Shaiya Rothberg
Featured Post

We must not commit this crime

Israel's planned demolition of the village of Susya fits a pattern of discrimination against Palestinians
Palestinians try to retrieve items from the rubble of his family house after it was destroyed by Israeli army tractors early on 22 February 2011 in the West Bank village of Yatta near Hebron. The house was located in the so-called Area C, a closed military zone where Israel exercises full control and was built without permission, according to the Israeli army.Photo by Najeh Hashlamoun  Flash 90
Site of a home destroyed by Israeli army tractors in February 2011 in the West Bank village of Yatta near Hebron. (Illustrative photo by Najeh Hashlamoun / Flash 90)

If Israel destroys the Palestinian village of Susya as planned, we will have committed a terrible crime.

About 300 people live in the village, which is located in the South Hebron hills. The State of Israel intends to literally destroy the village in the next few weeks by demolishing most of the homes and other buildings. Such demolitions have already taken place. Often family members, including children, will stand on the edges of their property, restrained by IDF soldiers, and watch as Israel’s bulldozers demolish their lives — their homes and livelihood.

When is it justified for the state to destroy a small village? I imagine that there are probably circumstances when such a policy could be justified. But let’s imagine for a minute what we think about a case where it was not justified: A situation where a state destroyed such a village for illegitimate reasons. How would we judge such an act?

Think about how much suffering and loss and brutal violence is involved in such an action. Imagine the impact on children who watch their homes demolished as their parents stand by powerless. They will carry such a wound to the end of their lives. I expect that everyone reading these words will agree: to destroy a whole village like this, if unjustified, is a truly terrible crime.

And there can be little doubt that Israel’s plan is unjustified. First of all, Israel has already destroyed Susya. In 1986, Israel expropriated the villagers’ land for “public use,” fenced it off, drove them off it, and established an archaeological site in their stead. The present plan is to destroy the village in the place where the residents rebuilt after we destroyed their village the first time. What justifies the destruction this time?

Even though the residents had no choice but to rebuild after their expulsion in 1986, Israel has refused to grant them building permits. So their homes are “illegal” and must be destroyed. The official line is that the population is too small and isolated for a separate village and so they are refused building permits for their own good; they should move elsewhere. But just a few hundred meters away, Israel has developed a small Jewish settlement called…Susya!

Our hypocrisy could not be more obvious: With one hand we destroy Palestinian Susya because the place is not fit for a village, and with our other hand we build a new Susya right next to it, but for Jews. And what will we do with the land if we manage to get these Palestinians off it? You can be sure it, too, will be used “for the public good.” 

Our discriminatory practices towards the Palestinians in Susya are not the exception, they are the rule. If you invest even a small effort in learning about Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, you will discover that we systematically use the power of the state to severely discriminate against Palestinians in regard to public land, urban planning, use of resources and in many other areas. We’re not talking about the compromises necessary to survive in a rough neighborhood. We’re talking about deeply illegitimate policies that cannot be reasonably construed as self-defense, like the destruction of Palestinian Susya.

According to reports, Israel plans to destroy Susya before August 3rd, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to review the Civil Administration’s planning policy in the area. But it is not too late to prevent the destruction. Now is the time to raise your voice against this injustice. Write a blog. Talk to your congregation. Post something on your timeline. Support one of the organizations fighting to save Susya. Visit the village and express your solidarity. We Jews must wake up and take responsibility for our collective power: We must not commit this crime. 

For more information, and ways to get involved, see Rabbis for Human Rights’ campaign to Save Susya.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.