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Susiya: Settlers Land and Water Grab Attempt Foiled

July 22nd, 2007. Between 8:30pm and 9:00pm on Sunday, four international human rights workers (HRWs) met with local Palestinian residents of Susiya village and members of the Israeli/Palestinian organization Tayush, to discuss plans for the following day and to determine the exact role internationals would play within Susiya and surrounding villages.

Concluding the meeting, the Israeli activist member of Tayush left, at roughly 9:00pm, with others for his home in Jerusalem.

He returned to the tent half an hour later, at little before 9:30pm, telling the internationals that he had just seen a group of Israeli settlers in the process of building fences and water pipes (for possible irrigation of settler land) on Palestinian land within the area.

The Palestinian land in question is vital agricultural land and the owners, who reside in the area, have not given permission to the settlers to either build or work on it. Yet, the settlers are vying for the land and, in a very likely attempt to steal it, are now laying the framework for future claims to the land and future expansion.

The Israeli member of Tayush related that this was the second time he had caught them working, and building in this field—and given the progress of the piping, these were certainly not the only instances of trespassing and illegal working on the land.

The first time he caught them was one month ago, after which he talked with owners of land and advised them to make a complaint with the police. The Israeli member of Tayush said that in most instances Palestinians owners of land will take no steps to halt these types of settler actions through “legal” means (ie. through Israeli police, court systems) due to fear of Israeli settler, soldier, and police reprisal.

It is understood, however, that these specific Palestinians are willing to take certain steps, to halt settler actions and expropriation of land, and file complaints against the settlers. It is worth noting that any complaint these Palestinian landowners wish to make would force them to journey to the Kiryat Arba police station in Hebron, which is a one to two hour journey on a good day. The Palestinian landowners did, in fact, journey to Kiryat Arba the following day where they were informed the police were too busy that day to handle the complaint. Rebuffs like this, particularly given the distance and time of travel, render it seemingly not worth the effort to formally lodge a complaint.

The Tayush member had immediately informed the Israeli police of the settler activities, on the Palestinian land, and a few minutes later the settlers had stopped working. He strongly felt that this sudden cessation of work without having directly confronted the settlers themselves was evidence of some kind of police/settler collaboration.

Upon arriving at the land being appropriated by settlers, the international HRWs found that although the work had ceased, one settler remained on the land near the very tractor he had used to work the land. Other settlers were in the area however, walking on the road, and driving a four wheeler. The settler who remained on the Palestinian land showed little concern about or recognition of the internationals’ presence and continued talking on his mobile phone. He did however, at points, seem unwilling to have his face recorded on camera.

Returning to the main road, the HRWs and Israeli member of Tayush found that one army jeep with four soldiers had arrived at the scene. Approximately 20 minutes later, 2 Israeli policemen arrived. During the entire time, local settlers continued to arrive, very likely having been called by the first settler in the field. Members of the local Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), based in At-Tuwani, also arrived and began video-documenting the events.

When HRWs initially asked the soldiers why they had come to the scene, they were told it was by chance. Yet minutes later, another soldier admitted they had been called over, which raises further suspicion of Israeli settler/soldier/police collaboration.

Walking alongside the ditch inlaid with piping, one soldier denied any work was being done, despite the presence of the tractor. Another admitted the wooden pegs in the field every 1-2 meters were likely related to the pipes which had been laid in the ditch nearby.

Several cars of settlers had since arrived at the main road. Israeli Police spoke with the Israeli Tayush member, as well as with the Palestinian owners of the land who arrived after about ten more minutes.

Despite the presence of both Israeli police and soldiers, about 20 Israeli settlers proceeded to harass and photograph Palestinians, internationals, and the Israeli activist.

These settler youths, without any restraint imposed on them whatsoever from police or soldiers, continued to try and provoke reaction from any of the HRWs present, verbally abusing them and intrusively shoving cameras into HRWs’ faces. The settlers also focused a lot of their attention and harassment on the Israeli activist, who they obviously hated, blocking his path, and at some points trying to physically assault him.

When it was time for the police to take the statements of the Palestinian land owners (five Palestinian men, who owned the land and were present) the Israeli settlers focused their harassment on them. International HRWs used their bodies to try and keep some distance between the settlers and Palestinians. The police or soldiers did not attempt to control the settlers at all, even while they took the statements of the Palestinians

This circus-like behaviour of the settlers ensued for 30 to 45 minutes, again, with no reprisal from any of the security forces present.

After giving statements to the police, the Israeli Tayush member left with the Palestinian land-owners to drive them home. Alone, and out of visible range of the police and soldiers, HRWs encountered repeated settler youth verbal abuse and harassment before leaving the scene. The entire event lasted for about two hours, ending at around 11:30pm.

The necessity for an international presence in such areas as Susiya is precisely due to such illegal actions and abusive menacing from surrounding settlers. The settlers’ aggressive behavior over the years has been well-documented and includes: the beating of local Palestinian residents; beating and killing of local residents’ animals; destruction of residents’ home, property, and belongings; poisoning of land and animals; illegal appropriation of Palestinian land; and continued menacing and verbal threats and harassment against Palestinian residents.

Their intrusive and violent behavior again comes with the express purpose of acquiring Palestinian land through intimidation and fear tactics. Sadly, their illegal tactics have been largely successful in the region, with many Susiya residents and land-owners leaving their land for nearby cities and towns.

The international HRWs were repeatedly told by Palestinian and Israeli activists and rights workers that their presence causes the level of violence to drop significantly. Villages, such as Susiya, without an international presence are left to the mercy of any actions the Israeli settlers, soldiers, or police may take against them. Which is why it is so vital to have an international presence in the area, one which will advocate for Palestinian rights and stand in solidarity with Palestinians.