Susya’s children: Life on the edge of eviction

Jun 20, 2015

Susya, July 20, 2015—The Palestinian village of Susya lies 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of the West Bank city of Hebron, amid yellow, undulating hills. The landscape, dotted with tents, wooden structures and caves, has been home to Palestinians since at least the 19th century.

In 1983, an Israeli settlement also called Susya was established on land adjacent to the Palestinian village. That move sparked decades of conflict over ownership of the land, and has seen the Palestinians issued multiple demolition orders for residential and agricultural structures. The most recent legal order from May 2015 has given the Israeli army the green light to demolish what remains of the village.

For Susya's children, uncertainty and instability about the future has an impact on almost every aspect of their life.

“It takes a long time to build the tents and the village,” says father-of-seven Mahmoud Mohammad Nawaja. “All of it takes time and energy. Destruction takes seconds; everything is gone in a moment.”

Mahmoud, whose children range in age from one to 13 years old, lives in a tent set among the main cluster of homes at the center of the village. He sits on a thin mattress on the floor, leaning against the wall surrounded by four of his children.

Now 40, he recalls being evacuated in 1981 when he was 6 years old. The experiences he remembers are the same ones now affecting his own children.

“We were threatened with evacuation several times,” he says. “The most important thing is to stay on our land. If we are evacuated everything will be destroyed. We will lose everything.”

The uncertainty that hangs over the village since the issuing of the demolition order makes life in the makeshift homes all the more challenging and unpredictable. As well as giving the Israeli Civil Administration permission to demolish homes, the order also enables the army to forcibly transfer the population elsewhere. Most of the families have no idea where they will go if the demolitions take place.

A grandfather in the village, Ismail Salameh Nawaja, 72, worries how the families will survive if they are evicted. “We gain our living from agriculture here,” he says. “If we are evacuated we will lose our livelihoods.” Ismail’s grandchildren, Dallal, 9, and three-month-old Omar, will face the upheaval that an eviction will bring in terms of losing their home, access to a steady education, and their family's source of income.

These concerns come in addition to the daily challenges faced by Palestinian children living in Susya. Unlike the Israeli children who grow up in the settlement opposite the village, Palestinian children do not have access to basic infrastructure such as water and electricity networks, or health and education services. An onlooker comparing the communities cannot fail to notice the glaring difference in living standards between the two groups.

This, rights groups and Susya’s residents say, is the result of a policy pursued by the Israeli Civil Administration whereby planning permits that would enable the expansion of infrastructure in the village are denied.

The story is a familiar one. Throughout Area C the areas covering more than 60 percent of the West Bank that lie under full Israeli control Palestinians are frequently refused permission to build, or to expand upon existing structures. Israeli rights group B’Tselem found in 2013 that 90 percent of all planning requests submitted by Palestinians in Area C were rejected. Between 2007 and 2011, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Civil Administration rejected all plans filed for Palestinian areas without exception.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities allow the expansion of the settlement’s infrastructure, and the Jewish community that neighbors Palestinian Susya continues to grow.

This lack of infrastructure - which so profoundly affects the living standards of Susya’s families - has then been cited by Israeli authorities as a reason for the demolition of the village. Human Rights Watch noted that in October 2013, when the Israeli Civil Administration rejected a plan put forward by villagers for the development of Susya, a lack of appropriate infrastructure was posited as a primary reason for this decision.

When structures are built without planning permission, the Israeli administration issues demolition orders, as in the case of Susya. Demolitions across Area C are frequent, displacing hundreds of people and affecting many more. OCHA found that, in 2014, 496 structures had been demolished across Area C, displacing 969 people, of whom 526 were children.

Children who are affected by demolitions are subject to long periods of instability that can have an impact on education and health.

"Demolitions often happen quickly, suddenly overturning the order and stability of the family home," says Hassan Faraj, a psychologist working with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. "This creates anxiety and stress, which can manifest itself in aggressiveness, particularly in boys. It has a long-term impact on the mental health of children who witness their normal daily routines destroyed."

The children in Susya now live in an environment of instability that many other Palestinian children in Area C will face if past trends on Israeli demolitions continue. For Mahmoud, the repetition of the challenges from his own childhood, now affecting his children, are hard to bear.

"After 35 years, my children and I are facing the same thing again from the same people. Don't ask me how I imagine my children’s future. The future my father imagined for me failed. I try to imagine a good future in Susya for my children, but I am worried that I too will fail."

A timeline of dispossession


The Jewish settlement of Susya is established.


Palestinian residents living on the land are expelled. An archaeological site is established on the former Palestinian site, preventing residents from returning to the land. Residents move to adjacent agricultural lands, where they have been ever since.


A second expulsion of residents takes place. Tents are destroyed and caves used as homes are blocked, as well as water cistern. Farm animals are killed and agricultural fields dug up. Dahlia farm - an illegal Israeli settler outpost - is set up.

September 2001

The Israeli Supreme Court orders Israeli outpost structures to be torn down and land returned to Palestinian villagers. However, settlers and soldiers ignore the ruling and continue to prevent Palestinians returning to the land.


An Israeli outpost is set up in Susya Archaeological Site.


Palestinian villagers make an appeal to the Israeli courts, seeking enforcement of the 2001 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that would enable them to return to their land. Israeli settlers submit a counter-appeal a few months after the villagers. The result is the third eviction of the Najawa family that had attempted to return to its land in 2001.

October 2011

The Israeli Military Commander rules that large tracts of the disputed land is off-limits to Israelis, hoping to end trespassing and conflict.

May 5, 2015

The Israeli Supreme Court gives the green light to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya and forcibly transfer its residents out of Area C.


At least 42 orders to cease work and 36 requests for building permits have been submitted by Palestinian villagers. Nineteen cases are still in the courts. The village of Susya could be demolished at any time.



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