Where is Susiya?
Susiya is a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank. The majority of the village is in Area C which means it is under full Israeli control and any decisions about building and civilian infrastructure have to be dealt with by the Civil Administration which is a department of the IDF.
How long has the village been there for?
The Palestinian village of ‘Khirbet Susiya’ has existed in the South Hebron Hills since at least the 1830s. It is also marked on British mandate maps from 1917 (Click here to see maps from 1880, 1935 and 1940). In 1948 the original population of the village was joined by Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war from the area of Ramat Arad. Its residents have traditionally earned a living from shepherding and growing olive trees. The villagers traditionally lived in the old village of Susiya, in the area of an ancient synagogue of Susiya. In 1982 Israeli government lawyer Plea Albeck, who helped design the architecture of settlement building in the West Bank, wrote a legal opinion for the government acknowledging the existence of the village of Khirbet Susiya and wrote that it was surrounded by 3,000 dunams of their agricultural land, including the lands where Palestinian Susiya is today (please click here to see the original Hebrew of the legal opinion and here for the English translation). In 1992 she wrote that the situation of the Susiya settlers was precarious because it was so clear that they had built part of the settlement on private Palestinian land, that if she would try to take any action to help them they were liable to end up being prosecuted in court.
What about the Israeli settlement of Susiya?
In 1983, the Israeli settlement of Susiya was established near the village, on Palestinian land that had been declared state land by Israel. In 1986, about 25 families were living in Palestinian Susiya, in caves and structures. That year, the Civil Administration (part of the IDF) declared the village land an “archaeological site”; the land was confiscated “for public purposes” and the Israeli military expelled its residents from their homes. Despite the fact the land was confiscated for public purposes, a number settlers now live on the archaeological site which is several hundred metres from the settlement of Susiya The Civil Administration has issued orders for the demolition of these settler’s structures but the orders have never been implemented.
What happened to the Palestinian families who were living on the land?
Having no other option, the families relocated to other caves in the area to shelters and tents they erected on their agricultural land a few hundred meters southeast of the original village and the archaeological site. They were never given permission to build these structures but had nowhere else to live so were left with little choice. The military expelled the residents again several times, including in July 2001, shortly after Israeli Yair Har Sinai, a resident of the settlement of Susiya was murdered by Palestinians. During the expulsion, carried out without warning, soldiers destroyed residents’ property, demolished their caves and blocked up water cisterns. In September 2001, further to a petition by the residents to Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ), an interim order was granted that prohibited further destruction pending a ruling on the petition.
The Civil Administration refused to prepare a master plan for the village that would enable its residents to build homes legally and connect to the water and power grids, and rejected residents’ applications for building permits. As a result there is no running water or electricity in the village.
Consequently the people of Susiya built temporary residential structures, tents and structures for their livestock after the military destroyed their previous ones. The Civil Administration then issued demolition orders for the new structures which, they said, were not covered by the interim order. In June 2007, the HCJ decided to vacate the petition, without making a ruling. The Civil Administration continued to issue demolition orders for dozens of structures in Susiya. Over the years, the residents filed further petitions in an attempt to prevent the demolitions and plan the village legally. In 2011 the Civil Administration demolished 10 residential structures in the village, six structures used for making a livelihood and four wells.
What is going to be destroyed now?
In late 2012 village residents submitted to the Civil Administration five alternative outline plans for their village in its present location. In late 2013, the Civil Administration Planning Committee rejected the plan and the residents were offered to plan for themselves on state land in an alternative location in an enclave surrounded by Area B. In early 2014, the residents of Susiya and Rabbis for Human Rights petitioned the High Court over the decision to reject the plan and along with the petition submitted a motion for an interim order to freeze the implementation of demolition orders against the village until the petition of the rejection of the master plan was dealt with.
In May 2015 the court rejected the motion for an interim order since the residents had taken the law into their own hands during the years by building structures in the village. A court hearing was scheduled for August 2015 but in the end, as a result of international and media concern, including from significant numbers of diaspora Jewish communities, the state agreed to talk to the residents to see if a mutually acceptable solution could be found. A series of meetings were hold between the Civil Administration and the residents of Susiya and a meeting was scheduled for July 14th 2016 to get a response from the Civil administration about a specific proposal. This meeting was cancelled by the Civil Administration as Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman had not yet given his opinion on the proposal, or on whether it was still acceptable for the two parties to continue talking.
In a court hearing on 1st August the court the villagers asked the court to suspend the demolition orders that have been hanging over 40% of the village which houses around 100 people. These demolition orders had not be enacted whilst there was negotiation between the village and the civil administration since August 2015. The court refused to suspend the demolition orders but gave the State two weeks until August 15th 2016 to come back with Lieberman’s position. The judges hinted that there would not be any demolitions until August 15th but there is nothing to prevent them from actually taking place. After this submission, the High Court can, amongst other things, determine whether to call for another hearing or, if the position submitted is positive, direct the sides to continue.
If the structures were built without permission why shouldn’t they be destroyed?
The Palestinians of Susiya have been living in the area since at least the 1830s. There are up to 200, 000 Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank and in order to build anything legally they must seek permission of the Civil Administration – a department of the IDF. Between 2000 and 2007 the Civil Administration approved 5.6% of all Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C and granted a total of 91 building permit for the approximately 200,000 people living in the area. In 2009 only six permits were granted, in 2010 – seven. 94% of permits for building residential structures in Area C are not approved. Without the means to build legally many people resort to building regardless of whether they have permission to do so.
Contrast this to the 100 Israeli outposts built illegally by settlers according to Israeli law. These outposts are connected to the water, electricity supply, have roads built to them, and are guarded by the IDF, despite the fact the government of Israel deems them to be illegally built.
The residents of Susiya have been trying to get permission to build since they were removed from their original village in the 1980s. However, despite the fact they have produced their own plan for the village, the civil administration refuses to approve it.
Why are we asking the British government to intervene?
Over the past 5 years we have taken a significant number of British Jews to meet with residents of Susiya. We have seen first-hand what the situation looks like and what the implications will be for the villagers. We also know that the government of Israel has previously prevented demolitions from taking place because of global concern, partly from Diaspora Jews, which means that there is a significant chance that our intervention will have some impact.
We believe that destroying the structures in Susiya will plunge an already impoverished community into complete chaos. It does nothing to either enhance the security of the state of Israel or protect the rights of the Palestinian people of the region. Furthermore, the decision to destroy the village has been condemned by both the US State Department and the European Union only contributing further to the demise of Israel’s image in the international community.
Last year when Susiya was under threat of demolition a delegation of 28 European representatives visited Susiya as a show of solidarity with the village, urging the Israeli government not to demolish it. At that visit Alistair McPhail, Britain’s consul general, called the demolition policy “an impediment to the two-state solution”.
We believe alerting the British government to our concerns will encourage them to raise this issue with the Israeli government again, and help prevent the demolition of Susiya.
What can I do about it?