Susya & Beyond

The Palestinian village of Susya is located in a part of the West Bank that would become part of a Palestinian state under any conceivable peace plan. Yet it's threatened with demolition.

Area C

The Oslo II Accord split the West Bank into three administrative divisions. Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, is under full Israeli civil and security control. It is home to roughly 350,000 Israeli settlers and over 200,000 Palestinians.

Susya is a small Palestinian village in the West Bank, parts of which have been repeatedly demolished by the Israeli government. That threat emerged again this past summer, when the Israeli government withdrew from negotiations with the villagers about a long-term plan for Susya’s future. J Street has actively opposed Susya’s demolition and urged the State Department to ensure that it does not go forward.

In addition to leaving approximately 100 people homeless, Susya’s demolition would have broader implications for a two-state solution. Right now, the Israeli government is engaged in a process of “creeping annexation” of Area C of the West Bank, which, if successful, would be a significant stumbling block on the path to peace. The Israeli government accomplishes this in part by demolishing Palestinian villages to make way for more settlements. Moreover, Susya has become a symbol in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its demolition would further undermine confidence in Israel’s commitment to peace.

That’s why the destruction of Susya would leave more than a village in shambles — and why we’re engaged in a campaign not just to save Susya, but to preserve the two-state solution. Following our call to action, the State Department made clear their opposition to Susya’s demolition. Shortly afterwards, Israel announced that the decision would be postponed. As we approach the deadline, we have to ensure that the US continues to put weight behind its longstanding opposition to settlement expansion and Palestinian dispossession by standing up for Susya.

 Background

Where and what is Susya?

Susya is a small village in the south of the West Bank near the Green Line. It is the site of the remains of a 5th-8th century CE synagogue which was converted into a mosque over a thousand years ago. Over the centuries, Arab families settled and farmed the land and established ownership rights backed up by documents.

The current Palestinian population is around 350. Over the past 30 years, these residents have been the victims of repeated expulsions and home demolitions by the IDF. The residents have always tried to return and rebuild their homes on or near the original site (without building permits that the Israeli military refuses to grant them.)

Meanwhile, in 1983, an Israeli settlement was established a mile away and has grown steadily ever since to the point that it now has a population of around 1000. An additional Israeli outpost was established nearby in 2002 without Israeli planning permission and has not been removed.

The village is located in Area C of the West Bank where all civil and security affairs are run by the IDF through its Civil Administration.

Why is Susya facing the threat of demolition?

Susya was built without permits. Illegal construction in the West Bank is widespread because there are no other options; Israeli authorities systematically refuse to grant Palestinians building permits or recognize any planning rights. The Israeli army rejects 90 percent of Palestinian planning requests in Area C, and most villages in the area face almost identical restrictions and demolition threats.

Settlements for Jewish Israelis are not subject to anywhere near the same level of oversight or restriction as Palestinians when it comes to construction. And when settlers do build outposts illegally, as frequently happens, they only very rarely face government action and home demolitions.

There is also mounting political pressure from opponents of a two-state solution. These groups — like the pro-settlement organization Regavim — have been lobbying the Israeli government to demolish Susya and other Palestinian villages. Many on the far-right hope that the demolition of Susya will make room for more Israeli settlements. They also hope to make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

What’s been the international reaction so far?

Both the United States and the European Union have been actively involved in this issue. In July 2015 the State Department warned Israel against demolishing the village. Spokesman John Kirby strongly urged Israel not to carry out demolitions in Susya, saying they would be “harmful and provocative.” He added: “Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted. We are concerned that the demolition of this village may worsen the atmosphere for a peaceful resolution and would set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation, particularly given settlement-related activity in the area.

Members of Congress has also taken a stand to Save Susya. In 2016, Senator Diane Feinstein released a statement calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to destroy the village: “ It would be outrageous if Israel where to demolish these homes when the villagers have claims to their land dating back to the Ottoman Empire, ownership that has never been challenged by the government.”

Further reading

Read our profiles of Regavim, the organization at the forefront of the effort to demolish Susya, and Friends of Elon Moreh. Over the coming weeks, watch out for further profiles of organizations that work to dispossess Palestinians and expand West Bank settlements — all while benefitting from tax-free donations from the US.

Our efforts so far

Over twelve-thousand people signed a J Street petition to Secretary of State Kerry, urging him to weigh in with the Israeli government and make clear that the demolition of the village is unacceptable. J Street U students held a solidarity shabbat and reached out to Jewish communal leaders, asking them to speak out to #SaveSusya.

Why are we asking the State Department to weigh in?

The State Department is the main representative of US foreign policy interests. They have repeatedly made clear that ongoing settlement activity and home demolitions in the West Bank worsen the situation in the region and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.

Recently, the Department’s spokesperson made clear that “this is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Given this ongoing concern, it is vital that the US government take all appropriate steps to ensure that the demolition of Susya not move forward. If we are serious about improving the situation on the ground and protecting the path to a two-state solution, now is the time to decisively act.

We’ve seen some real results. The State Department publicly announced their strong opposition to any demolitions in Susya – and reportedly applied pressure behind the scenes. Multiple Israeli outlets reported that this pressure led Prime Minister Netanyahu to urge Defense Minister Lieberman to postpone the demolition.

Ultimately, Lieberman requested a two-and-a-half month delay in deciding Susya’s fate. This doesn’t remove the threat of demolition, but it’s a sign that the pressure we’ve helped to generate has been felt.

Now we need to keep it up.

My Visit to Susya

Jeremy Ben-Ami recounts his recent visit with the people of Susya