Why Susya is “Illegal”

[This piece was originally published on the Daily Beast, via Peter Beinart’s blog, Open Zion].

Israel plans to demolish the entire village of Susya.  Defending the proposed demolition, the “Defense/Security” section of the settler news site Arutz Sheva (they file anything relating to Arabs under “defense” or “security”) calls Susya an “illegal Arab outpost in the southern Hevron Hills.” Their arguments are lousy and typical apologetics for Israel’s unjust land policies in the West Bank.

Arutz Sheva, like the Israeli government, claims that Susya, and other Palestinian villages in Area C, are built without permits and are therefore “illegal.” That is to say, if “the Arabs” were only to build with permits, they would be legal, and Israel would not destroy their houses (or, in this case, their entire village).


Members of the Palestinian Nawajaa family are seen outside their tent near the cave they used to live in in Susya, near the West Bank city of Hebron. (Eitan Abramovich / AFP / Getty Images)

But there is no “law.” In the West Bank there is one set of laws for Jews and another set entirely for Arabs.

While it is likely true that Susya residents did not seek permits from the Israeli Civil Administration, that fact needs to be put in context. It is virtually impossible for an Arab living in Area C (over 60% of the West Bank under complete Israeli civil and military control since the Oslo Accords) to receive a permit to build. According to Israeli planning rights group Bimkom, from 2000-2008, an average of 95% of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C were rejected.  95%.

In other words, a Palestinian from Susya could, hypothetically, apply for a permit on the 5% off-chance that it will be accepted. If the permit is not granted, on the 95% on-chance, the house will be moved directly into the Israeli Civil Administration’s sites, and Israel will likely demolish the house.

The distortions don’t stop there. The claim is that Susya was built by “Arabs from PA-controlled parts of Judaea and Samaria.” One must presume the reference is to Area A, the 15-or-so% of the West Bank under the PA’s civil and partial-security control (why partial? Because Israel still conducts military raids into Area A, like this one conducted last month in Jenin in which Israeli soldiers kidnapped a Palestinian Theatre activist).

But Susya was not “set up by Arabs from PA-controlled parts of Judaea and Samaria.” Susya, like many Palestinian villages in Area C, existed prior to 1948, prior to Israel, and certainly prior to the PA. It is, like many Palestinian villages in Area C, largely populated by Palestinians who fled—or were expelled—from what is now Israel (in the case of Susya, many of residents are from the area near Arad). It is true that today’s Susya is not located in exactly the same place as historical Susya, but it is not, as the erroneously claim goes, connected to “land used for IDF training” (although, again, they is correct in pointing out that the confiscation of Palestinian land under the guide of IDF training is indeed a common Israeli method of takeover).

Today’s Susya is located on the agricultural lands of historic Susya, from which residents were forcibly expelled, not in 1948, but in 1986, after Israeli archeologists found “remnants of a synagogue.”

So yes: Susya is illegal, but not in way Arutz Sheva say it is. Susya is illegal under Israeli occupation “law” because it is Palestinian.