How a Palestinian village has fallen victim to the political games of the Israeli right
By ELAM BOOCKVAR-KLEIN
I’m sure that few Americans have heard of the Palestinian village of Susya. And it is probable that even fewer Americans understand the grave importance for it to remain intact. On Feb. 1, the Israeli Supreme Court greenlighted the immediate demolition of seven structures in the village, home to over 40 people. This may not seem like a number worth wringing our hands over, but it could set a dangerous precedent for both the United States and Israel and possibly spell the end of Israel as we know it.
Located in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, Susya is the contemporary manifestation of a conflict that has endured for decades. In 1948, when the state of Israel was founded, the now-occupied West Bank remained part of Jordan, the Gaza Strip (on the Mediterranean) part of Egypt. However, Israel seized both of these territories in the 1976 Six-Day War and have remained occupiers ever since, refusing to allow the creation of a Palestinian state or to absorb the Palestinian population into one democratic Israeli state.
In the decades following the Six-Day War, many Israelis moved into the West Bank, living in settlements that are often adjacent to Palestinian villages. The sheer number of settlers—now numbering close to 500,000—makes any viable solution to this conflict more and more inconceivable by the day. For Israel, any solution would require the annexation of all settlement land (which now contains about 5 percent of its entire population), while most Palestinians want full control over the entire West Bank, which would necessitate the removal of each and every Israeli settler. However, in recent years, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has shown little interest in making any compromise for peace. Instead, the administration has advocated for more settlements, continuing to consolidate power over Palestinians.
Susya has found itself in the middle of this battleground for over 30 years. As the Israeli government attempts to connect settlements with one another to create so-called “settlement blocs,” they often expel entire Palestinian villages from their homes. Susya residents have been relocated numerous times over the years, and at times their homes have been flat-out destroyed by the Israeli military.
These ongoing injustices are complete and utter violations of basic human rights, and the United States is complicit in their perpetuation. For decades, it has been standard U.S. policy to support a two-state solution, and the Obama administration frequently condemned settlement expansion as a barrier to a viable Palestinian state. However, since President Donald Trump assumed the presidency, he has essentially given Netanyahu a green light to act as he wishes with regards to the West Bank. In turn, the Israeli right-wing Likud party has become emboldened to build more settlements, disregard basic Palestinian needs, and enable the destruction of Palestinian homes. Many of these politicians ultimately desire to annex the entire West Bank.
As a Jewish person, I know this is wrong, and I am not alone. Israeli security experts, including former directors of Mossad, the Israeli version of the CIA, have spoken out against this destructive policy. Late last year, a group of 10 U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein, sent a letter directly to Netanyahu urging him not to demolish Susya and other Palestinian villages. Prominent rabbis, thousands of college students, and other progressives across the country now speak out against this creeping annexation.
I fully support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish, democratic state. However, it will become impossible for the nation to retain both of these qualities as long as it stays the current course. In order to maintain its Jewish character while continuing to occupy the West Bank, Israel will have to suppress the civil rights of Palestinians, which it has already done for decades. It will grow less and less democratic over time.
While Israel has a long way to go in order to rectify its oppressive history, a first step would be to assure safety to Palestinians who have lived in Susya for their entire lives. Clearly, not the Israeli government, Supreme Court, nor the Trump administration will do this of their own volition. That is why—as college students, human rights activists, concerned citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike—we must make our voices heard. I will be calling my elected officials to urge them to speak out against demolitions, and I encourage you to do so as well.
Without any change to the status quo, Israel will continue to be rightfully viewed as an oppressive, occupying nation, with the United States as its enabler. As an American citizen and a Jew, I am disgusted. This must change, and it is up to us to do it.