Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation



Susiya - Israel's policy of starvation and expulsion

On 4 May 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) rejected a petition for an interim order to freeze demolition orders issued against homes in the Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya. The petition had been filed on behalf of the Rabbis for Human Rights and Susiya residents in February 2014. Following the Court decision the village is under imminent thrat of demolition and expulsion. After a first visit in 2013 Scales for Justice (S4J) visited the village of Susiya again in August 2015 and along with other human rights organisations is extremely concerned about the future of the Palestinian residents in Susiy, who will be left homeless in harsh desert conditions and be effectively expelled from their land in an act that is not only cruel but also illegal.

Background

The Palestinian community of Susiya is located in the southern Hebron hills in the occupied West Bank and has a population of some 350 people, including 120 children. Written records of the community exist from 1830. Everything changed when in 1983 the Isaeli settlement of Susyia was established. Only few years later, in 1986, Israel declared the area of the community an "archaeological site" and approximately 60 families were forcibly displaced. The expelled village residents settled in caves and tin shacks some 500 meters from their village. Archaeological digs are frequently used by the Israeli occupation authorities as means to expel Paletinians living under full Israeli control in area C and to take over their land, as the British government criticised in March 2015.


The villagers’ proximity to the settlements entailed a number of serious problems for the Palestinian residents of Susiya. Settlers seized more and more land meanwhile several Palestininas found on these lands were shot and killed. One night in 1990, the Palestinian villagers then were loaded onto trucks and taken to an area some 15 km north of Susya. Having been expelled for the second time they  decided to return back to their original lands and continued to live in caves and huts. In 2001 a new wave of revenge and expulsion began. These expulsions were carried out without warning and were especially violent with caves being destroyed, wells blocked, fields vandalized and animals killed.


The legal battle

Following the expulsion in 2001, a legal battle was began between the Palestinian residents and the Israeli military. The Israeli High Court of Justice issued an injunction stating that the residents should be allowed to return to live in their caves and to cease the demolitions. Along with the legal struggle settler violence continued to escalate. Rabbis for human rights documented dozens of complaints filed by Palestinians including trespassing on their lands, vandalism of fields and trees, sabotage of wells and water tanks, poisoning of pastures and wells, and even arson attacks on tents and physical attacks on families in their homes at night.

Seeking to restrain the settlers’ violence and to allow the village’s residents access to their lands in 2010, the residents of Palestinian Susya appealed to the High Court of Justice via Rabbis for Human Rights. In February 2012, the right-wing organization Regavim together with the settlement Susya however filed a counter-petition demanding the immediate demolition of all of the structures of the village. The grounds for this demand were alledged “security risks” posed by Palestinian villagers to the settllers. Reality however showed rather the Palestinians’ need for protection from the settlers.

In 2011, the Israeli authorities carried out another four waves of demolitions, targeting 41 structures, including 31 residential tents or shacks and two water cisterns, repeatedly displacing 37 people. Today at least 70 percent of the existing structures in the community, including the school, have pending demolition orders. Together with another outpost established iIn the area in 2002 the settlement of Susiya controls land ten times larger than their built-up area. According to an OCHA report Susiya residents now have access to less than one-third of the land that was previously available to them.

In December 2012, residents of the village Susya submitted a master plan for their village which would authorize all of the structures in the village. In May 2013, the Civil Administration’s Subcommittee for Planning and Licensing discussed the plan and in October 2013, issued a detailed decision to reject the plan on on very questionable grounds. For example, it was argued that the number of residents in the village was not substantial enough to grant it independent planning. In addition, it was argued that the plan will prevent the population from properly developing and moving out of poverty.

The decision was another clear act of discrimination, as on the other hand, dozens of illegal settler outposts housing only a handful of residents were approved. It should also be noted that what actually prevents the progress of Susya is the lack of infrastructure which they are prevented from building by the Israeli military.

Accompagnying the attempts to force Palestinians in Susiya out of their land the Israeli military has further always pursued a deliberate policy of starvation. Palestinian residents of Susiya pay five times more per cubic meter of water than the nearby settlement. All together there is a clear pattern of discrimination between Susiya and the nearby settlements. While  the  structures  in  the  nearby outpost lack a building permit, the Israeli military has carried out no demolitions and the outpost is connected to the water and electricity. In 2014, Rabbis for Human Rights therefore petitioned the High Court again against the decision to reject the village's master plan. They argued that their plan was rejected for non-professional reasons and that the village should be legalized due to it unique history.


On May 5 2015, High Court Judge Noam Solberg rejected the request for an interim order by the Palestinian village of Susya, without even conducting a hearing on the request, granting the state’s request not to freeze the orders. This decision means that the Civil Administration can now destroy Susya at any time.


Scales for Justice visit to Susiya

After an initial visit in 2013 S4J visited the village of Susiya again in August 2015 and witnessed first hand the harsh conditions faced by its resident as a result of the Israeli policy. Below some pictures of these visits

 The UN remains very concerned about the village of Susiya. During its visit S4J met representatives.

Following the demolition of their homes the Palestinian residents in Susiya have to live in tents.

People in Susiya rely on agriculture and herding. Sheep are paying a visit to the tent of their owners.  

A mother washes the hair of her baby boy with a watering can. Water is scare and residents depend on rainwater cisterns.

The freshly showered baby boy sitting on the floor of his tent. The family's "sleeping room" is behind the curtain.

Despite their suffering the people of Susiya remain hospitable and serve us the traditional Palestinian tea.

In order to improve their income local women sell traditional Palestinian broaderies. The shop is located in a cave.

Access to land for residents of Susiya has been progressively reduced due to settlement
construction and settler violence.

Internationals monitor the situation in Susiya. Here one of them in discussion with a local resident.

Conclusion
As other human rights organisations S4J considers the Israeli policy against the Palestinians living in Susiya cruel and illegal. It is a clear attempt to silently transfer Palestinians living in area C under full Israeli control as evident also in reports by the UN and the EU.

The Israeli policy therefore is a clea breach of the fourth Geneva conventions, holding in article  in article 53 that  "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property [...] is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations and in 49 that "The Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area  [...] Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased [...] The Occupying Power undertaking [such] transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition".

The imminent eviction further violates the most basic principles of the right to adequate housing, which includes the right of freedom from discrimination and equality before the law, protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction of one’s home; the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s home, privacy and family and the right to choose one’s residence, to determine where to live and to freedom of movement. S4J therefore will continue to stand up for the freedom of people like those living in Susyia and to advocate for those suffering from oppression and injustice, in ligne with the words of Nelson Mandela

"Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future."

If you further would like to support Susiya sign the petition "Stop the expulsion of Palestinians" or use the Twitter Hashtag #SaveSusiya to share this article.

Sources: B'tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, OCHA