The great majority of Susiya residents live in tents as their historic stone and cave dwellings have been demolished several times over by the Israeli military. Many of the tents now used have been provided by humanitarian organizations and serve as bedrooms, kitchens, storage and sitting areas for the families living in them.
The Palestinian village of Susiya is sandwiched between a handful of settlements and outposts, an army base, and an ancient synagogue. Shepherds are unable to graze their flocks freely on their own land and farmers are unable to access their fields to harvest wheat and olives due to the area’s designation as a ‘closed military zone’ (see the video below). Israeli settlers in the South Hebron Hills, who have a reputation for being some of the nastiest settlers around, often direct their venemous aggression at Palestinians from Susiya who are surrounded on all sides.
Palestinians have no recourse to defend themselves, access their privately-owned land, or to seek prosecution for attacks against their persons or their property. The collusion between the Israeli authorites and the settlers — many of whom are on a first-name basis with policeman and soldiers stationed in the area, or in many cases stationed inside the settlements — is palpable after spending mere hours in the area. Israeli police and military often refuse to respond, or respond with tardiness and negligence, when Palestinians report crimes and file complaints against Israeli settlers. Many Palestinians whom I have worked with in the area, have stopped bothering to file complaints because of the fruitless hours spent at the nearby Kiryat Arba Police Station trying to convince Israeli policemen to hear their testimony or view their video and photographic evidence.
In the incident which occurred on 29 December 2010, there were seven members of a family asleep in the tent when settlers set fire to the structure. Fortunately, a hajji (an elderly matriarch) was awake and heard the dogs warning of the intruders. By one account, the villagers were unsure whether the intruders had poured petrol on the tent and then lit the flammable liquid or whether they had thrown a molotov cocktail at the tent, the latter a tactic which settlers have used previously in Susiya.
The hajji woke those sleeping in the tent in time for them to escape and to remove the tanks of gas that were in the kitchen. As they emerged from the tent, they saw a car on the dirt road escaping in the direction of Susiya settlement (the Palestinian village and the nearby Israeli settlement have the same name).
The Villages Group, an Israeli organization which routinely provides assistance to Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, reported on the incident and expressed little hope of any investigation:
The military and police authorities are, of course, well aware of the identity of the natural suspects for both attacks. Unfortunately, given the track record showing the settlers and military as two arms of the same effort to uproot the local population, and the total impunity accorded to the settlers by the military, there is little hope that any serious investigation will take place.
Unfortunately that rings true with my experience, and is a repetition of the statements made by the Palestinian man from Susiya who despaired in the above video:
If this happens to one of the settlers, they would arrest all the people, all the Arabs here. But here, three settlers come at night with a car and try to kill Arabs, they didn’t even arrest one of the settlers. We want the police to investigate fairly here to arrest the settlers, not to help the settlers.
Samuel Nichols is an activist from the US working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. He lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the South Hebron hills, amongst Palestinians committed to nonviolent resistance to land confiscation and settler violence. Following Samuel on his blog, Do Unto Others, at samuelnichols.blogspot.com and on Twitter, twitter.com/samuelnichols.