On Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel’s Civil Administration demolished structures built without permits in the Palestinian village of Sussia, south of Hebron. This time, it was two structures housing 21 people, 14 of them children. In addition, an outdoor kitchen and animal pen for 80 sheep and goats were destroyed.
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The demolition came as a surprise, since during Ramadan and other holidays the Civil Administration generally refrains from implementing demolition orders. A written promise to this effect was even given by the coordinator of government activities in the territories to international organizations, though it had two exceptions: if the structures posed a security hazard; or if they were erected during Ramadan itself. The coordinator’s spokeswoman confirmed that there was such an agreement in principle, but, “Given an examination of all the considerations, including operational ones, it was decided to carry out the enforcement.”
Sussia has long been a symbol of both Palestinian steadfastness and Israeli policies. In 1986, Israel expelled the residents from their original ancient village, whose lands were declared a national park. In 2001, they were thrown off their agricultural lands, where they had settled after the earlier expulsion. The High Court of Justice allowed them to return, but didn’t order the authorities to allow them to rebuild. As a result, all the structures in the village were built without permits and are at risk of demolition.
The Civil Administration never prepared a master plan for Sussia and rejected the plan the residents had submitted, demanding instead that the residents move to an area near the city of Yatta. The residents refused, but agreed to meet with Civil Administration officials to try to come to some understanding. This week, the representatives of both sides were meant to have another meeting. For this reason alone, the demolition was surprising. One might have expected that the Civil Administration would want to appear considerate, rather than brandishing the weapon of demolition that it possesses.
But from every other perspective, there’s no real surprise here. This year, Israel has been expediting the demolition of Palestinian structures that were built without permits in Area C (the part of the West Bank under Israeli control), with 548 buildings demolished as of mid-June – compared to 453 for the whole of 2015.
For years, the Regavim nongovernmental organization, the Knesset subcommittee on Judea and Samaria, and some of the settlements (the Adumim bloc and the Israeli Susya) have been exerting legal and media pressure to get the Civil Administration to implement demolition orders against the Palestinians. The pressure is working, and the objective is clear. It is expressed openly by members of Habayit Hayehudi, who dominate the subcommittee and cofounded Regavim (among them MK Bezalel Smotrich): To remove Palestinians from Area C and annex it to Israel.
The village of Sussia is not the only one at risk of demolition, displacement and loss of its lands. There are dozens of other towns and villages whose lands are in Area C. Without them, there cannot be a Palestinian state established. Standing up for Sussia and against its destruction is, therefore, a call for sanity.