After Heavy Diplomatic Pressure, Israel Moves to Delay Demolition of Palestinian Village of Sussia

Before Netanyahu’s trip, British diplomats expressed their reservations about the evacuation of the Palestinian village in southern Hebron Hills

Palestinian children in Susya, February 10, 2016.
Palestinian children in Sussia, February 10, 2016. HAZEM BADER / AFP

The government has asked the High Court of Justice for a two-week postponement in presenting its position concerning the evacuation of a Palestinian village in the West Bank.

The government has delayed its response on the matter for several months. Haaretz has learned that the present request for a postponement was filed after European diplomats, including the British, applied pressure on the Defense Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to demolish the village.

Ahead of Netanyahu’s trip to London, Haaretz learned that British diplomats contacted Israeli officials and made it clear that Britain had reservations about the planned evacuation., said a source involved in the matter. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also supports postponing the evacuation so as to conduct further legal examinations, and has made his position clear to Lieberman, said the source.

Sussia, which is located near the Jewish settlement of the same name, was established without any building permits, and demolition orders have been issued for its structures.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said there will be no more delays in implementing the demolition orders for the village of Sussia, located in the southern Hebron Hills. The High Court is presently hearing a petition asking the court to order the evacuation and demolition of the village, whose structures were built without permits.

The High Court petition to demolish the village was submitted in 2014 by the Regavim nonprofit organization, funded by settler-group Amana and regional authorities in the West Bank, asking to demolish the “illegal Palestinian outposts” in Sussia. The government has asked every few weeks over the past year-and-a-half for a postponement for presenting the defense minister’s position on the matter.

American and European diplomats have been very involved in the Sussia issue for the past few years, and have demanded Israel not demolish the village. Since the change of administration in Washington early this year, the Americans have been less involved in the case.

Sussia is located in Area C, the region under full Israeli civil and security authority. Its residents are among the poorest in the West Bank, and they have been removed from their homes a number of times over the past 30 years. In 1986, the area around the village was declared a national park and its residents were evacuated to nearby agricultural land. They were again evacuated by the IDF in 2001, and their living quarters in caves and huts were demolished.

The High Court ordered to halt the demolition of the buildings in Sussia and allowed the residents to remain in the village, but has not ordered the IDF’s Civil Administration in the West Bank to allow the residents to build new buildings to replace those that have been demolished already. None of the structures in the village have building permits.

Israel has never prepared a master plan for the village and has rejected a master plan presented in the name of the residents. The Civil Administration has offered the residents to move to state-owned land about half a kilometer from the city of Yatta in the southern Hebron Hills, which abuts Area A, the area under full Palestinian civil and security control. The residents have rejected the proposal.

After diplomatic interest in Sussia waned, Lieberman told reporters in August that the village would be demolished by year’s end, and that the government would not ask for any further postponements in submitting its position to the High Court.

Lieberman said the state would inform the court that its position was that the village should be demolished. In September, a senior defense official told Haaretz: “When it comes to Sussia We’re no longer willing to postpone – we’ll ask the court for eviction.”

Kamar Mishraki-Asad, the attorney representing the Sussia residents, said Lieberman is determined to erase the village in order to allow settlers to complete their takeover of the village’s land. Because this is a policy for the entire West Bank, the international community must make it clear to Israel that it will not accept the erasure of entire villages and their removal from Area C, in violation of international law, she said.

Regavim, the NGO, commented: “If it was not so sad, it would be possible to joke that even though 100 years have passed since the Balfour Declaration, the representatives of the national institutions still must ask permission from the [British] High Commissioner before they can respond to the High Court of Justice. It is at such a time that the Prime Minister of Israel should be expected to prove in his statements and actions that the State of Israel is truly independent. The time has come to enforce the law against criminals who violated the law in the illegal outpost of [Sussia].”

The British Embassy in Israel said it continues to maintain its interest in the legal proceedings concerning Sussia, regularly expressing concerns to Israeli authorities about the planned evacuation or demolition. These plans weaken the efforts to achieve a two-state solution and make progress toward peace, said the embassy.

The Defense Minister’s Bureau commented: “At the request of the attorney general, the state has asked for two more weeks.”