Palestinian children playing in the village of Susya, south of Hebron.
Palestinian children playing in the village of Susya, south of Hebron. Photo by Alex Levac
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More than two weeks after Israeli settlers occupied private lands belonging to a family from the Palestinian village of Susya in the south Hebron Hills, the authorities have failed to evacuate the intruders. Despite an order declaring the area closed, the settlers are preparing the land for planting, attorney Quamar Mishirqi-Asad of Rabbis for Human Rights has told Haaretz.

The occupied plot is part of a "security belt" the nearby Jewish settlement of Susya has created around itself over the past decade. The area encompasses some 3,000 dunams (750 acres ), roughly 10 times the size of the settlement itself. Repeated attacks on Palestinian farmers seeking to reach their lands and shepherds were employed to clear the area. Settlers have already converted some 400 dunams of the confiscated land to agricultural use, as part of a modus operandi that is well-known in the West Bank.

According to the website of the Har Hebron Regional Council, Susya settlers have always rejected the idea of a fence. "From the days Susya was established, its residents believed in the principle of 'no fence - much land,'" the website asserts. "Susya isn't surrounded by a fence but by vast areas of land nurtured by its residents, a green belt of agricultural lands surrounding the settlement."

The current takeover began on July 23, when a group of Israelis entered land belonging to the Haddar family and erected steel poles. On the same day, the family and Rabbis for Human Rights complained to the police and the Civil Administration. Mishirqi-Asad confirmed this in a July 25 letter, in which he stated that on that evening a representative of the Civil Administration said that "the IDF is aware of the incident but prefers not to intervene."

Work continued on July 24: The interlopers laid irrigation pipes and fenced the area. A representative of the District Coordination and Liaison Office arrived at the area with policemen, announced that the construction work was illegal and that the settlers had occupied private property. In response, some 30 Israelis entered the Palestinian village of Susya and attacked inhabitants.

Despite an IDF declaration of the area as closed, the invaders returned that afternoon and continued work in the plot. That evening a group of Israelis entered the village and intimidated the residents. A confrontation erupted and the Israelis fled. Nevertheless, work on this plot continues 17 days after the original takeover.

Between 2001 and 2012 residents of the Palestinian Susya have submitted hundreds of complaints to Kiryat Arba police, mostly dealing with attacks, tree-clearing, wounding of animals, threats, stone-throwing and trespassing - the very acts that, in effect, created the "security belt" around the settlement. Rabbis for Human Rights says that most of the complaints did not result in criminal charges.

In addition to heavy economic losses, Susya villagers fear that they may lose their lands under Ottoman law's statute of limitations if the invaders aren't removed.

The residents appealed to the High Court of Justice, with the aid of Rabbis for Human Rights, in 2010, demanding that the authorities protect them from intimidation, guarantee their right to access their lands and expel those who have taken over their lands inside the security belt. There is still no decision on the appeal.

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which is responsible for the Civil Administration, said that "the issue of land invasion to the said plot is familiar and enforcement steps are scheduled. Procedures to remove those involved will be published soon."