TEMPO.CO, Susiya - Residents of this dusty village are bracing for Israeli bulldozers to come and knock down their makeshift homes of tarp, wood and wire any day now.
But as they wait for the military order to be carried out, villagers are rallying support from Western governments. Israeli authorities say Susiya's structures are unlicensed and must come down. Residents and their supporters say Israel refuses to grant building permits to Palestinians, even while allowing Israeli settlements to thrive next door.
"The people are afraid," said Nasser Nawajah, a leading activist among Susiya's residents. He said his children will not sleep alone at night. During the day, Nawajah said, the children are constantly on edge that any group approaching could be Israeli soldiers.
Susiya, a rocky hamlet of several hundred people, is one of more than a dozen Palestinian herding communities in the southern West Bank unrecognized by Israel. Consisting mostly of tents, and without running water or electricity, the village has nonetheless risen to international prominence in recent weeks as it braces for a round of decisive demolitions after three decades of legal battles with the Israeli government.
At the heart of the matter is the struggle over the 62 percent of the West Bank that was placed under full Israeli control under interim peace accords two decades ago. This land, called Area C, is home to more than 350,000 Jewish settlers, more than double the number of Palestinians living there. Critics say Israel has blocked virtually all Palestinian development in Area C, while expanding the Jewish settlements there — a charge Israel denies.
Susiya is flanked by a Jewish settlement and the ruins of a centuries-old Jewish town of the same name.
Susiya's residents lived in the area of the ruins until Israel declared it an archaeological site in the 1980s, forcing them to leave. Some left for other Palestinian communities, while others settled a few hundred meters (yards) away, on land Nawajah says is privately owned by him and his relatives.
Since Israel did not recognize the relocated Palestinian Susiya, it was not hooked up to electrical or water grids. The nearby Israeli settlement of Susiya and several unauthorized Jewish outposts in the area receive such services. The international community considers West Bank settlements, built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war, to be illegal or illegitimate. The Palestinians claim the West Bank as part of a future independent state.
Susiya's situation escalated in May, when Israel's high court stopped a temporary injunction on demolitions. Then in July, the Israeli defense body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, known as COGAT, announced the demolitions and evictions would take place sometime before Aug. 3. COGAT also provided residents with a map of 32 structures it planned to demolish first.