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Palestine’s latest evictions are a human rights crisis – world leaders must act
Leilani Farha
The villagers of Susiya and the Bedouin are some of the West Bank’s most vulnerable communities. Their fate is in the hands of the UN security council

‘For several decades, the villagers of Susiya in the south Hebron Hills have lived under the constant threat of becoming homeless once again.’

Monday 29 August 2016 16.11 BST Last modified on Monday 29 August 2016 19.52 BST

Abu Jihad, a Susiya village elder, waits anxiously. His home in the south Hebron hills of the occupied West Bank faces demolition for the third time. Legal options are running out as Israeli authorities proceed with their plans to forcibly evict half the village. Global opinion and pressure have helped keep the bulldozers at bay this time around. So far.

The Palestinian herder community of Susiya was forced out of its century-old village in 1986. Israel declared the area an archaeological site and then handed it over to Israeli settlers. The villagers moved into tents and caves on their own farmland, but were evicted from there as well by the Israeli army in 1991. No reasons were given. They now live on another part of their farmland, sandwiched between a hostile Israeli settlement and one of its outposts.

For several decades now, the villagers of Susiya have lived under the constant threat of becoming homeless once again. Mass demolition of their homes and forced evictions took place in 2001 and 2011. Israel claims it has no planning permits to build on the farmland, but at the same time makes it impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits. Residents of Susiya have applied for permits over the years but each application is met with rejection.

Every week somewhere in the West Bank a family watches while their home is demolished by bulldozers
Susiya’s plight is not an exception. In addition, more than 46 Bedouin communities in the central West Bank – around 7,000 Palestinians – face Israeli pressure to leave their homes. These are among the most vulnerable people in Palestine. Most of them are Palestinian refugees, forced out of southern Israel following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel wants much of this land in Palestine for its own settlements – which the international court of justice and the UN security council have repeatedly said are illegal. Not surprisingly, the communities are resisting their expulsion, knowing that without their land, they lose everything. But the Israeli authorities are fighting hard to remove them: the Bedouin are not permitted to build anything on this land – not a hut, school, kindergarten or health clinic – and are denied access to essential services such as electricity and water, on land they have inhabited for generations.

Every week somewhere in the West Bank a family watches while their home is demolished by bulldozers. In 2016 there has been a dramatic rise in forced evictions across the West Bank. The Israeli authorities have already demolished 793 structures – the highest on record. 1,218 Palestinians, including 568 children, have been made homeless.

When help is offered, the donations of tents, water tanks and children’s play equipment are seized or destroyed. Access to grazing land and markets, essential for these herding communities to earn a living, is restricted, irreparably damaging their way of life. The aim and effect of this coercive environment is clear – to make life for Palestinians on the land unliveable.

Israeli rights groups join battle to save symbol of Arab resistance to evictions

When political actions have egregious human rights results they must be addressed as matters of human rights. For Palestinian Bedouin and herder communities, violation of the right to adequate housing and to be free from homelessness and its grave repercussions is a daily threat and a common reality, with no end in sight and no access to effective recourse or remedy.

Two years ago, along with four other United Nations independent human rights experts appointed by the human rights council, I raised the case of the Bedouin with the Israeli government. We urged them to halt the plans to forcibly transfer these already vulnerable people – a serious violation of international law. Despite the seriousness of our concerns, we received inadequate responses and not only have the plans not been halted, the situation has worsened: demolitions of their structures have increased three-fold.

The Bedouins and the villagers of Susiya have been let down by the international community in the past. Their rights to adequate housing and to non-discrimination have been systematically ignored. Today the security council will hear about the serious plight of these communities from the UN’s special envoy to the region. The international community must recognise the grave human rights implications of Israel’s plan to forcibly evict and transfer these communities. Abu Jihad, the other residents of Susiya village and the Bedouin are looking to world leaders to recognise their equal membership in the human family, and to act decisively to guarantee their right to adequate housing and to non-discrimination.