A picture taken on May 20, 2015 in the southern West Bank village of Susya shows a Palestinian children flashing the sign of victory as they play at a playground
A picture taken on May 20, 2015 in the southern West Bank village of Susya shows a Palestinian children flashing the sign of victory as they play at a playground © Hazem Bader - AFP
A picture taken on May 20, 2015 in the southern West Bank village of Susya shows a Palestinian children flashing the sign of victory as they play at a playground
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Samih Shaheen, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Tiny Palestinian village facing demolition fights for survival

The bulldozers could arrive at any moment to tear down the tiny Palestinian village, but this time those who call it home say they will not leave.

"Even if they push us out by force, we will come back the next day," said Jihad al-Nawajaa, the head of the Susiya village council.

The Israeli authorities' plans to demolish Susiya, located in the south Hebron hills and home to about 340 people, have drawn condemnation and made it a symbol of the occupation of the West Bank.

The village has been torn down before and its homes are mainly tents, caves and makeshift structures, along with a children's playground. The United States and European nations have urged Israel not to move ahead with demolition.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby recently said demolition of the village would be "harmful and provocative".

"Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted," he said.

"We are concerned that the demolition of this village may worsen the atmosphere for a peaceful resolution and would set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation, particularly given settlement-related activity in the area."

The nearby Israeli settlement of the same name has added to tensions. Israeli rights group B'Tselem says that "based on past experience, if the residents are forced to leave their land, settlers will take it over with the support of the state".

For the defence ministry unit that oversees Israeli activities in the Palestinian territories, Susiya does not have a permit and has expanded illegally and outside of its historic zone.

It says a High Court order denying the request of residents to delay the demolition must be obeyed.

UN humanitarian officials say however that Palestinians face long odds of being granted building permits in a large portion of the West Bank, and rights activists point out Susiya is far from the only Palestinian village at risk.

Settlement groups also wield significant influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, which has only a slim majority following elections in March.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal under international law, have further complicated peace talks, which have been stalled for more than a year.

- 'Always under pressure' -

Slogans against the demolition have been painted on tents in the village, located near the city of Hebron and which relies on agriculture and herding.

If the residents are forced out, it would by no means be the first time.

Some 30 years ago, Susiya residents were expelled from their village and later rebuilt their houses sightly further away on farmland. There have been two other expulsions, according to Rabbis For Human Rights, which has defended Susiya for years before Israeli courts.

"We are worried, always under pressure since the ruling by the High Court," said resident Nasser Nawajaa. "We are scared that the army is coming to destroy everything."

Residents say the Israeli authorities want them to move to Yatta, which lies in the part of the West Bank that falls under what is known as Area A -- meaning it is completely under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Susiya is located in Area C, which is controlled by the Israeli authorities. More than 60 percent of the West Bank lies in Area C.

The divisions were meant to be temporary arrangements set up under the Oslo Accords while a long-term peace was negotiated. According to the UN, less than one percent of Area C has been reserved for Palestinian development.

Susiya residents say the authorities tell them that they do not have any infrastructure in the village, but residents argue that they have not been allowed to connect to nearby water and electricity services.

They suspect they are being forced to move to allow their land to be used by the nearby settlement.

"They want to evict us to free up the space and make a park there for residents of the Susiya settlement on our land," said council head Nawajaa.

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