An Israeli Jew speaks out against settlers and the theft of land from Susya

June 13, 2014
Sarah Benton


What I’ve witnessed in Susiya

By Arik Ascherman, Jewish Chronicle
June 12, 2014

I have accompanied the Palestinians of the south Hebron hills since 700 were expelled in 1999 and returned home by Israel’s High Court. Rabbis For Human Rights lawyers currently represent Palestinian Susiya against a High Court petition by the Susiya settlement and [the settlers’ body] Regavim to demolish Palestinian Susiya.

Because those of us who love Israel tend to discredit the messenger, I will add that Rabbis for Human Rights received the Speaker of the Knesset’s Prize for contributions to Israeli society, defends the human rights of Jews and non-Jews alike, and is endorsed by hundreds of rabbis around the world.

South Hebron hills Palestinians arrived in the area at least 180 years ago, creating the city of Yatta and satellite cave communities like Susiya. Some live in caves part of the year, and others for the entire year. Often adults live in the caves while schoolchildren and the elderly are in Yatta for most of the week.

Today’s Susiya residents owned lands on both sides of the 1948 border, but were pushed out of Israel and joined their families in Susiya. In 1983 the Susiya settlement was founded. Today there are many additional settler outposts, unauthorised by Israel.

These facts are painful but we must not hide them.

Settlers take over more land each year. We sometimes prevent them. But despite a 1997 letter from Israel’s defence minister declaring lands between the Susiya settlement and Palestinian Susiya as private Palestinian land, there are today vast settler fields.

We have personally witnessed or intervened to prevent countless acts of violence and encroachment. I have watched security forces stand by as settlers and their flocks entered Palestinian lands, even when there were orders to keep them out. I have seen Israeli children hike through Palestinian Susiya as if it didn’t exist, and stood between a settler and the unarmed elderly Palestinian at whose feet he was shooting. Police complaints rarely help.

Opposing demolition: Susya (as the Palestinians call it) 4 ever. Photo by Guy Batavia

In 1986, even Plia Albeck, [a government legal official] known for declaring Palestinian land as state land, acknowledged that Susiya was a Palestinian village. She therefore had Susiya expropriated because of the ancient synagogue. Although ownership was acknowledged, army committees without Palestinian representation almost never approve Palestinian building plans. Susiya residents never had a fair chance to build legally. After a settler was murdered in 2001, and although the murderer didn’t come from Susiya, Palestinians were expelled, their caves demolished, and cisterns filled in.

We condemn murder, but nobody suggested similar collective punishment when a resident of Palestinian Susiya was murdered. Again, Israel’s High Court sent the Palestinians home. However, their caves were unusable and anything they built was “Illegal.” On April 28, the Israeli High Court responded to a Rabbis for Human Rights petition by declaring that the discriminatory planning and zoning system for Palestinians in Area C was unacceptable, giving the state 90 days to come up with a remedy.

Israeli security forces accompany local Palestinian schoolchildren daily, because they were being attacked with baseball bats by Israelis coming from the Maon settlement’s forest. When forces fail to show up, internationals accompany the children. Without security forces, there can be violent attacks and injuries.

Enclosed in his cab, a driver from the Civil Administration demolishes the homes of Palestinian Susya and amenities (cisterns, solar panels) provided by the EU, on the wishes of the Susiya settlers. Photo from RHR.

As a rabbi, an Israeli Jew and a Zionist, these facts are painful. I am proud when we achieve justice through the Israeli system. We co-operate with Palestinians to utilise the democracy we enjoy and they do not, standing against the state’s might, intent on removing Palestinians from their lands.

For, as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught, when those with power appropriate for themselves the “responsibility” of acting justly towards those not sitting at the table, it “borders on criminality.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

When pained by things we would not want to believe possible in the country we love, we neither hide our heads in the sand, claim that two wrongs make a right, nor reject our country. We let our pain push us forward to try to effect tikkun olam.

Arik Ascherman is president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights

Below the Jewish settlement of Susiya built against the Palestinian village. Photo From Villages Group.

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