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Hundreds of Israelis join protest to save Bedouin village on brink of demolition

Israel/Palestine
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For Palestinian-Bedouins living in the south Hebron hills under the threat of demolition and expulsion, victories are rare. Yet residents from the tin and tarp village of Susiya are uncharacteristically optimistic that they will receive a reprieve from the impending demolition of their village that is scheduled to take place before August 3rd.

The tiny hamlet of no more than 350 residents has managed to garner international headlines over the recent week, raising the issue of Israeli demolitions in Area C of the West Bank, the Oslo-delineated section of the occupied Palestinian territory under full Israeli control. In this region building permits are scarce, 98% of requests are rejected according to the Israeli planning rights organization Bimkom. And the consequence for constructing homes without a permit in this area is demolition.

Hundreds of Israelis join Palestinians in Susiya for a protest against the village's demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Hundreds of Israelis join Palestinians in Susiya for a protest against the village’s demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Palestinians from Susiya lead protest against the upcoming demolition of their village. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Palestinians from Susiya lead protest against the upcoming demolition of their village. (Photo: Allison Deger)

“I’m very happy about it and people in government will see it,” said Nasser Nawaja, 33, on his op-ed published in the New York Times yesterday, aptly titled “Israel, don’t level my village.” Days before, Nawaja appealed to delegations from the State Department and the European Union parliament. “This time I told them, I asked that that history will not repeat itself,” Nawaja said explaining his village has been destroyed twice in the past—in 2001 and 1986.

Susiya’s plight has even caught attention in Washington. Just under two weeks ago State Department spokesperson John Kirby issued an unusually stern warning for Israel.

“We’re 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. Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative,” Kirby said.

Brimming with glee Nasser shuffled off to greet his reinforcements. Around 500 Israeli activists from left-wing human rights organizations bussed in from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to march in 100 degree afternoon heat. “I hope very much that it will have impact,” Nasser said.

“We have seen the international diplomatic pressure, we have see the press coverage and the goal today is to show that there are many many Israelis who say to oppress people here cannot be done, and certainly not in their name,” said Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president of Rabbis from Human rights, an organization that is providing Susiya with legal support. This was Rabbi Ascherman’s second visit to Susiya in the past week.

“The first demolition of Susiya was a violation of human rights and the demolition now, that they want to put people out of their house, is just unacceptable. A government that talks about a Jewish state shouldn’t even be thinking about [it],” said Rabbi Idit Lev, another religious leader and activist with Rabbi for Human Rights who carried a banner from the organization.

Palestinian children from Yatta in the south Hebron hills play on swings while visiting relatives who live in the village of Susiya, slated for demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Palestinian children from Yatta in the south Hebron hills play on swings while visiting relatives who live in the village of Susiya, slated for demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Young Palestinian protester spray-paints "Susiya" on a rock outside of the village, during a protest against the town's scheduled demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Young Palestinian protester spray-paints “Susiya” on a rock outside of the village, during a protest against the town’s scheduled demolition. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Protesters then marched over Susiya’s unpaved roads towards an Israeli highway, holding an impromptu rally. Israeli border police were positioned in Jeeps near the village’s entrance, but out of eyeshot from the demonstration. 

“I tell you frankly and please accept what I am going to tell you,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouti a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Central Committee, “Israel will not stop its aggressive policy and Netanyahu will never make peace. He has to be brought down and he can be brought down, not only by statements, not only by demonstrations, but also by boycott, divestment and sanctions.” 

Historically Susiya’s residents lived in stone houses and caves around one mile from their present day village. Their mosque was built atop the foundation of an abandoned sixth century synagogue. The original mosaic tile floor is still intact, but all other parts of the structure were dismantled in 1986 when Israel made an unprecedented expulsion, citing a national interest to construct a tourist bible park because the town sat atop ancient ruins. The state decided preserving the artifacts outweighed the Palestinians’ rights to remain on their land. That area is now called “Sussia,” and is administered by an Israeli settlement of the same name.

Both Sussias surround Palestinian Susiya. The settlement hopes to expand to where Susiya’s village is today.

