U.S. warns Israel against evicting Palestinians from Susya

Although Susya has been under constant threat of destruction for years, the State Department is now warning Israel that any demolitions in this tiny village in the West Bank would be considered a provocation.

Susya, West Bank, Palestinian village under threat of destruction (Activestills)
Susya, West Bank, Palestinian village under threat of destruction (Activestills)

While the Iran nuclear deal captured most of the attention and highlighted continued tensions in the U.S.-Israeli relationship this week, the tiny rural Palestinian village of Susya also managed to get the U.S. State Department’s attention. Israel has indicated that it plans to demolish parts of the West Bank village after Ramadan, which officially ended Friday, or after the current Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr.

According to Susya resident Nasser Nawaj’ah, who is also a B’Tselem researcher, the Israeli army’s Civil Administration (the military government in the West Bank) notified residents of its intention to demolish about half of the village’s structures once the month of Ramadan is over: 10 residential homes, a clinic, eight animal shelters, 12 storerooms and outhouses. A High Court petition appealing the demolitions and a plan to expel Susya’s residents is only scheduled for August 3.

Asked about the situation, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said on Thursday:

We’re closely following developments in the village of Susya in the West Bank, and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative.

Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted. We are concerned that the demolition of this village may worsen the atmosphere for a peaceful resolution and would set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation, particularly given settlement-related activity in the area.

We urge Israeli authorities to work with the residents of the village to finalize a plan for the village that addresses the residents’ humanitarian needs.

While it is significant that the State Department warned Israel against moving forward with demolition, Israel has already, many times over, “set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation,” and the Obama administration has done nothing about it. Al Araqib, an “unrecognized” Bedouin village inside Israel proper, whose residents are full Israeli citizens, has not to my knowledge received the same kind of attention from Washington.

The only reason that Susya has is that its demolition would constitute another step in Israel’s de facto annexation of Area C (more than 60 percent of the West Bank) and forcible transfer of Palestinians, precluding the inclusion of Area C into what is supported to be part of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli activists have organized a constant presence in the village as of Friday in solidarity with the people of Susya and to document any actions by Israeli forces. There are also currently petitions circulating in Israel and among Jewish Voice for Peace supporters in the U.S. demanding Israel abort its plan.

Decades of struggle and a history of dispossession

Israel first expelled Susya’s residents from their land in 1986 in order to build a Jewish settlement of the same name, and to establish an archaeological site on top of the Palestinian village. The displaced Palestinians moved the village to their adjacent agricultural lands and have been fighting to subsist there ever since.

The Israeli army, however, never gave Susya’s residents permission to build their homes on the current location. Susya is located in the south Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank, which according to the Oslo Accords is under full Israeli control.

The reason Palestinians in the south Hebron Hills build illegally is because Israeli authorities systematically refuse to grant them building permits or recognize any planning rights. The Israeli army rejects 90 percent of Palestinian planning requests in Area C, and most villages in the area face almost identical restrictions and demolition threats. Settlements for Jewish Israelis, however, continuously pop up in the area.

Last May, the High Court of Justice gave the state the green light to destroy the village at any moment by refusing to issue an injunction until an appeal is heard.

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