The pending order to demolish the small Palestinian village of Susiya in the southern Judean Mountains in the occupied West Bank represents the most blatant violation of human rights. The order calls for the forcible removal of several hundred Palestinians who have been living on their land from the time of the Ottoman Empire and still have the ownership deeds to prove their claim. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who never misses an opportunity to remind the world that Israel is a democracy guided by moral principles, seems to care less about displacing Palestinian women and children for the fourth time. His excuse is that this dusty village, established in 1830, is the site of archeological remains both of a 5th century synagogue and a 10th century mosque and it must be preserved.
The real reason is that Netanyahu is leading a coalition government which is committed to preventing the Palestinians from building anywhere in Area C, which represents 61 percent of the West Bank, and is openly seeking its outright annexation.
This policy is repeatedly reinforced by the government’s refusal to grant building permits to Susiya residents, when at the same time it is providing all the funding for facilities and security to a religious communal Israeli settlement established in 1986 with the same name only a short distance south of Palestinian Susiya.
It is hard to express how outrageous the behavior of Netanyahu’s government is when only hours after Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the demolition of two illegally-built structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, Netanyahu authorized the immediate construction of 300 units in the same settlement.
In response to the Court ruling, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-conservative Jewish Home party, said: “This is an unfortunate ruling by the High Court…[that] will bring about a wave of construction across the settlements.” Bennett’s statement was strongly echoed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, no less, who said that while the Court order must be accepted, they will immediately rebuild. “This is the Jewish way—you don’t lose hope and you keep building, building, building.”
The implications of this inhuman action, should it be carried out, transcends the demolition of one Palestinian village. It points out not only the hypocrisy of Netanyahu and his cohorts, but the moral decadence of a government that seems bent on defying the international community and the basic tenets of civilized behavior.
Susiya is but another example of the Netanyahu government’s flagrant and callous disregard of the Palestinians’ fundamental right to live with dignity – indeed, I am reminded of a passage in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which, although about a different time and place, speaks directly to what is taking place in the West Bank: “If it was the law they was workin’ with, why we could take it. But it ain’t the law. They’re a-working away at our spirits. They’re a-tryin’ to make us cringe an’ crawl like a whipped bitch. They’re tryin’ to break us… They’re working on our decency.”
At a time when Israel’s image is tarnished, demolishing Palestinian Susiya will only intensify the already massive international condemnation of the Israeli occupation and the Netanyahu government’s insatiable thirst for more Palestinian land.
Netanyahu’s demagoguery has been time and again put on full display when he talks about a two-state solution, but then continues to expand the settlements by providing them with amenities while at the same time depriving scores of Palestinian villages of their basic need for water and electricity, including Susiya.
The mere thought of demolishing Susiya, not to speak of actually executing it, will be another nail in the coffin of the Israeli peace process. Netanyahu, more than any other Israeli Prime Minister, will be judged harshly for destroying the prospect for peace bit by bit.
There is nothing that he can say or do to justify the demolition of Susiya or any other Palestinian village or housing unit built in the West Bank—on their own territory—to accommodate natural growth and enable them to live a life without fear and intimidation.
The Israelis who support the demolition of this poor village are rendering the most ghastly disservice to Israel’s image and its very future as a democratic state, and have become complicit in the despicable act of uprooting law-abiding Palestinians. No Israeli with a conscience should remain silent and allow the Netanyahu government to devour what little the Palestinians have left.
After 47 years of occupation, the time has come for all decent Israelis to think about the future of their country. Where is Israel heading, and for how much longer can the occupation and the injustices continue without jeopardizing Israel’s very existence?
Making the lives of Palestinians unbearable in the hope that they will eventually leave is a pipe dream as the infliction of unforgiving horrible pain on the young and old will only strengthen their resolve to stay. They have the entire international community behind them, and no Israeli force can dislodge them as they would rather die than succumb to tyrannical edicts.
I applaud the Israelis who joined the Palestinian demonstration against the potential demolition of Susiya on July 24. Hundreds of thousands more should follow in their steps. Indeed, in the final analysis, the public, not the government, can shape the country’s destiny.
It is understandable that the Israelis’ fatigue with the Palestinian conflict has led to complacency, but this is not a luxury that any Israeli can afford at this juncture.
The Palestinians will not fade away, and only the Israeli public can stop this morally corrupt bunch, the so-called Israeli leaders in the government, from destroying the moral foundations on which Israel was established.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for
Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.