Contradicting the official stance of the Israeli army and government, an Ottoman land ownership document dating back to 1881 suggests that the territory on which the Palestinian village of Susya is located does in fact belong to the residents of the area, Haaretz reported Sunday.
The report cited an internal review offered by the Civil Administration, Israel’s military governing authority in the West Bank, last week.
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled last month that the Civil Administration had the right to demolish Palestinian homes in Susya because they had been built without authorization. Susya’s residents argue that they had no choice but to build illegally, because the Civil Administration rarely grants permits to Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C, a zone controlled by the Israel Defense Forces as per the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The Civil Administration’s refusal to grant building permits to the residents of Susya was based, among other issues, on the perceived lack of land ownership documents. However, the 1881 Ottoman-era document was recently deemed to be both authentic and legally valid by a top staff officer in the Civil Administration, Moshe Meiri, who is responsible for the management of land in the West Bank. Meiri stated that the land specified in the document includes the area of the Palestinian village.
The document was also mentioned in a 1982 report by Pliah Albeck, who was the director of the Civil Department at the State Attorney’s Office, which determined the legal boundaries of West Bank settlements, the report said.
Following the release of the internal review, officials in the Civil Administration were reevaluating whether to go ahead with the demolition, the report said.
Throughout the nineties, the IDF carried out small-scale demolitions in Susya, claiming all residential structures on the land were built illegally. In July 2001, the entire village was destroyed a day after the murder of Yair Har Sinai, a shepherd from the nearby Jewish settlement of the same name. The village was later restored, but now faces the prospect of another demolition.
In June, diplomats from all 28 European member states traveled to Susya to protest Israel’s decision, and two weeks ago, the US warned Israel to not dismantle the village’s structures.
“We strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village,” State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a press briefing. He added that the evictions and demolitions “would be harmful and provocative” and urged Israel to work with village residents to find a solution.
JTA contributed to this report.