Hebron, occupied West Bank – It is barely 7am and Wadha Nawaja has already put the mattresses away, prepared breakfast and fed the animals. She is doing the dishes, as her 10-month-old grandchild gazes at the water tap.
Like a magician, she opens and closes it quickly, so as not to lose a single drop of water.
Time has taken its toll on Wadha. The lines that wind through the 49-year-old’s face tell the story of a village.
She has lived in Susiya, in the occupied West Bank, for most of her life – this is where she got married, raised her children, and is helping them raise theirs.
But times have changed. It’s not the tough Bedouin lifestyle or the lack of services denied to Palestinians by the Israeli occupation; it’s the constant fear of expulsion that is becoming too heavy to shoulder, Wadha says.
“Whenever we hear a car approaching, we jump outside to check if they’re here to destroy the village.”
Sandwiched between an illegal Israeli settlement and a settler-run archaeological site in the southern Hebron hills, the 350-strong Palestinian community face some of the worst living conditions in the occupied West Bank.
There are no services in Susiya. Palestinians here pay exorbitant amounts to fill their water tanks and generate their own electricity.
“The electricity and water pipes pass through our land, but we are not allowed to use them,” says Mohammad Nawaja, a 70-year-old village elder. “If they could, they would ban us from air, so they push us out of here.”
The village has been demolished three times: In 1986, lands were confiscated as Khirbet Susiya was declared an archaeological site.
In 2001, Palestinians were forced out, their property destroyed and water cisterns sealed, after an Israeli settler was killed nearby. In 2011, the last wave of demolitions took place under the pretext of a lack of permits.
Given that the village falls within ‘Area C’ – under full Israeli control as per the Oslo Accords – locals have to get an Israeli permit to be able to build there.
However, figures obtained by Bimkom, an Israeli NGO, suggest that getting such a permit is nearly impossible. In 2014, Israeli authorities received 240 Palestinian building requests in ‘Area C,’ but only one was approved.
UN figures show Israel carried out 590 demolitions in the same area, displacing 1,177 Palestinians last year.
Unable to get these permits, Palestinians in Susiya ended up living in tents that are now under threat of demolition after the Israeli authorities turned down a master plan that they put forward – at least five versions of it.
‘All in this together’
In May, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to grant Palestinians an injunction against the demolition of their homes, which gives the Israeli army the green light to demolish Susiya at any time.
Threats to demolish about 70 structures in the village were followed by warnings that nearly 40 of those structures would be destroyed after the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr – days before August 3, which is when the Israeli Supreme Court is due to review a Palestinian appeal against the Israeli rejection of their master plan.
With this imminent threat looming over their already difficult lives, Wadha tries to comfort herself saying that although life in Susiya is “bitter,” she wouldn’t trade living here for anywhere else.
“We’re all in this together,” she says. “It’s not like they’ll tear down the village and leave my home standing.”
The kitchen, she says jokingly, is what she would miss most if her house was to be demolished. And by kitchen she means a rack, a sink and a curtain under a countertop – those are the cabinets.
“We got the kitchen recently. It wasn’t always like that,” she said with a smile. “It’ll be hard, but we’ll build it again.”