U.S.: Israeli Demolition of Palestinian Village Sussia Would Be 'Very Troubling'

U.S. hopes a solution would be found for Hebron-area village, State Department says, after Haaretz report that Americans warned Israel that village's demolition would be met with harsh response.

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A Palestinian girl plays outside a tent in the West Bank village of Sussia, south of Hebron, May 25, 2015.
A Palestinian girl plays outside a tent in the West Bank village of Sussia, south of Hebron, May 25, 2015. Credit: Reuters

The United States is hoping that a solution would be found to avoid razing the Palestinian village of Sussia in the West Bank, the State Department said on Wednesday.

"If the Israeli government proceeds with demolitions in Sussia, it would be very troubling and have a very damaging impact on lives of the Palestinians living there, who have already been displaced on other occasions," Elizabeth Trudeau, the State Department deputy spokeswoman told reporters during a daily press briefing.

Such a solution, Trudeau stressed, should address the U.S. administration's concerns over the impact of such a move on the Palestinian residents of the village. The U.S. is worried by Israel's stepping up of demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, she added.

On Wednesday morning, diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem arrived in Sussia, located in the South Hebron Hills, to talk with residents and survey the area. After their visit, the Consulate tweeted that the U.S. was "deeply concerned abt (sic) the situation of this highly vulnerable population."

Trudeau referred in the press briefing to a Haaretz report according to which the U.S. warned Israel against razing Sussia.

Israeli and American officials, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday that over the past two weeks U.S. administration officials have informed officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry that a severe American reaction would result if Israel destroys the houses in the village.

Yochai Damari, who heads the Hebron Mount regional council, also responded to the Haaretz report, accusing the U.S. of gross intervention over the "invaders" of Sussia. He said the issue has been debated in Israeli courts for years.

"It's a criminal tribe from Yatta that has invaded over the last 15 years and built against the law," he said, referring to a nearby Palestinian city, south of Hebron. "The matter has been debated and it was decided to evict them, after endless petitions and foot-dragging," he said. "The U.S. government cannot interfere in legal matters. If true, this constitutes an attempt to bias a court ruling in a foreign state and is incredibly serious. I hope the Israeli government will know how to stand its ground as a sovereign government and that the honorable court will not factor these matters into rulings that were already made."

The villagers of Sussia, which is in Area C, under full Israeli military and civilian control, are among the poorest people in the West Bank. Over the past 30 years they have been moved out of their houses a few times. In 1986 Sussia was declared a national park and its residents removed to their adjacent farmland. In 2001 they were once again removed by the army, and the caves and tin shacks they lived in were demolished.

The High Court of Justice at one point ordered the cessation of the demolitions and allowed the residents to remain on the site. However, the court did not instruct the Civil Administration to issue construction permits. As a result, all of the houses in the village have been built without permits. In recent years the Civil Administration has proposed to the residents of Sussia that they move to an area bordering on Area A – formally under full Palestinian control – closer to the city of Yatta. However, they declined.

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the nearby Jewish settlement of Susya and the Regavim association have been pressuring the Civil Administration to carry out the demolition orders.

Negotiations between the villagers and the Civil Administration began again early this year to try to regulate the village and issue construction permits for the houses. The parties held three rounds of talks and progress was made. However, they suddenly stopped in June without explanation. According to people involved in the negotiations, the round of talks that had been set for last month was canceled. These developments have led the Palestinian residents to fear that Israel has decided to demolish the village.

On August 1 the High Court held another hearing on the petition to implement the demolition order, with Supreme Court President Miriam Naor leading the bench. At the end of the hearing, the court ordered Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to submit his position on the evacuation of Sussia by August 15. Naor has also ordered that the 30 houses in immediate danger of demolition were not to be destroyed before that time.

The defense minister’s bureau said that no directive had been issued by Lieberman regarding Sussia, and that he was still studying the matter.

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