Internal IDF Report: Land at Village Slated for Demolition Privately Owned by Palestinians

Civil Administration report obtained by Haaretz cites Ottoman deed, may halt planned demolitions in West Bank village of Sussia.

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A Palestinian man looks out of a tent in Sussia, July 20, 2015.
A Palestinian man looks out of a tent in Sussia, July 20, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Sussia, the Palestinian village in which structures are slated for demolition, sits on private Palestinian land owned by local people, according to a document of the IDF's Civil Administration obtained by Haaretz.

Despite the findings by Civil Administration officer Moshe Meiri, Sussia residents still need building permits in order to prevent the planned demolition. Meiri’s report, however, appears to counter the reasoning that building permits cannot be issued to the local people because of a lack of ownership papers.

It appears that the Sussia residents cannot be forced to leave Sussia because the village is built on private land. Even if structures there are demolished, village residents could use the land for agricultural purposes.

The Palestinians could build structures under the master expansion plan that allows for basic structures for agriculture. Structures currently on the ground could be altered to fit this plan.

The internal document was drawn up following an inquiry by the Jabor family, which bases a claim to land near Sussia on Ottoman documents from 1881. In recent years, the Civil Administration has demolished Jabor-family tents and trees a number of times.

The family filed an appeal with the help of attorney Jad Nasser and claimed ownership of the land.

According to Meiri, a Civil Administration officer responsible for land administration in the West Bank, the Ottoman deed is indeed valid. The same type of deed has also been mentioned by the State Prosecutor’s Office, which has ruled on the borders of various settlements.

The deed was problematic because the boundaries mentioned were unclear, described in terms of geographic features that turned out hard to identify on the ground. But Meiri managed to locate them and found that they indeed included land belonging to the Jabor family, as well as to the Nawaja family.

At the end of ruling, Meiri wrote that the orders issued to the Jabor family should be canceled and that previous court rulings on Sussia should be discussed. Meiri’s ruling came as a surprise to the Civil Administration, especially the head of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, who had personally intervened in the Sussia matter. The wider ramifications of Meiri’s findings are still being considered.

Sussia is located in the South Hebron Hills near the town of Yatta, which in turn is near Hebron. The village, home to 40 families, does not have a valid master expansion plan, and no building permits have been issued in the area.

Following a petition filed by an organization funded by the right-wing group Amana, the High Court of Justice ruled that the government must demolish the village.

Sussia residents filed a request with the Civil Administration two years ago, asking for building permits, but their request was rejected. Afterwards, they petitioned the High Court to legitimize construction that had already taken place. The hearing on their petition was postponed.

This month, the Civil Administration has said it intends to demolish the illegal structures after the Id al-Fitr holiday that ends Ramadan. The Civil Administration’s announcement led to pressure from both the U.S. government and the European Union in Brussels.

The Americans warned Israel that demolishing the village would have severe ramifications, and the Europeans called for Jerusalem to cancel the “transfer” of Sussia residents. The Civil Administration ultimately backed down from its intention to carry out the demolition after Id al-Fitr.

Sussia residents claim ownership over the lands on which their village sits and have already presented deeds dating to the Ottoman period that cover an area of 3,000 dunams (741 acres). The Civil Administration has so far denied their claims.

In October 2013, for example, when the Civil Administration rejected a master expansion plan put forward by the residents, one explanation was that sufficient ownership documents had not been submitted.

Architect Daniel Halimi, the head of the Civil Administration’s supreme planning council, said the information “is clear — in most cases there are no ownership documents, and in some cases there is only partial proof of ownership.”

Halimi said the ownership documents submitted then did not contain any geographic information and that it was “not possible to make unambiguous claims of ownership over the land in question” based on the documents.

Also, the planning council said it could not legitimize structures already built because the local people did not have sufficient funds for infrastructure or education, and that it would be preferable for them to move to nearby Yatta.

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