South Hebron Hills: A military regime for none or for all

The right-wing organization “Regavim” wants you to overlook why the Palestinians in Area C are pushed into building “illegally”; Regavim wants you to ignore the fundamental inequality of status between Palestinians and settlers.

By Yariv Mohar

The first High Court hearing will be held tomorrow (Wednesday) on a petition submitted by the right-wing organization “Regavim” which demands the demolition of the entire Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills. Regavim’s strategic goal is to expedite the Israeli policy of pushing as many Palestinians living in Area C, which is most of the West Bank, into the crowded and small enclaves of area A. Usually this is done household by household, but Regavim aims to up the ante by seeking to force out an entire Palestinian village, a poor village called Susya.

Next to Susya sits a Jewish settlement with the same name: Susya. Palestinian Susya has already experienced expulsion once, in the 80s, when its residents were moved from their original location to adjacent farmland. The village was built “illegally,” naturally: from the outset the residents of Susya had no possibility of obtaining valid building permits, and thus were never given the option of ”obeying the law.”

Regavim, whose subtitle translates roughly to “Preserving the [Jewish] Nation’s Lands,” defines itself in its petition to the court as a non-political movement, but a quick look through its newsletter reveals that Regavim’s Zionist vision is defined explicitly in a way that discriminates against Palestinians. For example, about a Supreme Court decision to cancel tax breaks for Jewish “periphery” towns only (within the 1948 borders) Regavim writes: ”[this decision joins] a chain of severe rulings that erode the State’s Zionist character and forbid the state from giving preference to Jewish settlements.” Regavim is basing its current lawsuit on these shaky ideological foundations and is asking the Court to erase the Palestinian village of Susya from the face of the earth.

Susya, an extremely poor village made up of tin-roofed structures and tents, is regarded by the IDF and settlers in the area as a nuisance, and its population is seen as unfortunate surplus. Despite the fact that there are no disputes over ownership of the land, the residents of Susya are referred to as ”taking over the land,” i.e., intruders. The people of Susya went to live on their agricultural lands after they were expelled from their historical dwelling place, which was declared a “national park” and thus confiscated. Repeated efforts have been made to expel the residents of Palestinian Susya, efforts ranging from land confiscation, to violent attacks by extremist settlers, to continued infrastructure neglect by the authorities (including the Palestinian Authorities). All of these factors have damaged the social fabric of the village.

Regavim’s petition compares planning policies for settlers to those for Palestinians, and claims that there is discrimination against the former. Aside from the phenomenal lack of precision that characterizes Regavim’s petition, such a shallow comparison between settler and Palestinian planning rights simply has no basis. First, Palestinians do not have civil planning bodies with representation for the local citizens, as is customary in democracies. Instead all planning is done for the Palestinian areas in Area C by the IDF. If Regavim is concerned with equality in terms of planning rights, perhaps it should advocate for Palestinians to receive planning rights that resemble those given to the settlers or to transfer the building rights of the settlers into the hands of another nation, with absolutely no representation from local residents: perhaps settlers’ planning rights should depend on Palestinian security forces.

Second, according to the logic of equality: maybe as a starting point, settlers should be stripped of citizenship and their right to vote in the Knesset elections, so that they will not be able to exercise political power to change their situation in terms of planning rights. If some people in a certain area are forced to live under military rule, then shouldn’t all the people in that area be forced to live under military rule?

Regavim wants you to overlook why the Palestinians in Area C are pushed into building “illegally;” Regavim wants you to ignore the fundamental inequality of status between Palestinians and settlers.

Unfortunately, this discussion is relevant to far more than one village, and the threat against hanging over Susya is a threat that hangs over many Palestinian villages throughout the occupied territories. Even if Regavim’s petition fails in Court, it’s  still likely to encourage the State to destroy more Palestinian structures built “illegally,” and even if rejected, it will probably be due to formalistic and narrow views of military law, and not through any meaningful moral/constitutional reexamination of the insane day to day reality of the occupied territories.

To the residents of the settlement of Susya, we say the following: The fact that you did not build a wall between your expansive villas and the “slums” – the tin-roofed structures of Palestinian Susya – is a good sign. I’m sure the yuppies of the luxury Sharon area (a largely affluent, snobbish and liberal area within ’48 border) would have built a tall fence if they happened to live near a village like Susya. You’ve acted rather humanely in not doing so.

In the same vein, do you truly want to live as equals with your Palestinian neighbors, under some political arrangement or other [to be determined by the politicians]? Or do you actually want to continue a discriminatory regime in which you live as privileged elite over Palestinian subjects lacking all rights? If you erase the existence of the village of Susya, how can you honestly criticize Palestinians who seek to destroy your settlement? There have been suggestions about how to create Jewish villages under Palestinian rule, suggestions which have been approved by people at high levels in Palestinian society who could, in a different political environment, overcome opposition within their society. But when you actively trample Palestinian rights, so too your rights will lose their legitimacy. Strength alone will not protect you, and it is incumbent upon you to remember that you will not always be strong.

The discussion of the case will take place, as stated, tomorrow, Wednesday, at 9:00 AM in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.


Yariv Mohar is a former journalist, a blogger and a campaigner for social and political activism