On the top of the hill, at the edge of the village, Najah Moukhanam is looking with melancholy at her almond trees and blooming flowers that she planted. Her garden and tent can be destroyed at any time by the Israeli army. “I am tired. My body, my heart and my mind are tired,” Moukhanam told Mondoweiss. “It’s impossible that they demolish and I leave my homeland, because if I left they will take it. [So] they demolish and I build again, I will put in all my effort and stay in this land.”
The inhabitants of Susiya are farmers, or so called fellahin in Arabic. In 1986, they were expelled from their village in the south Hebron Hills of the West Bank when it was declared an archaeological site by Israel. They were forced to settle a hundred meters away in tents on their farmland. Considered illegal by the Israeli state, the village of 350 residents and 107 structures including 32 houses has been dismantled several times and is constantly under demolition threat, though this has made the village a symbol of steadfastness.
Susiya has been engaged in a legal fight since 2012. The villagers, with the support of Haqel: In Defense of Human Rights, an Israeli/Palestinian interfaith human rights NGO, commissioned a master plan to legalize the village, which has been rejected several times by the Israeli authorities.
Adena Ben-Reuven Co-Director of Haqel said villagers build illegal structures due to Israeli building permits being impossible for Palestinians to obtain. They continue to build for humanitarian need, such as the extension of family or repaires needed following damage sustained from harsh weather conditions. “Yes its true that they are building illegally, but it’s for basic humanitarian needs, they are not building a villa,” Adena Ben-Reuven told Mondoweiss.
On the 5th of February, the Israeli High Court of Justice decided that seven structures out of the 15 under demolition threat could be demolished without delay by the Civil Administration. The court also determined the village medical clinic must not be demolished until July, stating that weight needs to be given to humanitarian considerations in applying laws of building and planning. “We have some victory here, before this decision, the army wanted to demolish everything,” Susiya spokesperson Nasser Nawajah told Mondoweiss.
But these seven structures are home to 42 residents of the village, of which half are children. As stated in a press release by Haqel; “The court took the decision despite the fact that there are no alternative living arrangements or basic sanitary services necessary for the survival and well-being of the affected residents.”
For Nasser this decision is also a result from a political change in the United States. “We tried to speak with the Americans, with the new government, but they stayed silent about Susiya. They [just] gave a green light to the Israeli state to demolish Susiya.”
Susiya is also a symbol, on an international scale, of Palestinian villages resistance in Area C against displacement. In November, ten U.S. senators, led by Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders, wrote a letter urging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to not allow demolitions in the village of Susiya. “Your government’s effort to forcibly evict entire Palestinian communities and expend settlements throughout West Bank not only directly imperil a two-state solution, but we believe [it] endangers Israel’s future as Jewish democracy,” the senators stated in the letter.
Susiya Spokesperson Nasser believes the support from international and the American Jewish community is important. “I think the pressure from outside helps Susiya. Before the Israelis wanted to demolish everything in Susiya, but because of this pressure they [didn’t] demolish all things, they just demolish seven [structures].”
The European Union plays an important role by funding a European humanitarian consortium, which intervenes urgently through a group of NGOs, to communities threatened with forced displacement by Israel, in Area C. The French General Consulate visited the village after the court decision and denounced a risk of forced displacement of the population.
But Israeli far-right groups also lobby. Yishai Hamu, the operations director of the far-right group Regavim, urged the Israeli government “to continue [the] intention to evacuate the entire outpost according to what Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said in the past, and not submit to unacceptable external pressure.”
Haqel Co-Director Ben-Reuven believes all the support for Susiya has a huge impact. “But it’s not enough, we need to protect these villages. So we will not give it up and [will] continue legal action to keep the village in place,” she concluded.
The future of the village is dependent on the court’s decision on the High Court appeal, submitted following the rejection of the master plan initiated by the residents of the village. Indeed the Court has instructed the State to not conduct any further demolition, beyond these seven structures, before the state provides its response regarding the master plan, due May 7th, 2018.