When Israeli politicians weighed in this week in Knesset, Eli Ben Dahan, Deputy Defense Minister and head of the Civil Administration said, “There has never been an Arab village called Susy[i]a,” reported +972 Magazine‘s Mairav Zonszein. He added the campaign to save the village was a “a ploy by leftist organizations” to aid Palestinians in grabbing land in the West Bank.

Dahan’s rhetoric heavily mirrored the Israeli group Regavim that filed a 2012 motion in an Israeli court, which led to the current round of demolition orders. Regavim has produced a series of videos that claim Susiya’s residents are squatters.

Despite the large crowd of Israeli protesters, no mainstream Israeli media covered the demonstration. “Do you see any Israeli news people here?” said Rabbi Lev. “If they are not here, it’s not in the Israeli discourse.”

Yet Susiya’s villagers see the support of Israeli peace groups and foreign governments as a nod that they can pressure Israel into a stay of demolition. If they are unable, they vow to rebuild their town for a third time. 

“If they destroy the houses, we will stand under the sun. We will build the tents again. We will never leave this place, it is our fathers’ and our grandfathers’ place,” said Mohammed Nawaja, 70, as he sat in a protest tent decorated with Palestinian national posters and plenty of small plastic cups of Arabic coffee to offer to the Israeli guests. 

Tali Shapira contributed translations for this report.

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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19 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    July 24, 2015, 8:52 pm

    He added the campaign to save the village was a “a ploy by leftist organizations” to aid Palestinians in grabbing land in the West Bank.”

    How dare they grab land in their own country!

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      July 25, 2015, 7:07 am

      LMAO! How do they come up with such comically breathless exclamations.

      A while back there was a show on TV called “Herman’s Head.” It was a sitcom about the personification of the voices in our heads. Kinda cute. Very predictable.

      Maybe a genre-bending remake called “Dahan’s Head” might maybe be a little less predictable. Darker. Edgy-er. Unsettlingly confused. Tragi-comic. Something on SyFy that you wouldn’t necessarily want your tween kids to watch unsupervised because the tagline would be, “They really ARE out there.”

      Such depths waiting to be explored.

  2. weiss
    weiss
    July 24, 2015, 9:42 pm

    Excellent article Allison!

  3. ritzl
    ritzl
    July 24, 2015, 11:42 pm

    I wonder if the international notice of Sussiya’s struggle isn’t a subset of the much larger and more important phenom (imho, and if real) of people finally becoming ready to listen.

    • Rodneywatts
      Rodneywatts
      July 25, 2015, 3:19 am

      Agreed ritzl! In fact a number of strands are coming together: BDS, idiotic protestations wrt Iran Deal by Nettyboy and Likud et al. and echoed by other zionists but totally refuted by Israeli security, together with Jewish and other peace organisations getting their voices heard, particularly in the US. It does seem that Susiya has beautifully focussed attention on all that is wrong in I/P.

  4. RockyMissouri
    RockyMissouri
    July 25, 2015, 11:07 am

    I am so moved to see the people together..!! People are capable of such awful things, that acts of decency get lost. But THIS is a beacon of outstanding heroism, and I am moved to see it.

    Thank you.

  5. jon s
    jon s
    July 25, 2015, 12:30 pm

    The correct name [spelling] of one of the leaders of the heroic campaign to save Susya is Rabbi Arik Ascherman:
    http://rhr.org.il/eng/2015/07/why-i-will-be-in-susya-on-tisha-bav-tisha-bav-thoughts-by-rabbi-arik-ascherman/

  6. annie
    annie
    July 25, 2015, 1:16 pm

    i’m glad you were there allison. great report.

  7. Kay24
    Kay24
    July 25, 2015, 1:54 pm

    It is wonderful to see Israelis show solidarity with the Bedouins and protest this outrageous and greedy act by the occupier. It seems Israel’s arrogance knows no bounds. The entire world including the US has condemned this inhumane act, and yet they thumb their nose at us all.

  8. Boo
    Boo
    July 25, 2015, 7:46 pm

    It seems like ordinary Israelis are starting to see the gaping holes in Emperor Bibi’s clothes.

    • gratefuldennis
      gratefuldennis
      July 26, 2015, 4:51 am

      Jewish Israelis that have peacefully protested in Israel opposed to the occupation have even been attacked by right-wing Israelis. Young Israeli soldiers arriving in buses wearing uniforms have physically attacked protesters with clubs and such. Reminds me of Hitlers youth brigade that were called the Brown Shirts.

