PHOTOS: Palestinians of Susya return to village they were expelled from

North American and European activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence accompany the Palestinian residents of Susya to the site of their former village, from which they were expelled three decades ago.

Activists with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence accompany Palestinian residents of Susya into the archeological park where the latter’s village once stood, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Activists with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence accompany Palestinian residents of Susya into the archeological park where the latter’s village once stood, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

A group of American and European Jews on Thursday accompanied Palestinian residents of Susya to the former site of their village, from which they were expelled 30 years ago and which today is an Israeli-administered archeological park.

Many of the 80 Palestinian residents of Susya who took the trip on Thursday had never been back to the site of their former village, where much of the older generation was born and raised. Some of the younger boys and girls had never seen the caves in which their parents grew up, despite living only a few hundred meters away.

Palestinian women from Susya walk into the archeological park with their children, many of whom had never seen the caves in which the older generation was born and raised, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Palestinian women from Susya walk into the archeological park with their children, many of whom had never seen the caves in which the older generation was born and raised, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Palestinian residents of Susya point to caves and wells where they once lived and drank before the Israeli army evicted them from their village in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Palestinian residents of Susya point to caves and wells where they once lived and drank before the Israeli army evicted them from their village in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

Once at the site, after exploring some of the caves in which their families once lived, the two groups gathered outside the ancient synagogue at the site. Addressing both the foreign Jewish activists, from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence, and their own children and grandchildren, elder Palestinians from Susya began telling their stories — the stories of their lives and births, of who lived in which cave and which home, and the story of their dispossession.

To the surprise of most, not a single police officer or soldier arrived to stop the group from entering and touring the site. The Jewish activists had purchased tickets in advance for both the Palestinians and themselves, but did not tell the park administrators that Palestinians would be a part of the group.

Elderly Palestinian residents of Susya tell their younger generations and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence about life in the village before the Israeli army evicted them in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Elderly Palestinian residents of Susya tell their younger generations and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence about life in the village before the Israeli army evicted them in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Elderly Palestinian residents of Susya tell their younger generations and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence about life in the village before the Israeli army evicted them in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The oral histories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Elderly Palestinian residents of Susya tell their younger generations and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence about life in the village before the Israeli army evicted them in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The oral histories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

Two park employees eventually followed the group around but did little more than count the number of visitors. When asked by +972 whether other groups of Palestinians had ever been allowed inside the site before, one employee responded with only: “I’m new here.”

+972 plans to bring you more on this tour and other direct actions in Palestine by the Center for Jewish Non-Violence in the coming days and weeks.

Young residents of Susya and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence listen to oral histories about life in the Palestinian village before the Israeli army evicted its residents in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
Young residents of Susya and activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence listen to oral histories about life in the Palestinian village before the Israeli army evicted its residents in order to turn it into an archeological park, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
An employee of the JNF-supported archeological park watches and listens as Susya resident Nasser Nawaj’ah and Center for Jewish Non-Violence activist Isaac Kates Rose address the group, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
An employee of the JNF-supported archeological park watches and listens as Susya resident Nasser Nawaj’ah and Center for Jewish Non-Violence activist Isaac Kates Rose address the group, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
A Palestinian man and his son exit a cave in the former site of the village of Susya. Many younger residents had never seen the place where there parents were born and raised, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The stories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
A Palestinian man and his son exit a cave in the former site of the village of Susya. Many younger residents had never seen the place where there parents were born and raised, Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The stories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
The group of roughly 80 Palestinians from Susya and 40 North American and European activists with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence pose for a photo before leaving the former site of the village of Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The stories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)
The group of roughly 80 Palestinians from Susya and 40 North American and European activists with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence pose for a photo before leaving the former site of the village of Susya, South Hebron Hills, July 14, 2016. The stories were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and English. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

The Israeli army first demolished the village of Khirbet Susya, deep in the desolate south Hebron Hills, three decades ago, on the grounds that it was located on a biblical site. Susya’s Palestinian residents, many of whom lived in caves on the site for generations, packed up and moved a few hundred meters away, onto adjacent agricultural land they own.

The IDF, which as the occupying power controls nearly every aspect of Palestinians’ lives in the West Bank, never recognized the validity of the move. To this day, the village has no connections to electricity or running water, and its access roads are not paved. The entire village still lives under the threat of demolition.

The European Union, United States and United Nations have all called on Israel to refrain from demolishing the current site of the village of Susya, and to provide its residents with basic services and infrastructure. Following a concerted international campaign last year, the Israeli military seems to have temporarily backed stepped back from its plans to displace Susya’s residents for a second, and in some cases, third time.

Other Palestinian villages in the area, however, have not been so lucky.

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