Attempts by foreign Governments and international aid agencies to politically influence the outcome of negotiations begun under the Oslo Accords in 1993 – now seriously threaten the total abandonment of those Accords.
The battleground for such foreign interference is Susiya village – located in Area C which comprises about 60% of the West Bank – but where only 5% of the current West Bank Arab population live.
Area C has remained under the total administrative and security control of Israel for the last 45 years.
All the Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank have been established in Area C.
Allocation of sovereignty in Area C was to be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap of 2002.
Those negotiations have hit a brick wall with the continuing refusal of the Palestinian Authority to resume such negotiations unless Israel places a total ban on further building in the West Bank for the duration of those negotiations.
The Governor of Hebron – Kamel Hamid - has highlighted Susiya’s problems in an open letter – stating
“I would like to draw your attention to the intention of the Israeli authorities to demolish Khirbet Susiya, located south of the town of Yatta in Hebron Governorate. The so-called Israeli “Civil Administration” has distributed final demolition orders on June 12, 2012, to 51 structures in the Khirbet while giving the population only 3 days to object to the decision. The demolition will devastate the lives of at least 160 Palestinians including 60 children. The lawyers of the Palestinian residents of the Khirbet, Rabbis for Human Rights, managed to get a freeze on the demolition for a period of 14 days from the Civil Administration only to find the decision reversed on June 17, 2012.”
Susiya has been the subject of many court cases before Israel’s High Court of Justice.
A brief – but incomplete – summary was presented to the Senate of the Australian Parliament by Senator Lee Rhiannon on 26 June 2012:
“ Since 1990 there have been a series of demolitions in Susiya and the Israeli authorities have never approved a master plan for Susiya, leaving residents unable to obtain permits for construction. In 2001 all structures were demolished and the residents were forcibly evicted. The residents’ appeal to the High Court of Justice against the action of the Israeli authorities was successful, allowing them to return to their land. In 2011 Susiya had four waves of demolition and, in 2012, the Israeli administration issued a new round of demolition orders.”
Surprisingly both the Hebron Governor and Senator Rhiannon fail to mention the current proceedings before the High Court of Justice relating to Susiya and the Court’s decision on 7 June 2012 in relation to the future conduct of those proceedings.
Foreign Governments and aid donors have been pouring millions of dollars into Susiya – despite its long running legal battles and the continuing uncertainty of tenure for its inhabitants.
Senator Lee Rhiannon told the Australian Senate:
“Right now many projects financed by overseas aid programs in Susiya in the West Bank are under threat from demolition orders issued by the Israeli civil administration. This includes an AusAID funded health clinic constructed through ActionAid’s local partners. Other projects at risk include a dairy production facility supported by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the construction of four residential shelters funded with assistance from GVC, an Italian NGO; three animal shelters built in partnership with Save the Children UK and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and two water cisterns funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Organisation and Action Against Hunger. Other aid projects which could be demolished include a community centre and a structure used to store sheep’s milk prior to sale, as well as granaries and shelters for sheep and chickens.”
Why would these foreign donors risk spending so much money in an area where they could possibly see the small population living there be declared as squatters and ordered by the Courts to move? Why commit internationally solicited aid funds to projects where no building approvals have been granted?
Would this money not be better employed in projects throughout the remaining 40% of the West Bank where 95% of the Arab population live under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority or even in Area C where master plans for Arab villages have been approved by Israel?
The answer can be found in the following statement by the Rabbis For Human Rights:
“At first blush, it may seem that this is “only” about the threat to demolish the entire village of Susya, the homes of these simple cave dwellers of the South Hebron Hills. However, the truth is that the results will affect the fate of hundreds of Palestinian homes throughout the Occupied Territories, perhaps thousands. The outcome may well have an effect on our major appeal to return planning authority for Palestinian communities in Area C to Palestinian hands.”
The erection of illegal Arab structures has gathered pace in Area C as the Palestinian Authority pursues a policy of encouraging illegal land grabs, settlement and building on state lands in Area C.
Such land theft has consequences – and the Courts are increasingly being approached to have such activity declared illegal.
Illegal settlement – by either Arabs or Jews – should be regarded with equal severity.
Such conduct can be sought to be justified in the court of public opinion by organized demonstrations in front of demolished shelters using disputed facts – all dutifully recorded on television news and in sensational headlines around the world – or resolved by the Israeli courts.
Access to the Israeli Court system by Arab residents of the West Bank has always been available using the services of well funded and well resourced organizations such as Rabbis For Human Rights – whose donors include:.
- Caritas Belgium
- Church of Scotland
- Church of Sweden
- European Commission
- Evangelical Church– Starkenburg West
- Ford Foundation
- New Israel Fund
- Norwegian Church
- Swedish Church
Rabbis For Human Rights are quite blunt and unapologetic as to the outcomes they are seeking in taking up the cudgels in Susiya to try and extend Palestinian Authority influence and control in Area C. They – and foreign Governments and aid donors – should let the Court rule on the disputes in Susiya and indicate their readiness to abide by the Court’s decisions.
Playing politics by building illegal structures that could face demolition is a reckless mismanagement of aid funds.
Foreign Governments and aid donors should not try to pretend that their interest in Susiya is purely humanitarian. It clearly is not.