As Demolition Threat Looms Over West Bank Village, Israel Faces Global Rebuke
Sources say about half of Susiya's structures—including residential homes, a medical clinic, animal shelters, and more—are slated for imminent demolition
Residents and their international supporters are raising the alarm over plans for the "forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing" in the West Bank village of Khirbet Susiya—destruction which they warn could start at any moment.
Susiya, home to about 340 people, is in the 60 percent of the West Bank designated as 'Area C' under the 1993 Oslo accords, meaning that it is under full Israeli administrative and military control. Sources say about half of the village's structures—including residential homes, a medical clinic, animal shelters, and more—are slated for imminent demolition.
"If Israel talks about coexistence and peace, it's time to show it."
—Salah Nawajeh, Susiya resident
The impact could be so egregious, in fact, that it has drawn criticism not only from international solidarity campaigners but also from less likely quarters, including the U.S. State Department and some senior EU officials and diplomats.
The Guardian reports: "Fears for the village escalated this month when Maj Gen Yoav Mordechai, the senior Israeli military official in the occupied territories, visited the village to warn residents that demolition orders would be carried out between the end of Ramadan and 3 August."
Ramadan ended on Friday, July 17.
The Guardian continues:
Many of the homes due for destruction belong to the extended Nawaja family, who believe they are being singled out by the authorities for speaking out against the demolition orders.
Among them is Nasser Nawaja, a spokesman for the villagers. He said: “[Gen] Mordechai came and said he wanted to meet with the villagers to make an offer. He said you have lost in court. I’m coming here to propose a humane solution. He said ‘We’ll give you another place where you can build and do what you want but you cannot build here.’”
"Destruction of the village would create a severe humanitarian crisis," said Rabbis for Human Rights, which charges that if demolition occurs, 340 Susiya residents—including 140 children—"would be thrown out without any social or public network to absorb them."
There would be other consequences, too. On Monday, EU foreign ministers issued a statement urging Israel to halt demolition plans because such action would "seriously threaten the two-state solution."
The Telegraph reports on Tuesday:
The European intervention - made in a seven-point communique on the stalled Middle East process - will be followed on Wednesday when the Jerusalem envoys of all 28 EU states visit the village for the second time in a month in an effort to intensify the pressure on Israel.
Demolition of Khirbet Susiya has become a "red line" for the EU that could trigger sanctions such as the separate labelling of Israeli goods originating in West Bank settlements, officials say. "If Israel moves forward with this, it will face some very serious reactions," one source said.
And last week, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said demolition of Susiya "would be harmful and provocative."
"We are closely following developments in the village of [Susiya] in the West Bank and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village," Kirby stated at a press briefing. "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."
However, these statements came in the same week as the U.S. offered even more military aid to Israel, whose ongoing policy of house demolition has drawn international condemnation.
Also last week, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) led a group of 10 lawmakers in sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on him to "take immediate action to prevent the demolition of the Palestinian village of Susiya and prevent the continuing demolition of Palestinian neighborhoods, farmlands, and olive orchards in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and in Israel."
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that a group of Israeli activists has volunteered to sleep in the village as a method of defense. "It is very important to be with the Palestinians so that they feel they are not alone and that there are people who care," said Amiel Vardi, a teacher from Jerusalem who is organizing the shifts.
As Charlotte Silver explains for Electronic Intifada on Tuesday, "[s]ince the mid 1980s, the people of Susiya have been repeatedly displaced." She continues:
In 1986, the original location of the village was declared an "archeological site" and the land confiscated for "public purposes," forcing the residents to move to a nearby area. In 2001, this village was destroyed by the Israeli army in an act of collective punishment following the murder of a man from an Israeli settlement, also named Susiya.
Following 2001, the Civil Administration — the name Israel gives to the body administering its military occupation of the West Bank — would regularly issue demolition orders for the village’s temporary structures. Built without permits, those structures were erected to take care of their livestock and shelter the residents.
After a protracted legal battle, the Israeli high court in May "sided with occupation authorities," Silver writes, in rejecting a master development plan put forth by Sysiya village leaders and Rabbis for Human Rights. In its ruling, the court chastised Susiya's residents for "taking the law into their own hands" and continuing to build without permits. However, Silver writes, the high court's verdict "overlooked how it is Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities that are violating international law, not the indigenous Palestinians."
Still, as Al-Monitor columnist Shlomi Eldar wrote on Monday, Susiya's survival may depend most on its residents and their tenacity.
"We turned to whoever we could," Salah Nawajeh, a Susiya resident, told Al-Monitor. "We used the Americans and the Europeans and even the Palestinian Authority. If the houses are demolished, we will turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. If Israel talks about coexistence and peace, it’s time to show it and not act because of pressure from the settlers. They have brought calamity on us ever since they arrived here and took over our lands. It was only a week ago that they uprooted four old olive trees, and they keep stopping us from working our land. That’s the reality of things and this is what we’re fighting against."