Update: In May the Israeli High Court of Justice turned down a request for a judicial order to halt the demolition of the West Bank village of Susiya. Up to 100 homes are under threat for demolition at any time by the civil administrations of Judae and Samaria. The high court judge, Noam Sohlberg, who refused the request for the judicial order is himself a resident of an illegal West Bank settlement. The residents of Susiya hold deeds to the land going back to the Ottoman era, but Israeli authorities say the residents did not have permits to build their current structures. On August 3rd Israel's high court is scheduled to consider an appeal from Susiya's residents that they be allowed to remain on their land, but the demolition could occur before that date. John Kirby, representing the United States State Deparment asked that Israel not demolish the village. He said, "Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative." Please share this story about Susiya and raise awareness of this imminnent threat to the village. Learn more here. - Lucy
When I was in Palestine and Israel in May of 2014, the group I was traveling with visited Susiya, a Palestinian village encampment in the south Hebron Hills. The villagers struggle to survive in the shadow of a Jewish settlement built next door in 1983 on stolen land.
We drove to the top of a rocky hill near Susiya and saw to our right the land from which the Susiya villagers, a West Bank community of herders, had been displaced in 1986. They used to live in sturdy stone structures built on ancient caves. Now they live in temporary structures and tents a kilometer away in what used to be their agricultural land and face regular attacks from the nearby settlers.
The area from which they were displaced is an archeological site—the Israelis dismantled the village mosque to reveal the remains of a 6th century synagogue. Like many archeological sites erected by Israel, the signage includes no mention of the Palestinian history of the place and the Palestinian villagers are not allowed to visit.
During the few hours we spent in Susiya, we walked through the tents, past gardens, black water tanks, and goats. We were escorted into a large tent by a resident. Even though water is scarce in the village, he offered us all tea in paper cups. He didn’t use ceramic cups, because the water to wash the cups is more precious than paper.
He told us that there are 450 residents in Susiya and that when they were forcibly evicted in 1986 they thought they would be there for a couple of weeks.
Instead, the Israelis erected a wall around their old village and blocked their return to their land. Between 1986 and 2000 there were several waves of forced evictions and their access to roads was blocked. In 2000 during the Second Intifada they lost access to the nearby town. And in 2001, after an Israeli settler was killed 5 kilometers away, Susiya paid a price: the Israelis demolished all their structures, took them away in trucks, and uprooted their trees.
The residents of Susiya appealed to the Israeli court saying the demolition was illegal. They received an injunction that allowed them to return to the land they now inhabit, but they could not step foot on their original village, their herding lands. That injunction has protected them from forced removal for several years, but recently the state has petitioned to remove all the remaining structures.
While they’ve won the right to stay where they are—at least for now—it’s a hard life.
It’s both expensive and difficult to get water for their water tanks. They collect what they can from rain water and have to purchase the rest from nearby towns. The settlers pay 8 shekels per cubic meter; the Palestinians pay 35 shekels per cubic meter. There is a water pipe from the West Bank aquifer that runs very close to the settlement. The villagers petitioned the government to gain access to the pipe and the water. They asked, “How come an illegal settlement can get water, but not us?” The government refused their petition.
The villagers also submitted a master plan to rebuild the village. But their plan was rejected and they were told it didn’t make sense for them to connect to the electrical grid, that they wouldn’t be able to handle modern life; they should just move.
It’s clear that the Israeli settlers don’t want them between the archeological site and the settlement.
We walked up the hill to the school that the UN built for the residents of Susiya. All of Susiya’s land is in area C (as is 60% of the West Bank), which means Israel retains complete control, including security and land related civil matters. The Palestinian Authority provides schooling and medical services to area C.
Even though the UN built the school, Israel has a demolition order on it. It has not yet been carried out, but the uncertainty of this status is always present. We met the children as classes were letting out, playing soccer with each other, smiling at us.
The principal of the school invited us to gather in his office and he, too, offered us tea in paper cups. He told us that the violence of the settlers impacts the children. They have been attacked on the way to school or have witnessed attacks on their property.
I asked him what support has been the most helpful to them. He said that international ecumenical accompaniers, Peace Teams, are a wonderful form of support because they come to the village and walk the children to school. They sometimes get beaten up themselves. He said that by walking with the children, accompaniers experience the oppression villagers feel and then they publish stories about what they’ve seen. He said the residents of Susiya write and cry out for assistance, but that the accompaniers often get listened to while local people get ignored.
Since I’ve been back from Palestine, I’ve told this story a number of times. I tell it because it is such a vivid image of what the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land looks like. Palestinians struggle to stay on their own land, but Israel builds prisons around them. I tell this story, too, because it has within it the seeds of action for me and all those who want to oppose the occupation and the lie from which it is constructed.
I may be far away from occupied Palestine and Israel, but still
I can walk with the villagers in Susiya and other Palestinians. And I can listen to the stories coming from the West Bank, from Gaza, from Hebron, from the Palestinian diaspora, from Israeli refusers. I can tell my friends and talk with them about the reality of the occupation. I can boycott and divest from companies, like Hewlett Packard, that profit from the occupation. I can take the risk of censure and marginalization as I speak out. I can walk in faith to work for the liberation of all people and to dismantle the structures of injustice.
Walking through Susiya and talking with the villagers was a crucial part of my awakening. In a refugee camp in another part of the West Bank, Palestinians have painted a sentence on the separation wall that has stayed with me: “This lie cannot live.”
I think the lie is that some people are worthy of rights and protection and others are not. Behind the physical separation wall, and the wall erected in my heart from that lie I’ve heard most of my life, are people struggling to live, struggling for basic human rights. Behind the lie are smiling children who just want the right to learn, to play, to grow.
The distance between the privilege of the Jewish settlement and the oppression in Susiya is so short, but it is the distance in our hearts that makes the chasm, the divide, so vast.