By EA Liz, Southern West Bank.
Last month, tour buses brought members of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) on a visit to the South Hebron Hills. They were hosted by Regavim, a settlers’ group lobbying for settlement expansion. Settlements are towns built on Palestinian-owned land in the occupied West Bank to house Israeli residents, known as settlers. When the tour stopped at the Palestinian village of Susiya, a large crowd was waiting.Among the villagers and Israeli peace activists were two Jewish students, one from Britain and the other from Canada. Both support The Centre for Jewish Nonviolence. Both oppose Regavim. “I’m here because I think human rights are for everyone,” the young Briton told us. “Regavim promotes policies that deny Palestinians their rights and, as a Jew myself, I think that’s wrong.”
Susiya is in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. It is located in Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank land. Under the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, Israel agreed to administer Area C for the benefit of the people living there, although this arrangement was meant to last for five years ahead of the formation of an independent Palestinian state. Over 20 years later, the situation remains the same and far from making Susiya secure, the whole village is now under threat of demolition.
The Israeli government says that the village has no building permit. This is true. The original, ancient stone-built village of Susiya was demolished by the Israeli government in the mid-80s. Since then, the villagers have been unable to obtain a permit to rebuild on their own land. The Israeli government rarely permits Palestinian communities to build on their own land in Area C. More than 98% of applications are refused. According to the Israeli government, the present day village of Susiya, made up of temporary structures, is illegal and should not exist.The British student explained: “Regavim believes the occupied West Bank is part of the Jewish state. They say that they want to preserve its ‘treasures’ and ‘environment’. But they mean taking all its assets and all the land for Jews. In their view, there is no place for Palestinians. They want to demolish this village of 400 people so they can expand their own settlement in its place. But if Susiya is demolished, where can the people go? In my view, it is an abuse of human rights to deprive them of their own land, their homes and their livelihoods.”
Israeli settlements in Area C have long been supported and encouraged by the Israeli government. All settlements are provided with essential services like mains water, electricity and tarmac roads. This contravenes Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention which states that an occupying power cannot transfer its own population into the territory it occupies.
Some Israelis are concerned about the continuing expansion of settlements. When the Knesset came to Susiya, a Rabbi campaigning for human rights spoke to the media and warned the Knesset members about the injustice they were proposing. He reminded them of the words of Chaim Weizman, the first president of Israel: “The world will judge the Jewish state according to how she treats the Arabs.”Also opposing the Knesset visit were members of Ta’ayush, which means ‘living together’ in Hebrew. This group brings Israelis into the West Bank to take part in nonviolent actions to support Palestinian communities. They stand beside Palestinians asserting their rights to their land; they protest against demolitions and help with the clear up and rebuilding.
The presence of all these Israeli activists that day at Susiya was encouraging. The demonstration that Regavim and the Knesset members saw was peaceful but sent a clear message: However you try and present it, the demolition of a village results in the forced displacement of the population. This is illegal under Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
In the first eight months of 2016, 234 homes were demolished in the West Bank, making more than 1,000 people homeless. This is a 60% increase on the whole of 2015. Pressure groups like Regavim are successfully influencing the Israeli government to do more.
Message your elected representative: The Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Their establishment has already caused displacement of populations and deprivation of livelihoods. These are human rights abuses which are continuing to this day and are planned for the future. The recently announced planned expansion of settlements will cause further abuse. Ask your MP (in the UK) or TD (in Ireland) to raise this issue with the Foreign Secretary/Minister and send you his reply.