Life in Susiya, the Palestinian village under threat from Israeli bulldozers

Israeli military may demolish small Palestinian village
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Story highlights

  • Israeli authorities have denied villagers in Susiya permission to build, saying the land does not belong to them
  • Palestinian residents insist the land is theirs, but they have been denied a court injunction to stop their homes being demolished
  • Many in the international community have appealed to Israel not to send in the bulldozers

Susiya, West Bank (CNN)In a rocky valley in the southern West Bank, life goes on as it has for years: Children play on the swings in the hot sun as their parents prepare meals, clean their homes and feed their chickens and sheep.

But this is the Palestinian village of Susiya, and the people here are living in limbo, worrying for their future as they fear the arrival of Israeli bulldozers.
    Residents and campaigners worry that Susiya, a cluster of tents and ramshackle outbuildings, is on borrowed time. It sits next to a Jewish settlement of the same name. Israeli settlers also run a nearby archeological site which the Palestinians say was their original home before being forced off, a point disputed by some Israelis.
    The village is at the center of an international dispute.
    Israeli authorities have denied the villagers permission to build, in part because they say the village does not have proper infrastructure, and because those who live here don't own the land. But the Palestinians insist the land is theirs.
    Susiya's residents were recently denied a court injunction to stop Israeli authorities leveling their homes ahead of a High Court hearing on August 3.
    "At any time, the bulldozers could come and wipe this place off the map," explains Rabbi Arik Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights, which has been battling to save the village.
    Ascherman says he's lost count of the number of times Susiya has been either completely or partially demolished. Each time, the residents rebuild.
    Nass'r Nawaja told CNN 150 Palestinians -- including some 45 children -- would be made homeless if the village was razed to the ground.
    "Where [will] the children go? They'll be without home ... very difficult," he says.
    Many of the community's most important structures were donated by EU member states; the village's solar panels were a gift from Germany.
    Now the international community is trying to save Susiya.
    "Susiya is emblematic of a pattern of injustice that is repeating itself across many parts of the West Bank," said Robert Piper, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
    "Too many communities are coming under multiple threats and intimidation - by legal process, by bulldozer, by settler violence - to relocate completely or relinquish surrounding agricultural and grazing lands on which their livelihoods depend.
    "The international community cannot stand by and witness these acts in silence," he said.
    The European Union has called on Israel to halt plans for the "forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure" in Susiya and Abu Nwar.
    And the United States is weighing in too - the U.S. Consul General Dorothy Shea recently made a rare visit to Susiya to signal her opposition to the Israeli plans.
    "Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative," says U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.
    Israel's Interior Minister Silvan Shalom insists any demolition would have to be pre-approved: "If something like that would happen, it would be only after it was authorized by our courts, and if we do so, it means that they are not there ... they should not stay there because it's not their own land."
    Israeli authorities say they've met with residents to look at "alternative solutions," but the villagers say the proposed alternative -- to move to a nearby Palestinian town -- won't work.
    "The property and land proposed by the state already belongs to other Palestinians," says Azem Nawarja, a father of seven and grandfather of five. "How are we supposed to live on the ruins of others?"
    If Israel does go ahead with its plans to bulldoze Susiya, the villagers have vowed to build again.
    "Every time they demolish it we will build again, we will build our tents over again and continue our lives," says unemployed electrician Azem. "It only gives us more power and strength and determination to remain."