ON JULY 11, Palestinians in the small village of Susya, in the occupied Palestinian territory, felt less vulnerable and more hopeful.
The Seanad’s vote that day in support of a bill prohibiting the import of goods and services from illegal settlements gave us hope that international complicity in maintaining Israel’s theft of our land and dispossession of our people will one day come to an end.
Susya is located in the South Hebron hills. Its residents were displaced by Israel for the first time in 1949, a year after the “Nakba”, the Arabic word for “catastrophe” which Palestinians use to refer to their dispossession and forcible displacement from their homeland in 1948. In 1986, Susya residents were uprooted once again by the Israeli army.
Health clinic, school, homes under threat
Susya was then demolished twice, once in 1989 and again in 2011, only to be rebuilt by those of us who live there. It is now threatened with being completely demolished. The proposed demolition extends to a health clinic and Susya’s only school, as well as to the remaining homes – a number of caravans and tents.
Our suffering multiplied when an illegal Israeli colonial settlement was constructed on our confiscated land. While the settlers were immediately given access to a range of services, we were denied running water and electricity.
We were also prohibited from engaging in any further construction to preserve space for the future expansion of the illegal settlement.
Between 1999 and 2001, Israeli forces destroyed most of our water cisterns, some of which were centuries old. Our water heating solar panels were also smashed. According to Amnesty International this was done, “to expel the population from the village in order to make way for the expansion of the Israeli settlement of Sussia”.
We brought a case to the Israeli High Court, presenting our authentic deeds to the land that was confiscated for the benefit of the settlement.
But to no avail. The Israeli justice system has, after all, almost always served the interests of the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land.
The European Union, including Ireland, considers all Israeli settlements established in the occupied Palestinian territory illegal. Yet, aside from rhetorical condemnations, the EU has never taken one concrete step to stop Israeli settlements or hold Israel accountable for building and feverishly expanding them.
European businesses enable settlements to thrive and expand; the EU imports goods from Israel’s illegal settlements at an estimated annual value of $300 million. Israel interprets the continued ability of its illegal settlements to trade with Europe as a tacit green light to continue their colonisation project with utter impunity. Indeed, even when settlers who killed Susya residents were acquitted by the Israeli courts, the EU failed to take any action.
Our children showing signs of trauma
Our children are arguably worst affected by the illegal settlements. Settlers aggressively attack them on the way to school and even at school, stealing their bags, ripping their books and threatening them with vicious dogs.
They also raid our homes threatening to burn them down, while we are still in them. These experiences have a profound impact on our children who now display symptoms of psychological trauma.
With the help of international solidarity, we are resisting this grave injustice with determination and insisting on staying in our homes. But we cannot carry on this struggle for our basic rights while the EU, including Ireland, continues its complicity in Israel’s occupation and colonisation.
Thank you to Seanad Éireann
The Seanad’s vote is a warmly welcomed first step by Ireland towards ending its role in maintaining Israeli settlements. By banning the import of their products and services, Ireland would send a strong message that impunity will not last and that the rule of international law must prevail.
If the bill does pass into law, Ireland will become a leader on this issue in Europe, and beyond. It will no doubt encourage other governments to go beyond resorting to the mere rhetorical condemnation of Israeli settlements, which has only served to enable their ongoing expansion.
In Susya, such leadership means a lot to us. Our very survival as a community depends on it.
Mohammad Nawajaa is principal of Susya School in the West Bank.