SUSIYA, West Bank — Dozens of beige tents built of wooden planks and aluminum siding are affixed to the hilltop. Children play on a plastic slide set up haphazardly next to one of the tents amid water tanks and tractors, tires and discarded toys on the rocky ground.
Across the valley, the unmistakable red roofs of an Israeli settlement with a gated entrance and tree-lined streets stand in stark contrast. The only thing the two neighboring communities — one a Palestinian-Bedouin village, and the other an illegal Israeli settlement — share is a name: Susiya.
What’s even more striking is that less than an hour away, on the Israeli side of the Green Line, which separates the occupied West Bank from Israel proper, the landscape looks eerily familiar.
Al-Monitor’s Lena Odgaard and Raed Khoury visited Susiya in November
There, in Israel’s southern Naqab (Negev) region, cramped clusters of ramshackle huts cover the dusty desert fields on both sides of a busy four-lane highway, while manicured lawns and gated entrances welcome visitors to some of Israel’s wealthiest Jewish towns, just next door.
A new short film produced by Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, links these two geographic areas, the Naqab and the South Hebron Hills, and the almost identical Israeli efforts to forcibly displace Palestinian communities living there.
Called “From Al-Araqib to Susiya”, the film features about a dozen people — men and women, young and old — from two specific villages. In personal interviews held inside their homes, the residents of Al-Araqib and Susiya detail varied Israeli attempts to evict them, from demolishing homes and spraying agricultural crops with chemicals, to police and settler violence.
“It’s the same situation. It’s the same, what happened. There [in Susiya], they destroyed the houses and the officers of Israel want to take their land. It’s the same in Araqib — they destroyed our houses and destroyed our trees,” Al-Araqib resident Aziz Al-Touri told Al-Monitor.
Al-Araqib is one of approximately three dozen so-called "unrecognized" Bedouin villages dotting the Naqab desert. Considered illegal by the state, Al-Araqib does not receive basic services such as water, electricity or roads, and its residents — all of whom are Israeli citizens — are subject to the constant threat that police will demolish their homes.
Since July 2010, the Israeli authorities have demolished Al-Araqib 49 times.
“[The Israelis] want the land. The government decides to occupy all the lands that belong to the Arabs. For the government, [there is] no difference between citizens and the people that are under occupation,” Al-Touri explained.
Some 400 Palestinians originally from the area of Tel Arad, in the Naqab, live in Susiya today. The village is located in the South Hebron Hills area of the occupied West Bank; under the Oslo peace agreement, the village is considered to be in Area C, which is under complete Israeli military control.
As a result of Israeli restrictions, and despite being inhabited since before the creation of Israel itself, Palestinian Susiya isn’t connected to electricity or water grids, is cut off from much of its agricultural land, has no official building or zoning plan and lacks school and health facilities.
Israel aims to destroy the village and evict its residents. A decision on the future of Susiya is currently pending from the Israeli Supreme Court.
Some 325,000 Israeli settlers also currently live in Area C of the West Bank, including in the settlement of Susiya, which was built in 1983 on a hilltop across from Palestinian Susiya.
“I was here before the state of Israel was established. I’m three years older than Israel but I’m not allowed to build. I live in a tent, which also has a demolition order against it,” said Susiya elder and community leader Mohammad Al-Nawaja'ah in the film.
“The settlers come here from Romania and America; like monsters they come. They build on our land and take it over. They’re just handed the keys. But we are not allowed to live on our land,” Al-Nawaja’ah said.
According to Suhad Bishara, a lawyer and director of the Land and Planning Department at Adalah, while two distinct legal systems exist in Al-Araqib and Susiya, the same over-arching policy that places Jewish Israeli interests above Palestinian rights prevails.
“Israeli policies on both sides of the Green Line target you as a Palestinian, regardless [of] whether you are a citizen or you’re under occupation. Your nationality, your religion, your origins make you the target. Either here or there, your identity is the problem for the Israeli authorities,” Bishara told Al-Monitor.
Even the terminology used by right-wing Israeli groups, which view Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank and Bedouin villages in the Negev as a threat to Jewish control over the land, is the same.
“It’s the same discourse, the same language, the same policies. A different legal framework, but it all serves the one purpose,” Bishara said, adding, “No matter what, [Israel] will find the legal means, the legal ways under Israeli law to suspend the basic constitutional rights of the two groups to serve its own ideological and political interests in the area.”
About two dozen Bedouin residents of the Naqab attended the premiere of Adalah’s film last week in Susiya. Another screening will be held Thursday in east Jerusalem, and more are being planned.
“This is the first time I was in Susiya,” Aziz Al-Touri said, adding that he feels that building solidarity between the two communities will help them in their struggles against Israeli displacement.
“I am a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim … like the people in Susiya. In this situation, it’s very important for me to know about what’s happening there, because what’s happening there is now happening with me.”
Susiya’s Mohammad Al-Nawaja’ah agreed.
“In my opinion, this is all one policy, systematically implemented against the Palestinian people,” Al-Nawaja’ah said in the film. “There is no difference between Al-Araqib and Susiya, North and South. It is all one policy that they apply against us. They don’t want to see a single Palestinian Arab.”
Jillian Kestler-D'Amours is a Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. She is a regular contributor to Inter Press Service news agency, Al Jazeera English and Free Speech Radio News. Follow her on Twitter: @jilldamours.
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