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Susya is under threat of demolition, and we won’t look away

Opinion | November 11, 2016

Driving through the occupied West Bank this summer on an educational program, I learned to look at roofs. If I spotted a slanted, red-tiled roof, it was a good guess that I was looking at an illegal Israeli settlement. The rule wasn’t cut-and-dry, but the red-tiled roofs indicated prosperity, government recognition, and access to resources. In other words, the red-tiled roofs are a symbol of the things that most Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation are denied.

These roofs are indicators of one of the most prevalent issues in Area C of the West Bank: who controls the land. A two-state solution is the only viable option that will respect the right to self-determination for Jews and Palestinians, as well as guarantee peace, security, and dignity for both peoples. Under a two-state solution the West Bank would form a significant part of a future Palestinian state. However, the illegal Israeli settlements scattered throughout the West Bank eat away at the land that would belong to a Palestinian state. Central to the issue of settlement expansion is the question of who has the right to build, and by extension, who is forced to live under constant fear of demolition. A clear example is the situation in two neighboring communities, both of which go by the name of Susya.

One Susya has slanted, red-tiled roofs topping the well-built, well-financed structures. This Susya was built in 1983 on confiscated Palestinian land and has continued to grow since then. Despite being considered illegal under international law, the settlement has continued to prosper due to funding and resources from right-wing settler organizations as well as the Israeli government.

The other Susya couldn’t look more different. Despite the fact that the Palestinian village of Susya was established in the early 19th century, villagers today live outside the original village in tents and shacks. In 1986, the Israeli government expelled them for the first time, expropriating the village lands for an archeological site. Given no alternative, villagers moved to their adjacent agricultural lands. They were subsequently expelled in 1990 and then again in 2001. The army’s destruction of homes during this time forced residents to build the temporary shelters that stand today. Master plans submitted by Palestinians to rebuild Susya have been denied, and now the village faces the prospect of yet another round of home demolitions and expulsion thanks to pressure from right-wing settler organizations.

As I drove through the occupied West Bank last summer, there were moments when I felt like a complete outsider, a witness looking on as settlements encroach on Palestinian lands and displace villagers again and again. However, those of us living in the US are intimately connected to what’s happening in Susya and similar villages. If you visit the archeological site that sits on top of where Palestinians used to live (where a red, slanted roof now stands), you’ll find signs that carry the logo of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is an American organization that collects donations from Jewish communities across the country to fund projects in Israel. Their tzedakah boxes are a staple in my Jewish community. We give money from the relative safety of our homes in America with the expectation that it will go to forestry, water development, or programs for children with disabilities in Israel. Now when I see them, all I can think about are those red roofs, and I’m left with anxiety that tzedakah meant for tikkun olam, to repair the world, is going over the Green Line to fund the displacement of people from their homes.

And even more directly, Regavim, a right-wing NGO that is tax-exempt in the U.S., has brought the current lawsuit against Palestinian Susya that could result in the expulsion of approximately 100 people from their homes.

In response to this lawsuit, the Israeli High Court has given Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman until November 15 to decide whether he will order the demolition of approximately 40% of the village, thereby expelling about 100 people from their homes yet again and further undermining a peaceful two-state solution.

However, recent events have proven that American voices have the power to reshape the unjust status quo and affect the pending Susya decision. This summer, I had the honor to participate in enacting change as J Street U, a movement of American students organizing for a two-state solution, alongside many of our U.S.-based partners, circulated a petition asking Secretary Kerry to speak out against the demolition of Susya. Following our letter, the State Department announced their opposition to the demolition. In response, the Israeli High Court pushed back the decision from its original date in August to November 15. The Israeli government may have hoped that pushing back the decision would relieve international pressure, but we have the power to make sure Susya does not fade from the spotlight.

If you’ve walked by the Tufts cannon recently, you may have seen how we’ve already begun to demonstrate our solidarity with Susya. The 100 wooden houses planted in the ground there demonstrate what 100 homes, approximately the number of structures up for demolition in Susya, look like. J Street U led a group of students in building this solidarity display after Lara Friedman from Americans for Peace Now spoke with us on on November 2 about Susya, settlements, and two states. She emphasized that policies of settlement expansion and home demolition perpetuate occupation and threaten Israel’s future as a legitimate Jewish, democratic state, making a peaceful two-state resolution to the conflict less feasible. Friedman also emphasized that we, as students, have the ability to move power within our own community when we come out on the issue.

J Street U has begun a social media campaign around the hashtag #wontlookaway and #savesusya. Campuses across the country are using these hashtags to publicize the actions they’ve taken in solidarity with Susya. J Street U is asking all pro-Israel advocates to join us in this campaign. Being pro-Israel necessitates standing up for a two-state solution that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live safely in their homes. We’ve proven that taking public action has made a concrete difference for Palestinians living in Susya already. Join us at Havdalah against Home Demolitions on November 12 to stand in solidarity with the villagers. We are also asking students to take a picture with the display by the canon and post it as a part of our social media campaign.

The Palestinians living in Susya have the right to live in their homes without the threat of demolition looming over them. We invite you to join us in refusing to look away from their struggle, and to advocate for a two-state solution that finally allows both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace.

J Street U will also be hosting programming at Shabbat at Tufts Hillel that will foster discussion around how the crisis facing Susya’s residents fits in with our own understandings of home. We invite you to join us in these conversations on the evening of November 11.