(Petty & Mean) The Village of Susiya & the Israeli NGO That Wants To Uproot It


On social media, I’ve been noting but not really following the ongoing concern about attempts by Israel to demolish the village of Susiya in the Israeli controlled Area C of the Occupied West Bank, and to move its inhabitants to a nearby town. Vis-à-vis the larger regional picture, especially now in light of the ongoing momentum surrounding the ISIS, Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal, the fate of Susiya seems like small beer. But this little incident in its small scale might also help explain the damage done by the Occupation to the State of Israel, and why Israel may begin to no longer matter.

On the one hand, it’s hard to see at first from over here in the U.S. why this particular case should merit the symbolic weight that Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists closer to ground want this story to carry. In the greater scheme of things, this story concerning the temporary fate of some 340 residents on a pitiful plot of land should hardly matter all that much to anyone. And there’s the rub, because, on the other hand, what is the overriding Israeli interest in moving these people? The story represents one more example that shows up the mean and belligerent character of contemporary Israel. The village has been moved around three times already, and now local Israeli Jewish settlers are trying to have it moved again just because the village or hamlet (call it what you want) is presently situated between the settlement and an archaeological site.

In an attempt to explain the motivation to move the village, a member of a rightwing Israeli NGO called Regavim is quoted here in the NYT:

Ari Briggs of Regavim, an Israeli group that wants the Palestinians to relocate, said they would be better off moving somewhere with room for growth and questioned their motives for wanting to stay put. “If they are looking for areas, where, you know, to establish a village, why would anyone choose there, unless they have their own agenda to put it right between the archaeological park and the Jewish community?” Mr. Briggs asked.

In other words, as explained by Briggs, the very narrow Israeli interest is to preserve a Jewish territorial contiguity between a nearby settlement and the nearby archaeological site. And for that, 340 people have to pick up their lives and move for the fourth time at the very real risk of losing access and control of their own agricultural lands. As it now turns out, the lands on which Susiya sits is privately owned Palestinian land, which even the Israeli so-called Civil Administration (run by the army) now acknowledges. It may be that this turns out to be the end of this particular story, of which like there will be more in the future.

Regarding Regavim, the organization represented by Briggs, you can read their mission statement here at their website: “Setting a Zionist agenda for the State of Israel, with an emphasis on the land and its management and preservation.  Based on the belief that the government holds the key to implementing this key value, Regavim  is operating through legislative and judicial channels to recruit officials and state resources to act on  the principles of Zionism – to protect national lands and properties and prevent foreign elements from taking over the countries territorial resources. Deploying field inspectors who monitor illegal construction and illegal land grabs throughout Israel often at great personal risk, photographing, documenting and mapping illegal construction, contacting authorities responsible for land management and law enforcement demanding that they take all necessary legal measures to halt and demolish the illegal construction

Regavim in turn is just one project sponsored by the so-called Israel Independence Fund, whose mission is meant to strengthen the “core” of Israel as a “uniquely Jewish State.” Their concerns focus mainly on land acquisition in the West Bank and includes the issue of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. From the looks of it, their Board of Directors is largely (exclusively?) American. About Regavim, you can read more here at +972  about its wider agenda and activities.  As a way to advance Jewish territorial control, their ideological animus is directed in particular at uprooting so-called unrecognized Palestinian villages –on both sides of the 1967 Green Line. These would be the ad hoc and unauthorized structures and communities that Palestinians in Area C of the Occupied West Bank and Palestinian Israelis and Bedouin in Israel itself are forced to build because the State puts limits on construction in and on the development of these communities.

The activists at Susiya have been successful in drawing some mainstream media attention not just to the particular fate of this one small community, but what should be viewed as a much larger dynamic that threatens not only Palestinian rights inside Israel and in the Occupied West Bank to land, security, and peace. Anti-Arab, what Regavim and its parent organization would stand for in the pursuit of a very narrowly conceived Jewish interest is the very demolition from within of the State of Israel as a Jewish majority democratic country. Instead of opening out to include its own disenfranchised minority, the State of Israel entrenches the occupation and undermines democratic norms. As a country, it suggests that Israel can’t make room for 340 Palestinian villagers, in their own land, in the occupied West Bank.

As always in Israel, the big picture and the small picture twist on each other. Susiya and Regavim remain small beer. What I keep coming back to is this. Given the larger and catastrophic regional developments roiling the regional agenda, this story and the Israeli efforts behind it seem so petty and mean tempered. The Palestinian activists and their supporters are sympathetic, which may or may not get them very far. I hope they win their case. But one way or the other, Susiya will go largely forgotten, and the world will carry on as before. For Israel, however, this little bit of nastiness underscores much larger problems and ongoing dynamics. With so much at stake, this is what the State commits itself to. Drip, drip, dripping under the last several governments, it’s no wonder that Israel is losing its international stature or even credibility as a serious nation state as activists push the government to pursue bogus Jewish interests.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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