May Palestinians live on their own land?

Clearly not according to the Israeli Government’s logic.  Take for instance the crisis faced by the inhabitants of Susiya.

This village in South Hebron Hills in the West Bank is situated very close to an Israeli settlement, which according to international law, was built illegally on Palestinian land. But these settlers want more and so they filed a petition to the Israeli High Court. The State indicated in March 2012 that it plans to demolish 70% of Susiya.

No alternatives or compensation are offered to the inhabitants. It is still icy cold in Palestine. They will loose everything. To us who worked in the West Bank, they are not faceless people. They are not “Arab terrorists.”  They are people with families, who love and live and have dreams for their children. They live legally on the land of their forefathers, the land allotted to them by the United Nations in 1948. International law protects their human rights…. or does it?

Most of that land allocated to the Palestinians has already been taken by Israel in illegal ways. Palestinians have only 22% left of what was given to them in 1948, and of this 22%, Israel occupies (in the West Bank) a further 60%

Information from a fact sheet by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (UNOCHA otP):

Susiya families, who have lived in the community since before 1948, face some of the worst living conditions in Area C. Residents, who own the land in the  community, used to live in houses, but these were destroyed by the Israeli authorities. They now live in tents and tin shelters. Residents, who rely on agriculture and herding for their livelihood, depend on rainwater cisterns, as the community is not connected to the water network and there are no nearby filling points.

A demolished house in Jericho. Here too Israel claimed it was necessary to protect an archaeological site, but is this the real reason?

KEY FACTS (from an UNOCHA fact sheet, March 2012):
  • Susiya has a population of some 350 people, including 120 children.
  • In 1986, the main residential area of the community was declared an archaeological site by the Israeli authorities and approximately 60 families were forcibly displaced, without any compensation according to residents; an Israeli settlement outpost, Suseya Synagogue, was subsequently established in the same area.
  • The Israeli settlement of Suseya, est. 1983, and the outpost, est. 2002, control land that is ten times larger than the built-up area of both Israeli settlements, much of which is privately-owned Palestinian land. (source: Rabbis for Human Rights)
  • Susiya residents now have access to less than one-third of the approximately 6,000 dunums of land that were previously available to them for residential, agricultural and herding purposes.
  • In 2001, all structures in the community were demolished and the residents forcibly displaced again.
  • In 2011, the Israeli authorities carried out four waves of demolitions, targeting 41 structures, including 31 residential tents or shacks and two water cisterns, repeatedly displacing 37 people (including 20 children) and affecting another 70.
  • At least 70 percent of the existing structures in the community, including the school, have pending demolition orders.
  • Residents pay 25 NIS per cubic meter of tankered water, five times more than the nearby illegal Israeli settlement, which is served by the national network, and spend up to 1/3 of their income on water.
  • Water consumption is 28 litres/capita/day (l/c/d), significantly less than the 70 l/c/d consumed by an average Palestinian and well below the World Health Organisation standard of 100 l/c/d. (WASH cluster)

There is a clear pattern of discrimination between Susiya and the nearby Israeli settlements, particularly regarding planning and zoning. The illegal Israeli Suseya settlement has an approved plan that allows construction. While the structures in the nearby Israeli outpost lack a building permit, the Israeli Civil Authority (which is actually a military body) has carried out no demolitions here and to discriminate even further, the illegal Israeli outpost is connected to the water and electricity networks.

Susiya residents are exposed to systematic intimidation and abuse from settlers, in an attempt to forcefully displace them…..  to have no home in one’s own land. The cases recorded include physical assaults, verbal harassment and prevention of access to their land and hence their livelihood. Of course these ongoing abuses damage people on a psycho-social level…. particularly children who have not yet developed coping strategies.

This seems to be a deliberate Israeli strategy.  For if Palestinian communities in Area C my not build or live on their land and if there is no freeze on demolitions, the situation in these communities will continue to deteriorate, increasing their risk of forced displacement and hence undermining Palestinian presence in Area C of the West Bank.  This seems to be what Israel wants. The ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements counter to international humanitarian law, and together with that the persistent settler violence which the Israeli authorities consistently fail to investigate, make matters worse and all of this play into the forceful removal of locals.

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

The case of Susiya is unfortunately not unique. See also my post on Al ‘Aqaba where 97% of the village is under threat of demolition by Israel.
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