Re: Susiya

Re:  I Care About Peace, I Care About Susiya

Dear Secretary Kerry,

This request is time-critical.  We urge you to take full and immediate diplomatic action to prevent the demolition of the Palestinian Village of Susiya.  Please obtain the full assurance of the Government of Israel that the Palestinian Village of Susiya will remain standing on the land they own.

Because the State of Israel was unusually adamant in their opposition to a freeze order (a temporary injunction against demolition), there is good reason for concern that demolitions will take place, even before the village’s appeal is heard by Israel’s High Court on August 3rd.  On Jul. 8th the Israeli Army and the Army’s Civil Administration returned to Susiya to photograph the village for a 2nd time, a procedure that usually precedes demolitions.  Please note that human rights groups are taking these warnings very seriously and the diplomatic missions of all the countries that have invested in Susiya are visiting daily.

The recent decisions by the High Court of Israel regarding the Palestinian Village of Susiya raise grave concern about the future of Palestinian communities in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank where Israel maintains full control over planning and zoning.  These communities are under threat of demolition due to the discriminatory planning procedures within Area C that make building permits unattainable for Palestinian families. 

As summarized in the UNOCHA fact sheet, Susiya: a Community at Imminent Risk of Forced Displacement, Susiya, located in the Hebron Governorate in the southern West Bank, is currently home to 55 nuclear families who hold undisputed title to their land and have been living there for decades.  Half of these families’ homes (28) and all the community’s public structures are located in Area C and the remaining homes are in Area B.  The nearby Israeli settlement of Susya, established in 1983 in contravention to international law, has a population of nearly 1,000, some of whom live in an unauthorized outpost erected in 2002 in the old community centre that was declared an archeological site. By the end of the 1990's the Israeli authorities have allocated over 1,500 dunums of land to the development of Susya settlement (the "municipal boundaries"), an area that is over five times larger than its current built-up area.

This is not the first time Susiya faced displacement. In 1986, the Israeli authorities declared the main residential area of Susiya an archaeological site and evicted all of its residents. Most of those who relocated were displaced again in the context of two waves of demolitions, in 2001 and in 2011, on grounds of lack of building permits, which were unattainable for lack of a master plan.

A town or village’s master plan provides an outline for the issuance of all building permits and infrastructure projects in accordance with the vision of the people who live there. It is a representation of possibilities, a plan for their future.  With funding by the British Government, over 100 Palestinian villages in Area C have now submitted master plans to the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).  Susiya filed a master plan for its village in 2012, professionally developed by a distinguished professor at Haifa University.  On Oct. 24, 2013, the ICA rejected Susiya’s master plan, not on its own merits, but because the ICA argued the villagers would be better off moving away to the nearby town of Yatta, in Area A.  With the help of Rabbi’s for Human Rights, the villagers petitioned the High Court of Israel for reconsideration of their master plan.  Although their case is scheduled to be heard in August, on May 4, 2015 the High Court of Israel refused to issue ‘freeze orders’ — temporary injunctions against demolition — putting the village at risk of demolition at any time. 

We are especially concerned about the fate of this village because, on June 9th 2015, the High Court of Israel denied the right of Palestinian villages in the West Bank’s Area C to plan their own communities, leaving all decisions on zoning and planning to the ICA with only advisory but no direct Palestinian representation when it comes to their town’s future.  This decision is akin to giving a town in another state the right to ignore your city council, bar your city’s planning, and deny your building permits, while actively conspiring to take your land.

 

On June 24th, in an effort to hold on to hope, the children of Susiya created Pinwheels for Peace, writing down what peace means and drawing what it looks like.  They wrote,

“Justice, safety, no attacks [by the settlers nearby], playing with our friends happily and freely, reconciliation, happiness, love, no Occupation, birds, freedom.” 

We are inviting two children, their parents, and a member of the Villages Group to present their Pinwheels for Peace to the U.S. Congress on Monday September 21st, International Peace Day.  Please press Israel to assure the safety of the Palestinian Village of Susiya and enable a positive and hopeful celebration of peace on International Peace Day as children throughout the world fly their Pinwheels for Peace and adults take responsibility to make their dreams real.

Please raise our serious and time-sensitive concerns with the Foreign Minister, the Head of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories’ Civil Administration division and also with the head of the Israeli Security Council and keep us informed of your progress.

 

Sincerely,