‘Don’t open up an international front over Sussiya demolitions’

Residents of West Bank village to EU: Stop trade with Israel

By
July 20, 2015 00:56
A Palestinian boy places a Palestinian flag on a tent in the West Bank village of Sussiya

A Palestinian boy places a Palestinian flag on a tent in the West Bank village of Sussiya. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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With Israel facing Palestinian challenges at the ICC and quite possibly at the Security Council, this is not the time to open up another front with the international community and demolish illegal Palestinian homes in Sussiya, sources in Jerusalem said Sunday.

The comments came following a stern warning from the US on Thursday not to demolish the structures, located near the settlement of the same name.

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The issue, according to the sources, may be discussed at the meeting of European Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council, in Brussels, on Monday.

In advance of that meeting, Palestinians living in the village of Sussiya called on the European Union on Sunday to suspend its trade agreement with Israel to protest the pending demolition of unauthorized homes in their herding community in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank. European support for Sussiya must be backed with action, the community spokesman Nasser Muhammed Nawajah wrote in a letter he sent to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“Until today European support of the Israeli economy is expressed in the preferential conditions that Israel receives under its trade and association agreements with Europe. The association agreement stipulates that ‘relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles’ and that this ‘constitutes an essential element of this agreement,’” he wrote.

“In our opinion Sussiya is one example of how Israel continues to violate these principles and therefore we urge you to suspend Europe’s trade agreement with Israel as well as end trade with companies operating in settlements on occupied territories until Israel fulfills its obligation under international law,” he wrote.

A copy of the letter was posted on the twitter site of the Palestinian NGO Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.



Even though there are no new developments in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, or perhaps precisely because of that, the FAC is expected to issue a statement on the “Middle East Peace Process” after Monday’s meeting. Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that while Israel would have preferred no statement at this time, since nothing is moving, Israel is not bracing for overly harsh conclusions.

Nevertheless, one source said that at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to signal the international community that he is interested in moving the diplomatic process forward – last week he was quoted as saying that this is not the time to build in the settlements – a decision to demolish the homes now would significantly set those efforts back.

The High Court of Justice denied a petition to block demolition of the illegally built structures in May, but in spite of the assuring words against such a razing by Jerusalem sources, the Civil Administration appears ready to move forward with the demolition of some 30 of the 80 structures in Sussiya.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby, reading from a statement, said, “We’re closely following developments in the village of Sussiya in the West Bank, and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village.”

Kirby said the demolition “of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative.”

“Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted,” Kirby said. “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.”

“We urge Israeli authorities to work with the residents of the village to finalize a plan for the village that addresses the residents’ humanitarian needs.”

The State Department echoed a similar plea from the EU, which last month called on Israel not to demolish the illegal village.

Last week, the Civil Administration sent the NGO Rabbis for Human Rights a list of 30 structures in Sussiya and another six in adjacent Wadi Jahish that it intends to demolish by August 3.

Some 21 of the Sussiya structures and three of the Wadi Jahish structures were built with funding from the EU and individual European governments.

Rabbis for Human Rights has a petition pending before the High Court to help legalize Sussiya, in which some 340 Palestinians live in temporary structures, including tents and shacks. But there is no corresponding HCJ petition with regard to Wadi Jahish. Until last week the residents of Wadi Jahish did not know that structures within their village were under threat of immediate demolition.

On Thursday, US Deputy Consul General in Jerusalem Dorothy Shea visited Sussiya in a show of solidarity with the village.

Last month, the EU representative to the Palestinian Authority, John Gatt-Rutter, made a similar visit to Sussiya and also called on Israel to legalize the structures.

The NGO Regavim, which fights against illegal Palestinian and Israeli-Arab construction, sent a submission to the High Court in March with regard to Sussiya. It said it was not a long-standing village, but rather an attempt by Palestinians to create a new community in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli civil and military control.

Last Sunday, the Civil Administration met with the residents of Sussiya to try to find an alternative site for the village, but no resolution to the issue has been reached. One plan, which the villagers rejected, is to relocate them to property belonging to other Palestinians from the nearby village of Yatta.

According to B’Tselem - The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 14 of the 30 structures slated for demolition in Sussiya are residential, housing 74 people. The additional structures include a medical clinic and eight shelters for animals, as well as kitchens, outhouses and storage spaces. In total, Sussiya has around 80 structures of which 30 are residential, according to B’Tselem.

In Wadi Jahish, four of the six structures the state wants to raze are residential, housing 17 people, according to B’Tselem. In addition, it wants to remove a goat pen and a kitchen. In total, Wadi Jahish has 13 structures of which five are residential.

But the international community has focused its attention on the battle to save Sussiya.

Sussiya was initially located in the middle of an archeological site in Area C of the West Bank, but in 1986, the IDF forced the village to relocate to its present location. The villagers rebuilt their homes of tents and temporary structures on agricultural land they owned just a few hundred meters away from the village’s original site.

The Civil Administration razed the village a number of times following its relocation. The village has been engaged in legal battles with the state since 2001. In 2011, the Civil Administration demolished 10 residential structures in the village and reissued demolition orders against the entire village in 2012.

When it failed to execute those orders, Regavim petitioned the High Court to force the state to raze the village.

In response, Rabbis for Human Rights submitted to the Civil Administration a building and zoning plan for the village, so that the homes could be authorized, rather than demolished.

The High Court agreed to hear the case, but in May it rejected the request for an injunction to prevent the demolition of the village during the judicial proceedings

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