  9. gratefuldennis
    gratefuldennis
    July 26, 2015, 4:45 am

    It is so strange that the Jewish people who were moved from their homes and who suffered so much from the Nazi’s would do the same to others and act in the same way. It is refreshing to see and hear so many Jews from Israel and around the world agree that of all people they shouldn’t be treating the Palestinians the same way.

  10. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    July 26, 2015, 7:41 pm

    It looks like Israel might be feeling the heat. According to Michael Shaeffer Omer-Man in 972mag someone in the government might be trying to find a way out of the mess.

    “Somebody in the Israeli Defense Ministry leaked such a document to Haaretz over the weekend. The document reportedly says that Susya’s residents own the land they live on, a fact that would make forcefully transferring them elsewhere more difficult.”

    He say this document has been around since 2012, so why is it getting leaked now? Because Israel was caught off guard by all the attention Susiya is getting and might be looking to climb down a bit. Does this mean that the village will be saved? Maybe, maybe not

    “The Israeli government and army will not simply admit they were wrong this whole time. There will be no recognition that Palestinians have a right to settle and live on their own land, be it “state” land or privately owned land. (What Israel calls “state” land belongs to the nascent State of Palestine, not to Israel.)

    “The state will not grant building permits or provide electricity and water either Susya or the dozens of other Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills and Jordan Valley facing demolition and forced displacement. But now that it has a technical reason to not demolish Susya, Israel can at least justify putting off doing so until the High Court of Justice rules on the matter.”

    Stay tuned.

    • annie
      annie
      July 26, 2015, 11:53 pm

      thanks a blah chick. i wrote about this today but no one was around to publish. by the time it goes up tomorrow everyone will have already heard of it!

    • amigo
      amigo
      July 27, 2015, 6:47 am

      ABC , Nothing new in private Palestinian land being used to build illegal squats.Remember the sasson report.

      “The report states:

      The housing ministry supplied 400 mobile homes for outposts on private Palestinian land.
      The defense ministry approved the positioning of trailers to begin new outposts.
      The education ministry paid for nurseries and their teachers.
      The energy ministry connected outposts to the electricity grid.
      Roads to outposts were paid for with taxpayers’ money.

      The report mentioned 150 communities in the West Bank with incomplete or nonexistent permits, but Sasson cautions that this list was not exhaustive, due to the lack of cooperation of some ministries and government offices which, according to her, failed to hand over some important documents. She recommended that the Housing Ministry be stripped of authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank, and that this power be transferred to the cabinet. The Housing Minister at the time of the tabling the report, Isaac Herzog (Labour), said following the release of the report that every expense earmarked for the settlements would subsequently need the approval of the Ministry’s director-general. Up until then, the heads of each department at the Ministry had been able to sign off on expenses for various construction and infrastructure matters at the settlements.

      The settlement expansion initiative was backed by Sharon when he was Foreign Minister under Binyamin Netanyahu. In 1998 he publicly urged settlers to seize hilltops in order to break up the contiguity of Palestinian areas and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state [2], saying: “Let everyone get a move on and take some hilltops! Whatever we take, will be ours, and whatever we don’t take, will not be ours!” [3] The report did not mention Sharon, however. Nevertheless, the report prompted calls that Sharon and other former and current government officials face legal repercussions for their alleged official involvement in the funding of illegal settlements.[1]” wiki

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sasson_Report

  11. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    July 27, 2015, 9:50 am

    thanks Allison. Movement.

    “Area C” Israel’s designation of Palestinian land. Trying to sterilize theft.

  12. just
    just
    July 27, 2015, 12:19 pm

    Great, thorough report and pictures! Thanks, Allison. I echo many of the sentiments here.

    I just have to say that I loved this:

    “Brimming with glee Nasser shuffled off to greet his reinforcements. Around 500 Israeli activists from left-wing human rights organizations bussed in from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to march in 100 degree afternoon heat. “I hope very much that it will have impact,” Nasser said.”

    Sadly, it’s so rare to read that any Palestinian is “brimming with glee”, and everyone working in solidarity for such a just cause.

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