Netanyahu vowed this week that Israel would not uproot any more Arab communities. He seemed to forget two Palestinian villages fighting for their existence at this very moment.
On the way back from Susya, a small Palestinian hamlet in the south Hebron Hills, we pass by a major traffic jam caused by the 50th anniversary celebration of the occupation. It was at those festivities that Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that he would not uproot any more communities — neither Jewish or Arab. Tell that to the residents of Susya, Mr. Prime Minister.
Susya is one of two Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli military control) that are struggling against expulsion. The other village is Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The state wants to expel the villagers to a waste site in Abu Dis, located in Area B (where the Palestinian Authority handles administrative matters, and where Israel controls security).
After the state told Israel’s High Court of Justice earlier this week that it intends to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar in the coming months, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem warned that forcibly removing an indigenous community in occupied territory constitutes a war crime. I doubt whether such a declaration bothers anyone in the government, since war crimes have long ceased to be an issue for those running the country. The state says both Susya and Khan al-Ahmar were built illegally and without permits or a plan. And in both cases, it is the state itself that prevents the proper planning of both communities — in order to set the stage for massive, strategic expulsions in order to expand the surrounding settlements.
Susya was established in the south Hebron Hills since the 1830s. Until 1986, the village was a few hundred meters from its current location. It was then, however, that archeologists began digging in the area, discovering the remains of an ancient Jewish community. The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli army that manages the day-to-day of Palestinians under military occupation, declared the village an archeological site, the area was expropriated for “the needs of the public,” and the IDF expelled the Palestinians of Susya from their homes. The villagers then moved to their privately-owned agricultural land, approximately 300 meters southeast of the original village.
Expulsion in the name of feminism
In its current location, Susya stands between the Jewish settlement of the same name, which was established in 1983 on Palestinian land, which had been declared “state land,” and the archeological site. Should it disappear from the map, the settlers’ territorial contiguity will be complete. This is enough motivation for the Civil Administration to the ensnare the villagers in a trap that has become well known in Area C: on the one hand, the administration issues no building permits nor provides any master plans for Palestinian villages; on the other hand, the state destroys the makeshift structures built by villagers, since they are forbidden from building permanent structures.
In the coming days, the state is supposed to issue its response to an appeal filed by the villagers after the Civil Administration rejected their proposed master plan. According to Haaretz’s Yotam Berger, a top official in the security establishment said that the state is set to tell the High Court it intends to demolish Susya in the near future. Forty-five families, 300 people, may be thrown out of the tents they have been living in for decades.
So what does the state propose the resident of Susya do? Submit another master plan, this time closer to the Palestinian city of Yatta, located just a few kilometers away inside Area A. “What they want us to do is build on private land belonging to other Palestinians,” says Nasser Nawajeh, a B’Tselem volunteer and resident of Susya. The cynical explanation provided by the Civil Administration for rejecting the plan must be seen to be believed:
The urban landscape brings people together, multiplies opportunities, broadening the horizons of every single person in his family, his tribe, and wider society. Thus, in our view the current plan constitutes another attempt to prevent an impoverished population from advancing or the opportunity to choose between partial or other sources of income, it prevents the Palestinian woman from escaping the cycle of poverty, and holds her back from educational and work opportunities. This plan also prevents the Palestinian child from seeing all the opportunities that stand before every other person, in that it determines that he is fated to a life in a small, dilapidated village that does not provide the tools for development.
The Civil Administration rejected the plan submitted by the residents and seeks to expel them from their land in the interest of Palestinian women and their children. How interesting that all the advantages the Civil Administration sees in the city disappear when it comes to settlers, whose every outpost is immediately granted protection by the army and is connected to infrastructure. A short trip around the south Hebron Hills reveals that the cowsheds and chicken coops of the settlers of Maon and Carmel are in far nicer condition than the tents and caves where Palestinians live (and from which the state also hopes to expel them).
A special kind of apartheid
The Civil Administration does not mention that it is setting the stage for the annexation of Area C. Although Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is leading the charge for annexation, spoke about granting citizenship to Palestinian residents of Area C, the state must first make sure that there are few Palestinians as possible there.
Segments of the Israeli Left use the term “apartheid” to describe the situation in the occupied territories. If we freeze the reality in the West Bank for a moment, we can see that the term perfectly applies: one territory in which two different populations are subject to two different legal systems. One population enjoys excessive privileges while the other lives under a military occupation without the right to take part in decisions that will determine its fate. But the comparison to apartheid often refers to the separation between Israelis and Palestinians, while ignoring the fact that Israeli apartheid seeks to change the demographic map, and includes aspects of ethnic cleansing.
The International Criminal Court defines ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity. Forced removal of protected citizens under occupation is a war crime. The state has already made its position clear vis-a-vis Khan al-Ahmar; Susya’s fate will be determined in the coming days. One can guess that it is no coincidence that the state delayed its response to the two petitions until after Barack Obama left the White House. Trump is not a leader who won’t likely be morally outraged by crimes of this magnitude. Nor will large segments of the Israeli public. But we must know what is being done in our name not far from where the government celebrated 50 years of occupation, so that when the day comes and Israel must answer for its crimes, we won’t be able to say we didn’t know.
This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.