Area C of the West Bank makes up about 60% of the West Bank. Prior to 1971, Jordanian Planning Law applied to the region, giving local planning committees (communities in the area) the ability to zone and plan. District Committees could approve community plans and were represented by people from surrounding communities, offering appeals for any grievances. In 1971, a number of provisions were abolished including the two above. And so now, to build on the land in Area C requires permission from Israeli Civil Administration, which has absolutely no Palestinian representation. According to a UN report in 2009:
“Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in some 70 percent of Area C, while in the remaining 30 percent, a range of restrictions virtually eliminate the possibility of obtaining a building permit.”
– As a consequence of a vastly discriminatory policy toward settlement building (Israeli settlements – according to the UN report – by contrast, include settlers in the planning and zoning process), and the inability in law for local communities to have any input into planning and zoning, Palestinians in Area C are forced into creating tiny villages, without basic human requirements, that Israel – having completely abandoned its responsibility toward the welfare of all who live in Area C – considers ‘illegal’ (it’s easy to refer to people as ‘illegal’ when you’ve taken away their right to have any say over the process of planning). Thus villages like Khirbet Susiya.
The EU, the UK, the US, Palestinians, Rabbis For Human Rights, and Israeli activists are united in the fight to save the tiny Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya in the occupied territories from being demolished by Israeli authorities. It is a village of around 300 Palestinian people, next to an Israeli settlement and an archaeological site, both of which were inhabited by Palestinians prior to a string of evictions and the building of Israeli settlements & sites. Whilst most of the World notes how one-sided & discriminatory the settlement building project is in the West Bank, the Israeli right wing – in all its desperation – has decided upon a quite bizarre claim in order to justify the demolition of the village. Nadav Abramov- manages the declared national heritage site at the ancient Jewish village Susya – says:
“…there is no village here. This is a hamula, a family (of Arabs) that arrived 20 years ago from (the nearby town of) Yatta; they settled on agricultural land upon which building is forbidden, including the archaeological site of Susya, they built tents and tin shacks all while illegally squatting.”
– This is a lovely little victim blaming narrative, but it lacks that important element of basic truth. Take for example the quickness to claim Susya as an archaeological site. This is true, but it was declared an archaeological site after Palestinians living on it were expelled from it in the 1980s, from there they were moved to a nearby village, in 2001 they were expelled again, and from there they moved where they are now. Their threat of eviction is due entirely to the discriminatory planning laws. According to al-monitor, a 70 year old villager named ‘Muhammad Nawajeh’ has been forceably moved on from his home in Tel Arad in the 1950s, and then from his home in Susiya, and now from his home in Khirbet Susiya. He isn’t a man trying his best to undermine the state of Israel, he isn’t an Iranian general who thinks Israel should be wiped off the map, or Hamas dedicated to a Theocratic hellhole. He is a man who has lived his entire life under the threat of eviction simply for existing in an area of the World dominated by the political ambitions of religious fanatics.
“The synagogue is located in an area known as the lands of Khirbet Susiya, surrounded by an Arab village, which is situated among ancient ruins. The lands of Khirbet Susiya are registered with the Israel Land Authority (ILA) as territory spanning 3,000 dunams and privately owned by numerous Arabs.”
– Whilst Israel’s right wing insist the village was built illegally (a word that the UN General Assembly, the UNSC, & the ICJ use to describe Israel’s continued settlement building projects in the area) Israeli planning laws are so vastly discriminatory in the region, that make it easy for Israeli settlements to expand and prosper (a key block to any peace negotiation) whilst making it practically impossible for Palestinian people to gain permission to live on land that they should never have been removed from in the first place.
The World Bank in a report in 2008 noted that harsh one-sided controls over planning and zoning in Area C – which has a knock-on effect for Palestinian communities across the West Bank, given its agricultural significance – mean that Israeli policy in the area:
“… “has become an increasingly severe constraint to [Palestinian] economic activity.”
– The World Bank continues:
“Using the powers of the 1967 Military Order that requires permits for all water structures, Israel monitors and intervenes to control all water related activities in Area C. There has also been use of military control in Area C to enforce Israeli authority over water resources … Even rainwater harvesting cisterns have been destroyed by the IDF.”
– Israel has a responsibility to the people in territory that it occupies, to ensure their needs are met, and the communities can thrive. It must not discriminate or privilege its own people. At the moment, it is still breaking that responsibility. In 1995, the Interim Agreement describes Area C as:
“…areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”
– And whilst the Interim Agreement clearly implied gradual transfer of power from the Israeli Civil Administration to the Palestinian Authority to be completed by 1999, today Palestinians still have absolutely no role in planning and zoning in the region. And so, with no control, and discriminatory policy by the ICA, Palestinians build “illegally” on land that was either theirs originally, or that they’ve been disenfranchised from having any say over by an occupying force, with the threat of demolition and displacement looming daily. This is the case with Khirbet Susiya. The cruel evictions of people who are not a threat, they are not Hamas, people who have already been evicted and replaced by Israeli settlers & sites whilst their own needs haven’t been met by the occupying force, has angered communities across the World, that it is now being met with manipulative narratives from the Israeli right wing. That the Israeli right wing does not get to rewrite the history of powerless Palestinian communities, is an important acknowledgement to make if a peaceful future for the region is ever to be achieved.
Khirbet Susiya must be protected, it must be given the opportunity to thrive; linked up to water and power supplies, the people’s right to health and education in an occupied region must be guaranteed by the occupying force, but most of all, its people must be given key input into its continued growth. Privileging your own citizens in occupied territory whilst sisenfranchising, dispossessing, and dehumanising others is not a policy upon which peaceful relations and any future permanent deal can be achieved. They have suffered for long enough.