Susiya embodies Israel's colonial plans for Palestine

The saga of one Palestinian village in the West Bank tells the greater story of Israel's colonial plans, writes Joseph Dana

Palestinian children play in the village of Susiya, south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Majdi Mohammed / AP Photo
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Frantz Fanon, the influential Afro-Caribbean postcolonial theorist, would have been 90 years old this month. His prescient critiques of 20th-century colonial society were built primarily upon a close analysis of Algeria's struggle for independence in the 1960s, but his conclusions about the nature of colonialism are profoundly valuable for understanding the present situation in Israel and Palestine.

If Fanon were alive and writing today he wouldn't be swayed by the claims that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is predicated on religion or some manner of a clash of civilisations. Rather, he would see the conflict for what it really is about: a struggle over land, resources and, above all, domination.

Take the case of the Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya. Perched on a ridge in the rolling hills south of the ancient city of Hebron, Susiya is under threat of demolition by Israel. The 300 people that call Susiya home have been living in the area since well before Israel was founded in 1948. Many of its residents were born in nearby caves, which they still retreat to during the hot summer months. Some are refugees from areas that were purged in 1948.

When Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, Israeli settlers set up a commanding fortress of a settlement next to Susiya, which borrowed its name. The settlement served as a critical military base for the southern reaches of the West Bank and drew extra legitimacy from the Israeli public because one of the oldest synagogues in the West Bank was discovered in the area.

Israel's settlement project was, of course, a disaster for the Palestinians of Susiya. Fanon wrote that a native town was always a hungry town. Susiya, parched and windswept, is a thirsty one. Israel denies Susiya the right to connect to any water pipeline. It claims that the village lacks the necessary permits to build the infrastructure to connect itself, and thus forces the villagers to buy expensive water tanks from Israel.

Last month, Israel extended this claim of illegality to its logical conclusion and announced that Susiya would be destroyed after Ramadan because its structures – tents, animal pens and water well – lacked the necessary building permits, which had been applied for by Susiya's residents but were rejected on more than one occasion by the Israeli military government.

The decision to demolish Susiya fits neatly into larger Israeli plans for the West Bank colonisation project. The simple goal is to force Palestinians off their land and into major urban areas like Hebron or the city of Yatta, where they can be easily contained by Israel.

The villages’ land is then swallowed up by ever-growing Israeli settlements. It is a basic application of colonial rule that is entrenched through the threat of demolition, the military turning a blind eye to settler violence and the denial of basic infrastructure such as water and electricity. This strategy has worked well for Israel, and one look at a map of the West Bank reveals several Palestinian urban centres surrounded by rings of Israeli settlements.

Susiya is one of the few villages still fighting this plan in the south West Bank and has, thus, become a symbol. Western diplomats and representatives regularly visit the village to see the reality of Israel’s occupation up close. Many of these representatives have come to admire, above all else, the determined non-violence of Susiya’s residents in the face of the crushing force of Israel’s daily, and often violent, intimidation.

Thanks to this international visibility, Susiya might be spared demolition, at least in the short term. An Israeli defence ministry report, leaked this week, confirmed that the villagers of Susiya are in possession of Ottoman-era land deeds. The existence of the documents, which villagers claim were provided to Israel in 2013, again proves that the land is privately owned.

This time, however, Israel might use the documents to put Susiya on the back burner and leave the threat of demolition looming over the villagers for years to come.

Even if Susiya is spared from this round of threats, Israeli plans for the West Bank will remain fundamentally unchanged and the occupation will continue to entrench itself daily. Susiya will continue to be a thirsty town subject to the full brunt of the Israeli military.

As events outside of Palestine divert attention from the colonial complexion of Israel’s position in the region and its leadership’s fear mongering over regional threats continues on a daily basis, Israel will entrench its footprint on the West Bank.

Settler towns like Israeli Susiya will be reinforced, while the natural resources of the area will be used by Israel for its sole benefit and enrichment.

The only constant feature of this decades-long conflict is the ever-growing Israeli appetite for Palestinian land and resources. Regardless of negative publicity or the high cost of maintaining the occupation, Israel will continue on this path until it is forced to end its colonial escapades. After all, as Fanon noted: “Colonialism is not a thinking machine nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties.”

The plight of Susiya is the embodiment of Fanon’s description of colonialism in action. The village's saga demonstrates the unavoidable truth at the heart of Israel and Palestine: that the conflict is a colonial one that only borrows the rhetoric of a religious conflict to obscure its true dimensions.

It will be the deployment of colonial theory and anti-colonial tactics, as laid out in the work of Fanon and others, that will ultimately resolve the conflict. The most pressing question now is whether society has advanced to a point at which an anti-colonial struggle can be fought without violence – the jury is still out.

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