On Tuesday, 12 June 2012, Israel’s Civil Administration distributed demolition orders to over 50 temporary structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. The orders stated that they were renewals of demolition orders originally issued in the 1990s. Residents were given three days, until 15 June 2012, to appeal the orders through the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council. Residents are planning to submit their opposition today (14 June 2012).
Solar panels, Constructed by Comet-ME, supplying electricity to the residents of Susiya (Photo: B'Tselem, 13 June 2012).
The structures that the Civil Administration is threatening to demolish include at least seventeen residential tents which house over 100 people, and fourteen tents serving as kitchens. There are also demolition orders for a shop, a clinic, a community center, a structure used to store sheep’s milk prior to sale, solar panels, and a cave that serves as a Palestinian cultural museum, as well as shelters for sheep and chickens, and granaries.
In February 2012, the Regavim organization petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) demanding that the Civil Administration carry out the demolition orders that had been issued for buildings in the village. In March 2012, the Civil Administration responded that “in the near future” new demolition orders would be issued that would permit Susiya residents to submit their opposition. Last Thursday, 7 June 2012, the HCJ began its consideration of the petition. In this initial discussion it became apparent to the judges that other petitions by Susiya residents against the demolition orders for the village are currently pending before the court. Hence, Chief Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis ruled that “there ought to be an examination of the matter by all parties concerned.” Justice Grunis issued an interim order prohibiting new construction in the parts of the village concerning which Regavim’s petition was filed, but refrained from issuing an interim order that would forbid carrying out of the demolition orders prior to the court’s deliberations.
Demolition of a residential tent and a shack in Susiya. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 24 Nov. 2011.
If the demolition orders are carried out, this will be the third time that Israel has tried to expel the residents of Susiya from their lands.
Susiya residents have lived in this region on a seasonal basis since at least the 19th century. In 1983 the settlement of Susiya was established on Palestinian land that was declared “state land” by Israel.
In 1986, the Israeli army expelled the residents from their homes after the Civil Administration declared the original village to be a “national park” in the middle of an archeological site. The original inhabitants are not permitted to visit the park. Susiya residents reestablished residence on agricultural lands they own, a few hundred meters southeast of the original village. In July 2001, shortly after a resident of the Susya settlement, Yair Har Sinai, was killed by a Palestinian, the Israeli army expelled the villagers from their lands for the second time. During the expulsion, the army destroyed residents’ property, demolished caves, and blocked up water holes. The villagers petitioned the High Court of Justice, which in September 2001 issued an interim order permitting them to return to their lands, but prohibiting any new building in the village. The deliberations on this petition were delayed, among other reasons, in the wake of residents’ notification to the HCJ in September 2004 that they intended to apply to the Civil Administration for building permits for the existing structures in the village. Some of the residents indeed submitted applications, but all of them were denied. In June 2007 the HCJ dismissed the petition.
Since the expulsion of the village residents in 1986, the Civil Administration has not offered them an alternative place to live, nor prepared a building plan that would enable them to live legally on their lands. The Civil Administration refuses to connect the village to nearby water and electricity infrastructure that Israel built to serve the settlements and outposts, on the grounds that the village has no building plan. In the last few years, solar panels were installed in the village to supply electricity to the residents. In 2011, the Civil Administration demolished fourteen structures in the village, among them ten residential tents in which 87 people lived, including thirty children. Twenty additional demolition orders are pending against other structures in the village, including an elementary school and a well.
The Israeli planning regime in Area C, which is under full Israeli control, allows almost no building or development in the Palestinian villages in these areas. In the South Hebron Hills, Israel’s policy has included expulsion of the residents of other villages. By contrast, Israel has avoided enforcing planning and building laws on the settlers’ outposts erected in the area illegally and without permits (i.e. Havat Ma’on, Avigayil, Mitzpe Yair, Suseya North-West, Nof Nesher and Asaha’el), and has allowed them to connect to the water and electricity infrastructure.
The residents of Susiya claim ownership of about 3,000 dunams of agricultural land, on which there are 30 water holes, close to the Suseya settlement. The army has issued orders prohibiting the residents from entering or farming on a major portion of these lands. In August 2010 the villagers petitioned the HCJ through Rabbis for Human Rights demanding revocation of the orders denying them access to their lands. In February 2011, the State notified the HCJ that the army and the Civil Administration would map the ownership of the lands in the area and in accordance with the results would instruct the forces in the area. So far, mapping has been carried out only for a small area. In addition, when settlers attack the farmers even on lands for which no such orders have been issued, the army and police do not enforce the law.
As the occupying power, Israel is obligated to act for the benefit and welfare of the residents of the occupied area. Israel is violating international law in not preparing a building plan for the village of Susiya while instead attempting to expel its residents.