Residents of Susiya brace themselves for arrival of Israeli bulldozers
A photo essay by the photographer Claire Thomas portraying life in Susiya in the face of threat of demolition in 2015.
Following a ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice on May 15, 2015, allowing the Israeli military to demolish the entire village of Susiya and expel its residents to Area A of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the people of Susiya now prepare for the imminent destruction of their homes.
After years of threats, several demolitions and multiple demolition orders, the villagers refuse to give up hope and continue to fight for their legal right to remain living on their land.
Susiya is a small, peaceful village located in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, home to approximately 350 men, women and children. The village is overlooked by a Jewish settlement that was built in 1983.
On July 15, 2015, community spokesman Nasser Nawajaa received a document from the Israeli military giving details of the structures scheduled to be demolished. Over 30 are listed, including residential tents, a school, a health clinic, and solar panels, which are the only source of power for the village and were funded by European governments.
Approximately half of the village is due to be demolished first with further demolitions expected to follow. 21 of the buildings slated for demolition were built with funding from European governments.
Although no specific date has, nor will be, given, the demolition is expected to take place before the 3rd of August 2015, the date scheduled for an appeal hearing at the High Court of Justice.
This will not be the first demolition of the village. In 1986 the residents of Susya were expelled from the original site of their village after the Israeli authorities declared it a National Archaeological Park. Determined to stay on their land, the villagers took up residence on their agricultural land. In 2001 the village was again demolished, with the Israeli army destroying tents, caves and cisterns, as well as agricultural land, killing the farm animals.
Remaining steadfast on their farmland, the people of Susya again rebuilt the village with tents and caves and continued their struggle of resistance to the constant threats of demolition.
A Palestinian girl sits in front of her village, Susya, which is overlooked by an illegal Israeli settlement. Even at her young age she understands that her village and home could be demolished at any time.
In 2012, the Israeli authorities again issued demolition orders to over 50 temporary shelters built by the residents. In 2014, the residents of Susya, represented by the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, went to court in an effort to freeze the implementation of the demolition order and submitted a masterplan for the legal development of the village. The Civil Administration rejected the masterplan, giving various reasons, one of which suggested that the villagers would have a better quality of life in the nearby town of Yatta and should relocate there.
The move was part of Israel’s policy in Area C of the West Bank to facilitate the confiscation of Palestinian land and to expel Palestinians in order to build and expand existing settlements.
The people of Susya live under extremely difficult circumstances without access to running water and electricity, and face regular – often violent – attacks from the settlers who live in the nearby settlement that overlooks the village. The destruction of olive trees is also a common activity by the settlers.
A Palestinian man stands next to an olive tree that has been damaged by Israeli settlers in an effort to force the residents of Susya to leave their land.
A Palestinian man confronts an Israeli soldier and asks why they did nothing to stop the settlers damaging his olive trees. The soldier doesn’t respond and calls for backup.
Speaking about the activities of the settlers who prevent Palestinians reaching their farmland adjacent to the settlement and restrict their access to water, Nasser Nawajaa commented: “There is no justice here for the Palestinians. They [the settlers] try to make pressure to move the Palestinians outside.”
If the demolition order is carried out as planned, over 300 Palestinians will be expelled from their homes, rendering them homeless in severe desert conditions.
A resident of Susya talks about her life under Israeli military occupation and how she copes not only with the constant threat of demolition but also the fear of violence from the settlers. She has already lived through several demolitions and talks of her hope to someday live on her land in peace.
Community members meet to discuss the future of their village. Some of the children thought I was filming and stood in front of the camera for a while, just long enough to capture their shadows in a 30-second exposure.
A young Palestinian girl attends a summer camp in Susya.
Jihad Nawajaa, father of community spokesman Nasser Nawajaa, sits inside his son’s tent which is among the homes scheduled to be demolished.
International volunteers offer support and show solidarity with the people of Susya. The children especially enjoy their company.
Children from Susya play on an old rusty vehicle.
A family enjoy the Iftar meal after breaking the fast during Ramadan.
Solar power from panels provided by European governments is the only source of power for the residents of Susya.
International volunteers and supporters do a great job of keeping the children entertained and distracted from the possibility of Israeli bulldozers arriving at any time to demolish their homes.
This story is published on the Institute of Middle East Understanding website which can be viewed by clicking here.