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Student activists can save Susya

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Palestinian village of Susya with a group of American students on a trip led by J Street U. Upon arrival to the village, we gathered in a tent with the words “Susya4Ever” and “No Demolition” spray painted on the outside. There, we met with the spokesperson for the community, Nasser Nawaj’ah. Nawaj’ah told us about his life in Susya, and spoke about the fear and lack of security that comes with living under the constant threat of demolition. Located in Area C of the West Bank and under Israeli military control, the village of 350 residents has repeatedly confronted demolition orders for the past 30 years.

On our way to Susya, my group visited the village’s neighboring Israeli outpost—an outgrowth of settler housing and buildings next to a settlement. An outpost indicates the settlement’s plans to expand beyond its borders, which is illegal under both international and Israeli law. The residents of Palestinian Susya are also accused of illegal building; however, it is impossible for them to receive permits to build legally on their own land (their most recent permit application was rejected in 2013). While Palestinian structures are destroyed, those built by settlers are legitimized.

J Street U began working in partnership with the Palestinian village of Susya in the summer of 2016, supporting the village in its fight against demolitions. The people of Susya, J Street U, a large faction of the American Jewish community, several other allied organizations and the Obama administration have put pressure on the Israeli government to delay its demolition. Organized vocal opposition kept up that pressure for a whole year, and this outcry, in part, is why Susya is still standing.

The time has come again to organize for Susya. On Feb. 1, 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of approving immediate demolition orders for seven structures in the village. These seven structures make up the homes of over 40 people, half of whom are children.

Extremists on the Israeli right want to demolish Susya so they can expand settlements and permanently entrench the Israeli presence in the West Bank. This plan is the implicit agenda of the far-right, pro-settler group, Regavim, which has been advocating for the demolition of Susya for years. The recurring demolitions of Palestinian communities in the West Bank are part of a process known as “creeping annexation.” By removing and relocating Palestinian communities from their homes, Israeli settlements are given room to expand, securing a one-state nightmare in which Israel would rule indefinitely over West Bank Palestinians.

These demolitions are a systematic phenomenon, affecting numerous Palestinian villages at once. Susya is one example. The J Street U Brandeis partner community of Abu Nuwar, also situated in Area C of the West Bank, is another. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, Israeli authorities demolished two school buildings used by third and fourth graders on Feb. 4, 2018.

These demolitions hurt everyone. Israeli security experts have repeatedly spoken out about the dangers of creeping annexation and prolonged occupation for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Jewish communal leaders, students and prominent US Senators, such as Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have also voiced their concerns about how demolitions and creeping annexation pose a threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. But considering the current rapport between the Trump and Netanyahu camps, we cannot expect our administration to stand against demolitions. The responsibility to fight for Susya falls on members of Congress, the American Jewish community and student activists like us.

Here at Brandeis, we feel immense gratitude for the students and university institutions that have supported us in advocating for Susya, Abu Nuwar and other Palestinian villages under threat. We have put on a public Havdallah Against Demolition, facilitated a social media photo campaign and hosted Nawaj’ah to speak about his experience to the wider Brandeis community. We hope that one day, Nawaj’ah will tell us stories of permanence, instead of destruction. In the meantime, we, as pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, anti-Occupation students, believe that we must do everything within our power to halt this pattern of injustice before it is too late.

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