policy whose goal is to transfer the Palestinian population to areas outside of Area C. This is apparent in the number of building permits, number of building demolition orders, and lack of planning for the protected population. At the same time, Jewish settlements and outposts are expanding, and more are on the way.
Since the 1970s there has been a drastic reduction in the number of building permits given to the Palestinians. In 1972, 97% of the 2134 requests submitted were approved. In 2005 only 6.9% were approved (13 out of the 189 requests submitted). The sharp reduction in permits parallels the dramatic decrease in the number of requests. In the same period 18,472 homes were built in the Jewish settlements!
This trend has continued and has even intensified. In 2009 only six building permits were granted to Palestinians; and seven in 2010.
In 2000-2007 one-third of the demolition orders were carried out in the Palestinian sector compared to 7% in the Jewish settlements. In recent years there has been a disturbing growth in the number of building demolitions. In 2008-2011 the Civil Administration pulled down 1101 buildings in the Palestinian sector and rejected every single building plan that the Palestinians submitted! The settlements have their plans approved and development made possible.
If the figures for building permits were reasonable and compatible with the population growth and natural growth rate of the village, as was done in the 1970s and 1980s, this would solve the lack of housing. In addition, it would eliminate the perpetual fear of expected demolitions.
The planning failure is also reflected in the lack of basic infrastructure for the Palestinian population, such as electricity, water, education, and health services. The settlers, on the other hand, are recipients of exemplary urban planning.
These facts show that this is not a case of legal constraints but intentional government policy. It is nothing short of the hushed-up transfer of Palestinians from Area C.
As noted, these days, residents of Susya are fighting for their right to continue living on their lands