On Sunday Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is due to announce his decision on whether to let the Civil Administration continue negotiating with the residents of the West Bank village of Sussia over their fate. The talks began a year ago after the High Court of Justice received a petition from the Palestinian village favoring the alternatives it had submitted for the master plan at its current location. The Civil Administration proposed uprooting the village and relocating it to a site next to the town of Yatta near Hebron.
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The fight, being waged with the assistance of Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, aims to head off the village’s destruction and relocation. It has stirred international interest, so one can understand the Civil Administration’s willingness for out-of-court talks.
Over the past year, the parties have met four times. Villagers have mentioned that they moved to their privately-owned agricultural land only in 1986 after the army expelled them from their original ancient village, which was declared an archaeological site. In 1991, the army expelled them again, and they relocated to another part of their land, living in tents and caves. When they returned and were expelled a third time, in 2001, they petitioned the High Court of Justice.
The court permitted their return but didn’t order the authorities to let them build houses or give them access to electricity, water and roads. They therefore have been living in makeshift structures without running water and with a solar-power system that doesn’t meet all their needs. The Civil Administration therefore deems every structure in the village illegal and subject to demolition, with the group Regavim and the Jewish settlement of Susya eager to have the demolition orders carried out.
At their last meeting at the end of June, the residents of Sussia perceived a certain readiness at the Civil Administration, meaning the state, to meet them partway. But in the meantime, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has presented the issue to the new defense minister, Lieberman, “to receive a decision on the political level regarding the continued handling of the process,” as the state told the court on July 28.
A fifth meeting has been postponed until Lieberman states his position. Palestinian concerns that Lieberman is coordinating matters with the settlement lobby has spurred U.S. and European officials to warn Israel against any possible demolitions. The settlers view this as blatant interference in Israel’s domestic affairs.
Sussia’s fate is a Palestinian matter, as it is for dozens of other Palestinian communities in the West Bank’s Area C (under full Israeli control) whose simple structures are demolished over and over on the pretext that they’re “illegal,” threatening the people with being uprooted.
International intervention is therefore understandable and essential. But it is also an issue for Israelis who realize that their country must end its policy of demolition and relocation against the West Bank Palestinians. This way, we won’t just bequeath war to the coming generations.