The growing campaign to prevent the demolition of homes in the West bank village of Susiya reached the UK this week with nearly 50 rabbis labelling the move “unjust” and warning about its potential impact on Israel’s standing in the world.
A chorus of condemnation following a court ruling in May, which ordered the bulldozers in, has now intensified after residents were informed last week that demolition orders on 37 homes would be carried out in the coming days.
The group comprising Reform, Liberal and Masorti rabbis wrote to outgoing Ambassador Daniel Taub, saying: “The proposed action in Susiya is not only in itself unjust, but reflects badly on Israel’s image in the eyes of other nations and in the view of much of the Jewish community itself.”
The court ruled the buildings were illegally created without permits, with an Israeli source saying the problem was “not only the illegality of the structures in question but also their proximity to an active archaeological excavation”.
However signatories including Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klasner and Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg said the ruling “reflects the greater injustice in which 94 percent of all residential building are routinely denied to over 150,000 Palestinians”.
The Civil Administration, which governs the West Bank, was this week re-evaluating whether to proceed, as campaigners said that Ottoman-era land ownership documents note that Susiya belongs to its current residents. This view was confirmed in 1982 by Israel’s own legal advisor, Plia Albeck.
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom has defended the decision to remove homes in the 350-strong South Hebron Hills community, which is wedged between two Jewish settlements and where most families live in temporary shelters, surviving on sheep farming, bee-keeping and selling embroidered goods.
“It’s not something we do with Palestinians only,” he said. “If the Supreme Court has authorised it, it’s something we should do.”
Through tours of the West Bank provided by Yachad, hundreds of British Jews have visited Susiya in recent years, where many of the villagers’ buildings have been built with money from the European Union.
This week Yachad accused Israel of double standards, saying: “There are 100 illegal settlement outposts built by Israelis in the West Bank without permits which are not being demolished. In contrast to Palestinian villages, these are connected to water and electricity, and guarded by soldiers.”