WASHINGTON – A group of 76 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking the Israeli government not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron hills.
The letter, dated May 21, was hailed by the left-wing Jewish group J Street as "the most significant criticism of settlement expansion ever by Congress." It follows a letter on the same subject that was sent to Netanyahu last year by 10 Democratic senators.
The members of Congress wrote in the letter that "the forcible eviction of Palestinian communities and the expansion of settlements in areas of the West Bank which would become part of a future Palestinian state, abandon our two countries' shared values of justice and respect for human rights.
"These actions unilaterally change facts on the ground and jeopardize the prospects for a two-state solution," the letter continued. The lawmakers also asked Netanyahu "to fairly re-evaluate" the requests made by Susya residents for building rights.
The letter was initiated by Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and was signed by a number of Jewish legislators. Signatories included Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who is running for a Senate seat in the 2018 mid-term elections, and Jerry Nadler of New York, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee.
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At least four members of the House Foreign Relations Committee also signed the letter.
Susya is a village in the West Bank, located south of the city of Hebron. Many of the buildings in the village have been marked for demolition by Israel because they were built without permits from Israeli authorities.
The Israeli push to demolish the village has been the focal point of a contentious back and forth between Palestinians, the Israeli courts, and U.S. activist groups since two structures were first demolished there in 2016.
Residents and human rights organizations have criticized the demolition orders, claiming that the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration, the unit that is responsible for managing Palestinians in the West Bank, rarely issues building permits in the area, and therefore they had no choice but to build their homes without them.
The villagers of Susya, which is under full Israeli military and civilian control in Area C, are among the poorest people in the West Bank. Over the past 30 years they have been moved out of their houses several times. In 1986, Susya was declared a national park and its residents were removed to their adjacent farmland. The villagers were once again removed by the army in 2001, and the caves and tin shacks they lived in were demolished.