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Feinstein-Netanyahu Letters on Susiya

An "external kitchen" in Susiya (Montecruz Foto/Flickr)

An “external kitchen” in Susiya (Montecruz Foto/Flickr)

Senator Dianne Feinstein today released a series of letter exchanges between herself and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the Palestinian village of Susiya, which lives under a demolition order and under constant threat from the neighboring settlement.

It’s worth reading the whole exchange, which is linked in Senator Feinstein’s statement, also released today. For the past several years, Senator Feinstein has championed the cause of Susiya, imploring Prime Minister Netanyahu to refrain from demolishing the homes that he claims were built illegally.

Susiya lies in Area C of the West Bank, and so is under complete Israeli control. It is virtually impossible for Palestinians in Area C to get a permit to build legally. The structures Israel deems illegal are little more than tents, sometimes with tin roofs on top of them. So-called “external kitchens” are no more than a grill propped on a rock, a fire pit and a storage area to keep food from the elements. The village is not connected to a water or electrical system.

By contrast, the residents of the Israeli settlement of Susiya North live in pre-fabricated houses which are fully connected to Israel’s plumbing and electrical systems, with well-maintained roads and security services to aid them. Still, the settlers of Susiya North want the land of the Palestinian village and use both legal and violent means to pursue this goal.

Feinstein makes it clear that her position is that the state’s attempts to evict the residents of Susiya harms the interests of Israel as well as the people of Susiya. While Netanyahu plays fast and loose with the facts, Feinstein herself is clearly well-informed.

For example, Netanyahu says that “Contrary to Palestinian claims that the area has been inhabited for decades, only a handful of families resided there in the 1980s. Over the years, the alleged owners of the structures” – he won’t refer to them as homes —  “continued to expand their illegal construction by exploiting a cease and desist order that temporarily prohibited Israel from demolishing these structures.”

In fact, according to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, “The Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya has existed for at least a century. It appears on maps as far back as 1917 – decades before Israel began occupying the West Bank. Aerial photographs from 1980 show cultivated farmland and livestock pens, indicating the presence of an active community there.”

B’Tselem traces the history of the people of Susiya through years of expulsions and harassment by nearby settlers. When visiting the camp, you see the ramshackle dwellings the people of Susiya now inhabit.

Feinstein had gotten Netanyahu’s word that, while an agreement between the residents and the state is being hammered out, there would be no enforcement of the demolition order. Yet, as she points out to Netanyahu, this past June structures were demolished in Susiya. Netanyahu claims they were illegally built structures, but these “structures” are no more than tents with tin roofs.

But no matter the details, the fact is that this is Palestinian land being taken away at the whim of local settlers. Moreover, while Netanyahu talks about rulings of the High Court of Justice in Israel, it is important to remember that these are rulings governing people under the occupation of Israel, not citizens of the state.

The threatened demolition of Susiya is one of a whole set of policies that the Obama administration has repeatedly decried. Indeed, these policies are the very core of occupation. Feinstein is clearly aware of this, and she deserves gratitude for her leadership on this issue.