U.S. Urges Israel: Don't Demolish West Bank Village

Resident of Sussia, near Hebron, were ordered by the Civil Administration to destroy 40 structures; State Dept. spokesman: Such actions will have impact beyond these individuals.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Susya.Credit: Guy Butiva, Rabbis for Human Rights
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The United States has urged Israel against carrying out any demolitions in the Palestinian village of Sussia in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank.

"Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a press conference in Washington on Thursday. "Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted."

"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," Kirby said, adding that the U.S. urges "Israeli authorities to work with the residents of the village to finalize a plan for the village that addresses the residents’ humanitarian needs."

These statements were echoed by the U.S. acting consul in Jerusalem, Dorothy Shea, who visited the village on Thursday. "We are closely following developments in the village, and we are urging that demolitions not proceed," Shea said.

Public legal battle

Sussia residents were ordered by the Civil Administration in a letter from July 15 to destroy 40 structures in the village. 15 of these structures house about 90 people – 45 of which are children. From talks with Civil Administration officials, the residents understood they must destroy the buildings themselves this week.

Over the last 20 years, Sussia residents have waged a public and legal battle against claims that their homes were constructed illegally. In 1983, the settlement of Susya was erected near their village, taking over several hundred square kilometers of their land over the years.

In 1986, the Israeli army evicted the residents from their original cave dwellings, which became an archaeological site run by settlers. The Palestinian residents moved into other caves and improvised dwellings in another area of their land. Since then, the villagers faced several eviction attempts by authorities.

Though the High Court instructed the state to stop razing the villagers' caves, huts and water wells, it did not instruct the Civil Administration to allow the villagers to construct houses and animal pens. Therefore, the Civil Administration keeps issuing demolition notices against the improvised shelters erected by the villagers.

Currently about 300 Palestinians live in the village, after many others could not withstand the permanent threat of being thrown out of their homes, and moved to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is demanding the villagers move to the city of Yatta in the Palestinian Authority, but the villagers say they have been living in the area for hundreds of years, and that they have a right to reside on their land. About two years ago, the Civil Administration rejected a master plan prepared and presented by the villagers.

With the assistance of the Rabbis for Human Rights group, the village appealed the rejection of the master plan, but High Court Justice Noam Solberg rejected the village's request for an injunction stopping the state from carrying out any demolitions until the appeal has been decided.

Last Sunday, senior Israeli officers including the Coordinator of the Government's Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and the head of the Civil Administration Brig. Gen. David Menahem met with the villagers in Sussia. According to several residents, Mordechai said the settlers and their lobbyists are pressuring authorities to follow through with the demolitions. The residents were told that the Civil Administration will proceed with the demolition plans immediately after Ramadan.

COGAT said in response that the meeting, which was initiated by COGAT and the Civil Administration's head, was held "in order to discuss the High Court rulings and the possibility of finding alternative solutions, in accordance to planning considerations."

Attorney Kamar Mishraki-Asad, representing Rabbis for Human Rights, voiced her incredulity at the authorities, who say they want to foster discussion while filing a list of buildings to be demolished. In a letter to the Civil Administration's infrastructure department, Mishraki-Asad said the demolition was planned "not due to considerations of planning and constructions, law and order, but out of ulterior motives and unfairness."

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