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Save Susiya

February 5, 2013

I visited Susiya in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank of Palestine one weekend last November. The purpose of the visit was not only to increase awareness of the living conditions of the Palestinians in Susiya and other regions of Area C in Palestine, but also to learn how the restrictions placed on the communities has led them to become incredibly self-sufficient and eco-friendly.

To fully comprehend the situation in Susiya and other Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank of Palestine requires actually visiting these sites, speaking to the people and listening to their stories. Only by listening to their words and placing yourself in their shoes, can you see how important it is that the construction of  more illegal Jewish settlements needs to end and at the same time, existing Palestinian villages need to be given equal treatment – water and electricity access and financial retribution for forced evacuations – as the Jewish settlements.

Imagine, that one day, after living for generations without hassle, someone comes along and tells you that you have to move, that this location has been deemed an area of historical significance and that you are living there illegally. Never mind that you were born there and that your family has called this place home for several generations. Never mind that your grandfather and his family lived there before the State of Israel even existed.

But, what can you do when an army of soldiers and a mob of angry settlers surround you and demand that you leave? So, you leave. You and the other families pack up your few belongings and move to another location several hundred meters from the newly discovered archaeological site. You receive  no compensation for your loss. No financial assistance to build a permanent home for your family or school for your children. Nearby, another settlement is being evacuated, but this one is an illegal Jewish outpost. The inhabitants of this settlement are being rewarded for their efforts, although their outpost was, even by their own government’s laws, illegal.

You watch as yet another settlement is built, this time with government assistance, on the top of the hill on the other side of a valley. You watch as the building materials are unloaded and the houses begin to rise up. You watch as the electricity poles are erected and the water pipes are laid down. While the settlement on the other side of the valley has a swimming pool,  you are denied even a single drop of water. Never mind that the electric lines and water pipes run across your land or that you offer to pay a higher premium for the utilities. Since your new village has also been deemed illegal, the government will do whatever they can to force you to evacuate once again, even if that means denying you access to the most basic human need: water.

On the other side of the valley, you watch as the people move in and the presence of the army grows larger. You notice that the boundaries are changing. Several your water cisterns in the valley below are destroyed and a newly created buffer zone, to protect the illegal settlement on the other side of the valley, now limits your access to several of your remaining water cisterns and even to some of your fields. Now, you have to buy water from the city at much higher rate than the settlers pay for their stolen water on the other side of the valley.

You’re a simple farmer, how can you afford to buy enough water for drinking, let alone irrigation for your farm? And as if the situation was not bad enough, thanks to an old Ottoman law, you will also lose part of your land if you are not able to farm the fields and plow the land. Soldiers are sent to ensure that this happens. They deny you access to your own land, and in three years, if you have not managed to plow it, the settlers will take that from you as well.

In your region, nature is not kind. In the winter it is freezing and without a permanent home, you and your family struggle to stay warm in a canvas tent with a metal frame. Your animals live in a shelter created from discarded materials and plastic sheeting. An environmentalist would reward your for your ability to reuse material previous marked for disposal.

The two most prevalent elements that nature sends, wind and sun, are harnessed to bring some relief. An Israeli scientist arrives with a plan and, with time, he manages to bring electricity to your village by using an intricate network of batteries powered by windmills and solar panels. Some of the families even receive cooking gas through a bio-fuel converter set up by an international group of environmental students. It’s slowly evolving into an environmental scientist’s dream village. But, with constant threat of demolition, even these small improvements cannot bring peace.

I am writing this article, because these are real people, their suffering is real and it is preventable. We must continue to raise awareness of the situation in Area C of the West Bank. The international community cannot ignore the plight of the villagers in this region. This is where the foundations for peace without politics can be constructed. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine because I am pro-peace. Just as not every Isreali is an anti-Palestininan zionist, not every Palestinian is an anti-Jewish/anti-Israel terrorist. It’s time to stop labeling people and grouping them into categories. It’s time to for the people of this region to get to know their neighbors and recognize them as equals and hopefully also as friends. People who deserve equal treatment and equal access to water, electricity, employment and education.

If you would like more information on the region, please visit these websites:

Breaking the Silence

B’Tselm

Comet

UN Humanitarian Affairs

 

Water tank

Water tank in front of two makeshift shelters

Olive grove

One of the olive groves – in the distance is the illegal Jewish settlement

Solar panels with electric lines running behind them

Solar panels with the electric lines running less than 100 meters behind them

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