The response from the Israeli embassy to individuals who have written to protest against demolitions in Susiya fails to include much of the context and history of both Susiya and the application of planning laws in Area C of the West Bank. Palestinians living in Area C build without permits because permits are extremely difficult, and often impossible, to get. 94% of applications from Palestinians in Area C were denied in 2014. Between 2000 and 2007, only 91 permits were granted; in 2010, only seven.
The villagers of Khirbet Susiya submitted five alternative master-plans to the planning committee of the IDF Civil Administration. All were rejected and one of the grounds for rejection was that who owned the land was not clear. This is despite the fact that the residents of Khirbet Susiya own the land on which they live, as found first by Israeli government lawyer Plia Albeck,the Israeli government lawyer who designed the legal architecture of the settlements, in 1982 (the original Hebrew can be found here and the English translation here), and again by the IDF Civil Administration last week. More information about this can be found here. There are currently 100 illegal settlement outposts built by Israelis in the West Bank without permits. They are not being demolished. In contrast to Palestinian villages like Khirbet Susiya, these outposts are connected to water and electricity, and are guarded by soldiers.
The response mentions the “proximity” to the village of an active archaeological excavation – across a road and several hundred metres away. In 1986, the villagers of Susiya were forced by the IDF to evacuate their homes and move their village to make way for this archaeological site. Settlers now live there, breaking Israeli law in the process Moreover, there are unfulfilled demolition orders against buildings in the outpost at the archaeological site. If enforcing planning law in Area C is of such great importance to the Government of Israel, why is Palestinian Susiya under threat of immediate demolition, but not its neighbouring settlement outposts?
It is worth noting, that both the illegal outposts neighbouring Khirbet Susiya and part of the nearby settlement of Susiya, which is legal under Israeli law, are built on land belonging to the Palestinian villages, and that the petition to demolish Susiya is being conducted by Regavim, an Israeli NGO committed to the settlements. How does the Government of Israel intend to protect the rights of the villagers to farm their land after their homes have been demolished?
At the moment the only proposal for the relocation of the villagers is to an enclave in another location where the villagers would have to submit their own master plans that would require approval. If the Civil Administration goes ahead and demolishes 37 structures in Khirbet Susiya – 21 of which were built with EU funding – this will do incredible damage not just to the villagers, but to Israel’s international standing.