#SaveSusiya

I Care About Peace... I Care About Susiya


Press release from Susiya's Attorney, Nov. 21, 2017

OVERVIEW

Susiya, a small village in the South Hebron Hills located very close to the 1967 Green Line, is one of dozens of Palestinian villages threatened by demolition and settlement encroachment onto private Palestinian land. On May 4, 2015, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled to allow the Israeli army to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and expel the 340 men, women and children from their homes, despite the fact that Susiya is currently engaged in a legal battle to determine their right to plan and build on the land that they own. Thanks to Rebuilding Alliance's Congressional efforts and a tremendous outcry of support from around the globe, Susiya remains standing. As discussions with the Israeli Civil Administration (a branch of the Israeli Army) continue to determine the fate of this peaceful village, villagers, peace-makers, and diplomats are on high alert.

The Sussiya Acid Test: an article written by Patricia Golan for the Jerusalem Post, with featured interviews from Fatma Nawaja, Nasser Nawaja, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Haqel. 

The article can be found online here. 

Historical Background

The Palestinian village of Susya in the West Bank is an ancient and historic village. Many of its residents lived in caves for decades before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and others are refugees from the 1948 war. In 1983, an Israeli settlement was built on "State Land" nearby, although international law says that such settlements are illegal. In 1986, the residents were forced out of their humble caves when the Israeli Army declared their residences to be an archaeological site. The Army evicted the residents and expropriated their land, forcing the residents to move to their nearby agricultural land and live in caves without electricity or running water.
Susiya's Legal Status Update, as compiled by Rabbis for Human Rights

 Children play at a playground in Susya - the Israeli settlement by the same name can be seen in the background. 

Children play at a playground in Susya - the Israeli settlement by the same name can be seen in the background. 

In 2001,  the Israeli army destroyed the caves and tried to evict the residents. The High Court of Justice ordered the army to stop the eviction, but since the caves were destroyed, the residents were forced to erect tents and sheds for shelter to survive.

"Unauthorized Construction"  

Now, the homes, schools, and buildings in Susya are under threat of demolition because the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) considers them to be "unauthorized construction."  However, all of the Susya residents’ attempts over the years to obtain building permits through the Israeli Civil Administration were rejected by the army. Because Susya is in Area C, planning and construction are administered by the Israeli Army and ICA. Although in late 2012, village residents submitted to the Civil Administration five alternative outline plans for their village, all were rejected the following year.  The State raised no security arguments nor did it argue against the petitioners’ ownership of their land. 

The Ruling from the Israeli High Court of Justice

In 2014, with the help of Rabbis for Human Rights, the residents petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against the rejection of the plan and requested an interim order to freeze demolitions until the petition was heard. Expulsion of the village residents would be a grave breach international law.

In 2015, the High Court of Justice refused to grant an interim "freeze" order on the demolitions, meaning the army can destroy the village at any moment.

Rebuilding Alliance goes to dc

In response to the High Court's 2015 ruling, Rebuilding Alliance travelled to Washington DC with a member of JVP and Village's Group, to brief 27 Congressional offices and the State Department on the urgent situation and request immediate diplomatic intervention. The visit led to an additional 25 calls throughout the summer with Senate and House offices and a "Dear Colleague" letter began to take shape.

army agrees not to demolish 

Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of international support, including significant media coverage, Susiya was not demolished at the end of Ramadan, as was previously reported would happen. Rebuilding Alliance helped pioneer over 50 Congressional briefings which led to a "Dear Colleagues" letter from Anna Eshoo to Secretary of State John Kerry, a public letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a State Department briefing, and a letter from Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. You can learn more about the Congressional response to #SaveSusiya by clicking here. Since this effort, discussions are still underway.

#Icareaboutpeace international peace day briefing

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To keep up engagement on this issue, Rebuilding Alliance brought two families from the South Hebron Hills to an International Peace Day Briefing in Washington, DC, where the children presented their pinwheels for peace. They also met personally with Senator Dianne Feinstein, who tweeted her support for the village. The briefing, sponsored in the House, was extremely well attended and gave an important boost to our Congressional outreach effort. The tour also included trips to New York City and New Haven, CT, to meet with student, advocacy, and peace groups. Learn more about the #SaveySusiya International Peace Day Tour by clicking here. 

2016 update:

In December 2015, the High Court of Israel asked the ICA for an update on their discussions with the villagers. The ICA confirmed that discussions were underway and reaffirmed their committment to give at least 45 days notice for demolitions in the case the discussions break down. The same day, they demolished a tent that had been put up since discussions began in August.  

In response, the Court set another hearing date for next August. Susiya and its representatives are not sure if it will be to request another update or to resume the court proceedings, but our partners say that they believe the village has a better chance to remain standing by continuing discussions than they do in a court hearing.

Susiya needs ongoing expressions of concern from the international community. Rebuilding Alliance is rebooting its Contact Congress program to encourage our elected officials to call the Israeli Embassy and encourage them to keep up discussions with the villagers and approve the village's master plan. 

2017 update

  • On Wednesday, Nov. 22nd, the Government of Israel finally responded as required by the High Court. The Government announced their decision to demolish 20 buildings in Susiya (20% of the village) on or before Dec. 6th.
  • The Gov't also claimed that until the planning issue of "adjacent side" is debated, for which there is not a time frame, the State will not demolish the rest of the homes, provided there is no further construction and no change in occupancy.
  • Quoting Susiya's lawyer, Quamar Mishirqi, "This issue is absurd and the community cannot stand by this condition, particularly due to the urgent humanitarian needs of the community. There is natural growth of the community. For example, Haled has 17 children and grandchildren in his tent. Even repair and maintenance work on tents is considered "construction" and this kind of work could danger the entire village in the light of the State's threat to demolish the entire village.
  • On Dec. 4th, the Government of Israel issued their formal notification to the High Court of Israel, stating they intend to where previously 20% of the structures were facing imminent demolition, now 40% of structures in the village, including the only school in the village and solar panels built with European funding, are facing immediate demolition.
  • On Dec. 28th, Susiya’s attorney responded to the High Court petitioning for an injunction against demolition until after the central issue, the approval of Palestinian Susiya’s master plan, is resolved. The attorney also requested the Government of Israel prove that any of the structures cited for imminent demolition are in violation.
  • On Jan. 8th, when the Government of Israel missed a deadline, the High Court of Israel stated that the Government must respond to the planning issues noted in the petition, and only the 15 "original" homes are at immediate risk of demolition – not the additional ones added by the Government in December. These demolition can happen with 15 days notice and so the situation remains grave and unpredictable.