The Palestinian Bedouin village of Susiya has gained international attention in recent weeks as the community braces for Israeli authorities to demolish their homes in the coming days, despite condemnation.
Israeli authorities in mid-July ordered the demolition of around half of the homes in the village south of Hebron to be carried out after the holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week.
While a hearing by the Israeli High Court was set to take place on August 3 to determine the fate of the village, Israeli authorities were reportedly pressured by Israeli settlers in the area to start demolitions beforehand.
Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi lamented on Wednesday the potential demolitions as part of ongoing efforts by the Israeli government to make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
“With its efforts to demolish and ethnically cleanse entire Palestinian villages and communities, its plans to construct more illegal settlement units on stolen Palestinian land…Israel has clearly demonstrated that it is determined to destroy the chances for peace and the two-state solution indefinitely,” Ashrawi said.
“Recent Israeli announcements to annex more Palestinian land, to displace hundreds of Palestinians and to expand its illegal settlement enterprise constitute war crimes and Israel’s firm commitment to a de-facto one-state solution,” she added.
The United States and European nations have urged Israel not to move ahead with the demolition, and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper, visited Susiya Thursday.
“I came here today along with senior diplomats and humanitarian partners to learn about the hardships and anxieties of a community whose homes and livelihoods are under threat,” Mr. Piper said during the visit.
Some 30 years ago, Susiya’s around 350 residents were expelled from their village by Israeli forces who declared the land as an archaeological site.
They later rebuilt their houses sightly further away on farmland belonging to the residents, while a nearby settlement of the same name expanded onto the land they were forced from.
There have been two other expulsions since, according to Rabbis For Human Rights, which has defended Susiya for years before Israeli courts.
Residents say that Israeli authorities want them to move to Yatta, which lies in the part of the West Bank that falls under Area A — under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
If residents are forced to Yatta, they would be one of many Palestinians that Israeli authorities have pushed out of their land in Area C into urbanized areas under Palestinian control.
The divisions of the West Bank into areas A, B, and C were meant to be temporary arrangements set up under the Oslo Accords while a long-term peace was negotiated.
Over two decades later, Israeli settlements continue to expand while new ones spot land throughout Area C.
Making Way for Settlements
The demolitions are set to be carried out as the Israeli ministry unit that oversees Israeli activities in the occupied Palestinian territories says that Susiya does not have a permit and has expanded illegally and outside of its historic zone.
Susiya is one of many Palestinian villages at risk of demolition due to lack of recognition by Israeli authorities.
All Palestinians living in Area C — an area that covers over 60 percent of the occupied West Bank and is under full Israeli administrative and military control — must apply for permits from Israeli authorities before constructing on their land.
Palestinian applications for construction or expansion on existing structures are rarely approved, with only six percent of Palestinian building permit requests granted by Israel between 2000 and 2012.
Unable to get “legal” permission, Palestinians are faced with either leaving or building illegally, and such structures are liable to be torn down.
Last year Israel demolished 590 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Susiya residents say the authorities tell them that they lack infrastructure in the village and have used this as grounds for their expulsion, but residents argue that they have not been allowed to connect to nearby water and electricity services.
They suspect they are being forced to move to allow their land to be used by the nearby settlement by the same name.
“They want to evict us to free up the space and make a park there for residents of the Susiya settlement on our land,” said council head Nawajaa.
Settlement groups wield significant influence in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government which is dominated by members who promote settlement expansion and have publicly opposed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Continued expansion of settlements, considered illegal under international law, have been a major obstacle for potential movement of peace talks, which have been stalled for more than a year.
(Ma’an and agencies – www.maannews.net)