The United States has warned it will respond harshly if Israel demolishes the Palestinian village of Sussia in the southern Hebron Hills.
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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.
The Israeli officials said similar messages were conveyed over the past two weeks by the European Union, the British government and other international bodies. For example, British diplomats conveyed messages to the PMO and the Foreign Ministry that the British Foreign Office in London would find it difficult to continue assisting Israel in international forums in the event Sussia were demolished.
The Israeli officials said international pressure over the matter came after the Palestinian Authority turned to the United States and a number of other Western countries, claiming that Israel intends to destroy the village in a few weeks.
According to the Israeli officials, the PMO informed the Americans and Europeans that at this stage there is no plan to destroy Sussia, and that the Israeli government would act in accordance with rulings by the High Court of Justice, which is now hearing a petition on the matter.
The petition was submitted by the right-wing movement Regavim, which claims the village was built illegally and thus should be demolished by the Civil Administration.
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 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 village 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.
The High Court held another hearing on August 1 on the petition to implement the demolition order, with 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 also ordered that the 30 houses in immediate danger of demolition were not to be destroyed before that time.
The defense minister’s office responded that no directive had been issued by Lieberman regarding Sussia, and that he was still studying the matter.