Escalating tensions fill the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills as it faces threats of imminent demolition and a forced removal of all those living here. Since 1986, the current location of susiya has been demolished several times. With each demolition, the residents rebuild on the land for which they have clear titles dating back to the Ottoman period.
The fate of the village has been tied up in the Israeli High Court of Justice for years as the Palestinians seek to peacefully inhabit their village. In July 2016, the State of Israel withdrew from ongoing negotiations with the village about its future, taking the position that demolition is the only outcome. Since then, the High Court has ordered the State (of Israel) to present to the Court its ultimate demolition plan for Susiya. The most recent deadline for the Court’s decision was March 1 meaning that demolition could commence the same day.
At the request the of Nasser Nawajja, Susiya spokesperson, CPT arrived in the village to stand in solidarity with the residents and to document the anticipated demolition. Once again, the Court granted the State’s request for more time to present its final demolition plan. Nasser and the village lawyers believe that the State is delicately trying to balance its final demolition plans with the competing pressures of international opinion to protect the village with the pressure from settler groups for expedited and total demolition.
This space of not knowing when the bulldozers will arrive for demolition has the village living with heightened tensions. On the evening of the recent Court postponement, we gathered at the end of the day at the family dwelling of Nasser Nawajja. On that particular evening, three generations of Nasser’s family sit on the floor around steaming platters of food. As we sit on rugs and cushions, Abu Jihad, the patriarch of the Nawajja family greets us as guests and expresses a mixture of relief, joy and anger as he tells us about recent attacks with stones by adjacent Israeli settlers as villagers tended to their olive trees. Abu Jihad has seen much death and destruction in his long life and has lived through the forced removal and destruction of his home more than once, all at the hands of the Israeli military and Israeli settlers. For almost the entirety of his life, Abu Jihad’s native Palestine has been under the occupation and control of the Israeli Military.
The upcoming decision from the Israeli Court will most likely remove all barriers to begin the demolition of the village of Susiya and a removal of Susiya’s 55 families, of which 120 are children. This gives a sign to the Israeli Military that they have full authority to begin the demolition at any time. This demolition is to make way for the expanding Israeli Settlement that is just meters away. For decades now, the Nawajja family and all the residents of Susiya have been experiencing a daily struggle for the right to peacefully live and farm on their lands. This ongoing struggle includes repeated violence and destruction from adjacent Israeli settlers that includes demolitions of homes and agricultural structures, poisoning of wells, cutting of olive trees, and physical violence against the residents including stoning and gunfire. Since 1986, the village has been demolished 3 times with the last time being 2011. The determination and steadfastness of the villagers has them rebuild each time there has been a demolition.
In 2016, Israeli authorities destroyed 1093 civilian Palestinian structures, nearly double the number from 2015, and the highest since 2009. The number of demolitions in January 2017 are exceeding the numbers from 2016, as reported in UNOCHA The Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin, January 2017.
Demolition of Palestinian property and the forced removal of its residents is a violation of International Humanitarian Law set out in the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CPT is here to shed light on this ongoing violation of human rights by standing in solidarity with our Palestinian host and by giving voice to their lived experience of oppression and abuse.
For today, Susiya stands, and we at CPT stand along side the Nawajja family and all the residents of Susiya.