The Misleading Legal Arguments That Legitimize Injustice in the West Bank

When it comes to the planned demolition of the village of Sussia, invoking the law is a particularly cynical move.

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

All the homes in the West Bank Palestinian village of Sussia were built without permits. As a result, the Civil Administration’s intention to demolish the homes looks like the upholding of law, order and planning regulations. The plan even has a green light from Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg, who in early May refused to stay the demolitions until a hearing could be held on the village’s petition against the authorities’ rejection of its proposed master plan.

In a meeting with the villagers early last week in the presence of Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activity in the territories, and the head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. David Menachem, the military officials hinted that they were subject to pressure – from settlers, among others – to proceed with the demolition. They also said they were interested in dialogue and finding a solution that would not involve media-attracting demolitions, but also would not leave the villagers in their present location. Three days after the meeting, the village got a list of 40 structures that the Civil Administration expected the residents to demolish before the High Court of Justice hearing scheduled for August 3.

In Sussia, as in all of Area C (the 60 percent of the West Bank under total Israeli control), the Israeli authorities enlist planning laws to justify restricting and blocking Palestinian construction and development. This is all misleading. Parallel construction laws enable the expansion of settlements while displacing as many Palestinians as possible and forcing them into Areas A and B, where the Palestinians have civilian authority. Thus, invoking the law is a particularly cynical move.

The families Israel wants to forcibly dislocate from Sussia were already expelled in 1986 from a village of caves in which they had lived for more than a century, and which was declared an archeological site. They found refuge in other caves, on lands they owned or held, and over time built homes and animal pens there. In 2001 the Civil Administration and the army began to demolish these cave dwellings, huts and cisterns.

The High Court stopped the demolitions, but did not order the authorities to allow the villagers to repair their homes or build new ones.

In October 2013, the Civil Administration rejected a master plan prepared by the village that would have allowed residents to apply for building permits, saying that for the benefit of the residents and in order “to improve the status” of the women, they should move to the vicinity of the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Yatta. Dismantling Palestinian Sussia would allow the settlement of Susya, founded in 1983, to expand its grab of Palestinian lands and create yet another “settlement bloc” to be part of the so-called national consensus.

The United States has recently warned against demolishing Sussia, saying its destruction would “have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted.” But the demolition shouldn’t be avoided for diplomatic reasons; rather, the High Court of Justice should avoid hiding behind the misleading, bad-faith arguments about law and order. Approving the master plan prepared by the residents and institutional recognition of the Palestinian village that was built after a previous expulsion is an opportunity to make this right.