By the South Hebron Hills team.
Before us about 20 tents mostly made out of black or white tarpaulin sheets are nestled into the rugged landscape. The only sounds that can be heard are the faint sound of a television in one of the furthest tents, sometimes the bleat of a sheep, our footsteps, and the wind lifting up the dust earth beneath us; it barely alleviates the stifling summer heat. A number of small water cisterns are scattered amongst the tents. It looks like a makeshift camp even though it has been here for decades. We are in the Palestinian village of Susiya, in the south of the West Bank. Here there is no proper infrastructure, no running water or electricity supply. It stands in stark contrast to the Israeli settlement nearby, which looks like your average 21st century housing estate (settlements are fully integrated into Israel’s national power grid, water and telecommunication systems).
A few minutes ago, Nasser, the spokesperson of the community, called us in a hurry. “People from another village called me, some bulldozers are coming in the direction of Susiya”, he said in alarm. We (Ecumenical Accompaniers) were in another village South of Hebron at the time, so we quickly drove to Susiya, but when we arrived everything was quiet. Nonetheless, Nasser still fears that a demolition could occur at some point during the day, either here or in another village.
In Susiya the fear of demolition never goes away. Since the 80s, the Israeli authorities have given demolition orders to almost every structure in the village; including the bee hives.  And any time the residents build a new structure it too is threatened with demolition (even those funded by international donors as humanitarian relief). 
We are in area C of the occupied West Bank, this is the 60% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli administrative and military control. According to the Oslo agreements of 1995, Israel’s control over this area was supposed to be a temporary but over two decades later nothing has changed.
Palestinians have no planning and zoning authority for their lands and communities in area C, it is fully controlled by Israel’s Civil administration. While the Civil Administration aids the construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in area C it almost never grants master plans or building permits to Palestinian villages, even if, like Susiya, they can prove private ownership of the land.  Therefore, Palestinian communities are forced to build their homes illegally, buy their water from a private Israeli water company and rely on humanitarian organisation for solar powered electricity.
On one of the tents, an inscription already a bit shabby reads: “Susyia 4 ever”. One year ago, diplomatic missions, international organisations and peace activists from all over the world made their way here, to stand in solidarity with the villagers. The village became a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness and Israeli policies. At the time, the High Court of Justice, was expected to rule on the fate of the village, but it postponed the decision. Following international condemnation no demolitions took place and the villagers and the Israeli authorities began dialogue about approving the villages proposed master plan.
Today, as the international attention has waned, Susiya is once again under threat of demolition. On the first of August, the Israeli High Court gave the new Minister of Defence two weeks to decide whether or not to continue negotiating with the residents of Susiya. The community is pretty pessimistic. If he decides not to resume dialogue with the residents, the demolitions could be imminent. It will then be up to the Court to decide if it will accept the state’s request to demolish 40% of the village. 
“Susiya; it will soon be finished” says Ahmad, one of the villagers, as he herds his sheep to graze on the fields surrounding his village – like every day. Even if he is worried, one cannot read it on his face. Then he turns his attention to tuning in his favourite radio station to listen to, while waiting for his sheep to eat their fill. Palestinian music suddenly invades the air, interrupting the conversation.
Even if the morning’s events revealed the tension in which the villagers have to live permanently, Nasser, his wife, or his father Mohammed Nawajah, who already saw the village destroyed or displaced multiple times, also seem strangely serene. They invite us in for tea, picking the first fruits from their fig trees and offer them to us. Over time they had to find ways to continue their daily lives despite a permanently uncertain future. To carry on going to bed each night not knowing if bulldozers will be there the next morning. The peoples attitude is best summed up in the phrase often said here; “Insh’Allah”, (meaning: if God wills). The simple and quiet shepherding life goes on, and they trust that solutions will be found somehow. But the community is also determined to resist to forced displacement. It’s their land.
As we leave the village, we join the main road and after a few hundred meters we reach a junction. On the road sign, it indicates Bersheva, Israel’s door to the Neguev desert, on the right, and Kiryat Arba (an Israeli settlement next to Hebron), on the left. No mention of the two main Palestinian cities just a few kilometres away, Yatta, 70’000 inhabitants, and Hebron, almost 200’000 inhabitants. According to the road signs, they don’t exist.
As the occupying power, Israel is bound by International Humanitarian Law to protect the Palestinian civilian population and to administer the territory for their benefit. International law prohibits the destruction of private property and the forced transfer or displacement of civilians. Write to your elected representatives today asking them to urge the Government of Israel to:
- immediately stop demolishing Palestinian structures in Area C
- accept Susiya’s proposed master plan
- and to grant Palestinians access to a fair and representative planning system as well as full authority over the planning of their communities in Area C
Keep up to date with the latest developments for the Palestinian village of Susiya by following the Israeli organisation Rabbis for Human Rights.