The road to Susiya…
With all of the excitement in North Korea and
Syria Boston at the moment, the protests and upheaval in the West Bank over the past few months has gone relatively unnoticed by the broader world. However, enough of you have noticed it that I have gotten several email requests for more information and details on life for Palestinians in the West Bank. So, always happy to fulfill requests, I thought I would profile a specific village in the West Bank that perfectly encapsulates the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
I suppose this serves as a good companion post to the previous post as the events in this piece make a lot more sense if one has the background from the prior post.
So, without further ado, welcome to Susiya:
The “village” of Susiya that you see below is relatively new. Close by to this location there used to be a proper village that served as home to more than 500 Palestinian families. However, in 1986 ruins of a Jewish synagogue from the Roman period were discovered nearby and the Israeli government evicted all residents of Susiya from what was immediately declared an archaeological zone. When the villagers attempted to return to land they owned near the archaeological zone, they found that the Israeli Susiya Settlement, established in 1983, had expanded overnight to include much of what used to be their village:
So, after winning several court battles, the villagers began to build houses and cisterns on nearby agricultural land where they had been relocated. However, because the Israeli military has decreed that there can be no permanent (Palestinian) structures in the area and the Susiya residents, thus, had no building permits (the permits are very difficult for Palestinians to obtain), the IDF demolished the structures several times in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Being human, and therefore being stubborn, and also bolstered by their victories in Israeli courts, the residents of Susiya continued to rebuild anyway, only for the structures – now just tents – to keep being demolished by the Israeli military.
As such, Susiya is a rather depressing place to visit as it looks and feels much like the refugee camp that it more or less is. An impression that is further driven home when one first walks into Susiya:
Today, only 24 Palestinian families remain on Susiya’s rocky slopes:
The village is somewhat spread out and so these pictures are each of a different part of the village:
One of the children in the village:
Some scenes from Susiya:
Despite the circumstances in which they find themselves, the people of the village were very warm and hospitable to us:
It’s tough for the Palestinians to scratch out a living here.
Some people raise sheep… If you enlarge the picture, you can see a shepherd with his flock in the background:
Some raise poultry:
Some commute elsewhere:
And others grow olives:
However, all of the above are increasingly impacted by the nearby Israeli settlement (also named Susiya) that is expanding into the Susiya that is featured in this post.
A view from Palestinian Susiya toward the nearby Susiya Settlement (the buildings on top of the opposite hill):
A short walk down the hill from Susiya reveals some examples of these impacts I mentioned:
One of the first things we were shown were the ruins of this cave that used to serve as a storehouse and home. However, the Israelis bulldozed it to discourage the Palestinians from sticking around. The justification provided for this action was that terrorists could hide in the caves:
Farther down, one comes to the rubble pictured below, which is all that remains of the main cistern that used to serve the community. The cistern was bulldozed on a separate occasion from the caves in order to further deter Palestinians from remaining in the area:
Susiya is located in Area C… Remember the ABCs from the previous post?
To quickly recap for those just joining our program, Area C is a zone defined by the Oslo Accords that encompasses about 60% of the land in the West Bank – land on which the Israeli government controls access to civil services (including water).
Settlers have contaminated Susiya’s remaining cisterns (a popular practice is to throw dead chickens in them) and, thus, without access to the cisterns, water must be trucked in, which is hugely expensive. During the summer, Susiya residents are compelled to pay nearly $10 per cubic meter of water – about five times what Israelis pay.
As Heather Kathryn Ross articulates well in New Internationalist…
In order to legally build any public or private structures, improve existing ones, or bolster infrastructure, Palestinians in Area C must obtain permits from the Israeli government. According to a 2008 World Bank report, 91 Palestinian construction permits were granted in Area C out of 1,624 requests made between 2000 and 2007 – an approval rate of only six per cent. During that same period, 4,993 demolition orders were issued against Palestinian buildings and 1,663 were carried out.
Because water pipelines, wells, cisterns and filling points also require permits, which are rarely approved, Palestinian access to water is restricted, by and large, to wells dug before 1967.
According to the Palestinian Water Authority, Palestinian extraction of water in the West Bank is limited to 17 per cent of what exists in the area’s aquifers; Israel extracts the other 83 per cent for use by West Bank settlers and other Israelis or for sale back to the Palestinians. In 2009, Amnesty International reported that Palestinians in the Territories – many of whom are farmers and herders who depend on water for their livelihoods – each use an average of 70 litres of water per day. This is well below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of 100 litres per day, and a quarter of what an average Israeli consumes. The World Bank reports that nearly 60 per cent of communities in the Hebron governorate, including Susiya, have no access to running water at all.
One of the residents of Susiya that showed us around…
…and left me with the following quote:
They’re calling our village an illegal outpost. These lands are ours from before there was a State of Israel. My father is older than your state [Israel] — and I am an illegal alien on my own land. I ask where is justice? Your [Israeli] courts distinguish between the settler and the Palestinian… We’re surrounded by illegal outposts [built by settlers] that have everything — infrastructures of water and electricity — despite the fact that these settlements are illegal even under Israeli law. And now you want to expel us from our homes once again? To expel all of us who own these lands, who have lived on them for generations in this space that is ours, which is all we know?