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US diplomats visit Susiya, Palestinian village threatened with demolition by Israel

Aug. 10, 2016 7:35 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 10, 2016 9:31 P.M.)
US diplomats visit Susiya on Aug. 10 2016. (Photo: US Consulate General in Jerusalem)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- US diplomats visited the village of Susiya in the south Hebron Hills on Wednesday morning, amid mounting international condemnation of Israel’s plans to demolish the Palestinian village.

“We remain deeply concerned about the situation of this highly vulnerable population,” the US Consulate General in Jerusalem said in a statement on the occasion of the visit, which followed a visit in July to Susiya by the Consulate General’s then-Acting Principal Officer Dorothy Shea.

Susiya’s residents have been embroiled in a decades-long legal battle to legalize the village and have endured multiple demolitions enforced by Israeli authorities over the years, who say Palestinians lack the proper building permits to live on the land that lies between an Israeli settlement and Israel-controlled archaeological site.

The privately owned Palestinian land is located in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control -- where building permits for Palestinians are nearly impossible to obtain.

Many of the villagers have ties to the land that predate the creation of the state of Israel, and Ottoman-era land documents to prove it.

After Israel’s Civil Administration abruptly halted talks last month with village residents aiming to develop a master plan for the town, the Israeli Supreme court ruled that ultra-right Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman should submit a decision by Aug. 15 to determine the fate of the village.

The court hearing has been set to decide whether to accept the state of Israel’s request to immediately and without prior notice demolish 40 percent of the southern occupied West Bank village, where half of the some 200 residents live according to Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), an NGO assisting Susiya with the legal battle.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, no directive had been issued by Lieberman regarding Susiya as of Wednesday, as he was reportedly still studying the matter.

A spokesperson for the US Consulate General Jerusalem released a statement expressing grave concern over the impending demolitions

“If this were to proceed, it would be very troubling and have a very damaging impact on lives of the Palestinians living there, who have already been displaced on other occasions.”

The statement also voiced concern over the unprecedented demolition campaign being carried out across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this year. According to UN documentation, the number of demolitions in the first half of 2016 already exceeded those carried out in all of 2015.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported Wednesday that anonymous American officials warned the US would “respond harshly” if Israel demolishes the village.

The European Union, the United Nations, and various other international bodies have all called on Israel not to demolish the town.

“We are hopeful that a positive resolution can be reached that reflects these concerns,” the statement concluded.

Lieberman, whose position could likely decide Susiya’s fate, has advocated policies ranging from the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority to the deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel into the occupied Palestinian territory, while promoting the transfer of towns in Israel that are heavily populated by Palestinians to a future Palestinian state in exchange for illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Lieberman himself lives in the southern occupied West Bank Israeli settlement of Nokdim, in contravention of international law.

Since appointed as defense minister by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May, the two have teamed up to approve hundreds of new housing units in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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