Global outrage at Israeli plans to demolish Palestinian village

Global outrage at Israeli plans to demolish Palestinian village
Palestinians in the village of Khirbet Susiya remain defiant in the face of imminent Israeli demolition of their homes, buoyed by global support, even from normally compliant friends of Israel.
4 min read
26 July, 2015
The planned demolition has sparked world wide outrage [Getty]

Residents of Khirbet Susiya village in the occupied West Bank are bracing for Israeli bulldozers to come and knock down their homes any day now. 

But as they wait for an occupation military order to be carried out, villagers are rallying support from Western governments as well as Palestinian and peace activists.

Israeli authorities say Susiya's structures are unlicenced and must come down. Residents and their supporters say Israel refuses to grant building permits to Palestinians, even while allowing Israeli settlements to thrive next door.

     Area C, is home to more than 350,000 illegal Jewish settlers

"The people are afraid," said Nasser Nawajah, a leading activist among Susiya's residents. He said his children will not sleep alone at night.

During the day, Nawajah said, the children are constantly on edge that any group approaching could be Israeli soldiers.

Susiya, a rocky hamlet of several hundred people, is one of more than a dozen Palestinian herding communities in the southern West Bank.

Consisting mostly of tents, and without running water or electricity, the village has nonetheless risen to international prominence in recent weeks as it braces for a round of demolitions after three decades of legal battles with the occupation. 

At the heart of the matter is the over 62 percent of the West Bank that was placed under Israeli control under interim peace accords two decades ago.

This land, called Area C, is home to more than 350,000 illegal Jewish settlers, more than double the number of Palestinians living there.

Israel has blocked virtually all Palestinian development in Area C, while expanding the Jewish settlements there. 

Khirbet Susiyais flanked by an illegal Jewish settlement.

Susiya's residents lived in the area of the ruins until Israel declared it an archaeological site in the 1980s, forcing them to leave.

Some left for other Palestinian communities, while others settled a few hundred meters (yards) away, on land Nawajah says is privately owned by him and his relatives.

Since Israel did not recognise the relocated Palestinian Susiya, it was not hooked up to electrical or water grids. The nearby Israeli settlement of Khirbet Susiyaand several illegal Jewish settlements in the area receive such services. 

West Bank settlements, built on land captured in the 1967  war, to be illegal and illegitimate. 

Susiya's situation escalated in May, when Israel's high court stopped a temporary injunction on demolitions. Then in July, the Israeli militrary body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, known as COGAT, announced the demolitions and evictions would take place sometime before August 3.

COGAT also provided residents with a map of 32 structures it planned to demolish first. 

International pressure working

     Even if they demolish our house, we will rebuild it, we will stay here in our land

With their options dwindling, residents, backed by a series of advocacy groups, have drawn attention to their plight, receiving global support, even from normally compliant Israeli allies. 

The US State Department has said that demolishing parts of the village and evicting Palestinians would be "harmful and provocative." 

The European Union has also condemned the demolition plan. The EU and several European countries have funded projects in Susiya, including solar panels from Germany and a playground from Austria. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed his concerns as well. His spokeswoman, Vannina Maestracci, said he hoped a dialogue between Israeli authorities and the community would resolve the matter.

The international pressure seems to be working.

COGAT said it has not yet decided whether to carry out the demolitions, and said it recently opened a dialogue with villagers in search of a solution. 

An occupation official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations, acknowledged that the international pressure is "certainly" a factor in the decision-making.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working on Susiya's legal cases, dismissed Israel's overtures as only "vague promises." He praised international efforts to raise awareness about Susiya's situation, but conceded that the village's future still remains on the brink because of pressure from settler groups. 

"It's like a bad light bulb joke," Ascherman said. "How many NGOs does it take to save a village?" 

On Tuesday, a dozen delegates from the European Parliament's Green Party joined the ranks of international supporters passing through Susiya.

"I think if they do this (demolition) here, it will be absurd," said Margrete Auken, a former member of the Danish parliament. 

Samiha Nawajah, a 40-year-old mother of eight, appeared unfazed by all of the commotion. On Tuesday afternoon, she sat cleaning meat in her kitchen, a half-finished cement and tarp structure. Both the kitchen and a separate room — where she and the children sleep separated by a cloth — are on the list to be demolished, she said.

A relative of the activist, Nasser Nawajah, she appeared angry and tired, but if the bulldozers end up coming, she said the family will again build on what they believe is their land.

"Even if they demolish our house, we will rebuild it, we will stay here in our land," she said.