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Why act now?
At any moment, Israel’s Civil Administration (CA) might demolish all homes and structures in Khirbet Susiya, a small Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, the West Bank. On 4 May 2015, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) denied a request for an interim injunction that would prevent the CA from implementing the demolition orders it had issued. The request was made during a hearing of a petition filed by the villagers, the latest measure in their battle against efforts by Israeli authorities to forcibly transfer them from their homes in Area C to Area B or A, as part of a policy to annex the area de-facto to Israel. Demolition would effectively mean banishing the residents from their land and their village.
Talks between the state and Khirbet Susiya residents that were underway during the past year were recently suspended by the state. On 1 August 2016, at a court session of Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ), counsel for the state said the talks were halted because the new Minister of Defense had yet to formulate his position on the matter. The HCJ gave the state two weeks to formulate its position. Justices Naor, Barak-Erez and Hayut declined to issue orders that the state not demolish the homes of Susiya residents pending formulation of the position. The residents were thus left in a state of uncertainty as to their future and at the mercy of Israeli authorities. In August 2017, Israel's defense minister declared that the state intended to demolish all structures in the community. In response, B'Tselem sent a letter to the prime minister, the defense minister and other top officials cautioning that the demolition would constitute a war crime for which they would bear personal liability.
Why were the demolition orders issued?
The residents of Khirbet Susiya were expelled from the original site of their village in the 1980s, after the CA declared it a “national park”. They then took up residence on their farmland but the Israeli authorities tried to expel them from there, too. After a protracted legal battle, the villagers remained on the farmland, but the CA issued demolition orders for all their homes and refused to authorize the master plan they drew up for the new village. In response, the residents petitioned the HCJ with the help of Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights. They argued that the CA had rejected their master plan on discriminatory grounds and requested that the court issue an interim injunction to stay the demolition until the petition is heard. Justice Noam Solhberg denied the request.
Why does demolition constitute expulsion?
Without homes to live in, the residents will remain without shelter in harsh desert conditions. Demolishing all structures in the village would be both cruel and illegal. International occupation law prohibits both the demolition of homes in such circumstances and the forcible transfer of an occupied population. Based on past experience, if the residents are forced to leave their land, settlers will take it over with the support of the state – as they have already done with 300 hectares of village land.
Where’s Susiya in the big picture?
The story of Khirbet Susiya is the story of many other Palestinian communities in Area C. For years, Israeli authorities have used various means to drive Palestinians from there into Areas A and B, enlisting planning laws to support their actions. Most Palestinians in Area C live in villages that Israeli authorities refuse to plan or to connect to the power and water grids. Residents are left no choice but to build without permits, and consequently face the constant threat of demolition and expulsion. Meanwhile, in the very same area, structures are often built unlawfully in Israeli settlements and outposts. The CA not only turns a blind eye in those cases, but actively assists the settlers by connecting them to electricity and water supplies.
What can be done?
We can help the villagers fight for their land. They want to stay in their homes and need our help making their story public knowledge. At present it is virtually unknown to the world.
Please invite your friends to join a solidarity tour of the village and share the story and pictures from the area using the hashtag #SaveSusiya.