Susiya, a West Bank village under threat of demolition, has now made it into the pages of The New York Times news section, and we are permitted a view of how Israel wants us to see this disturbing story: All the fuss about Susiya is little more than the result of clever marketing on the part of the villagers.
Thus we find a story today by Diaa Hadid titled (in the online version) “How a Palestinian Hamlet of 340 Drew Global Attention.” This primes readers from the start to expect a tale of simple villagers who devised a winning media strategy, and it distracts from the real issue, which is nothing less than ethnic cleansing: Susiya is to be destroyed to make way for Jewish settlers.
High in her story Hadid writes, in a telling phrase, that “the cause of [this] tiny village” has become “outsized,” in other words overblown, as if Susiya, with its population of 300 or so, is not worth the fuss.
The village first got notice when “sympathetic” foreigners visited Susiya some 20 years ago and took up its cause, Hadid states. By that time the residents had been forced out of their original homes and were living near the centuries-old site that had belonged to their ancestors.
Jewish settlers had taken over the original village in 1986, she writes, and Israeli forces made them move on again in 1990 “for unknown reasons.” They were expelled once more in 2001, according to Hadid, “as collective punishment over the shooting death of a Jewish settler.”
Her story omits a crucial detail: The authorities knew that the villagers were innocent of the killing but used the incident as an excuse to harass the Susiya residents once more. The Times account leaves the impression that a Susiya resident was responsible for the settler’s death.
Hadid quotes a staff member of B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, who notes that residents “have managed to place Susiya on the international agenda in ways that other villages have not managed to do,” and her story goes on to say that “years of advocacy appeared to pay off when Susiya’s residents began warning early this month that their village was under threat.”
As a result, the story reports, Susiya received visits from a European Union delegation, Israeli activists and American consular officials. Then, a week ago, the U.S. State Department mentioned Susiya in a press briefing and urged Israel to spare the village.
The Times story suggests that Susiya has received this backing because of its skill in winning attention, and by imposing this angle on the story, the newspaper is attempting to divert readers from the real issues at play: the fact that Israel’s treatment of the villagers is blatantly racist and defies the norms of international and humanitarian law.
Also missing is the context of occupation and dispossession that is crushing Susiya and other villages. Hadid fails to give any sense of this. She writes only that activists have used the village as a symbol of how Israel “has sought to maintain control over large parts of the occupied West Bank.”
We find the word “occupied” here, as usual in Times reporting, but it is devoid of meaning. Readers do not hear that the West Bank is Palestinian territory; that Israel is there as an invading military force; and that the settlements violate international law, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its own population into the foreign territory.
The Times story makes no reference to international law, but it does quote an Israeli military spokesman who says Susiya “was built illegally.” Thus Hadid emphasizes the pretext of legality Israel draws over its defiance of international norms while she ignores the flagrant breaches of the Geneva Convention and other standards.
Readers can pick up some revealing details in the story: the ousted villagers’ descriptions of sleeping outside “in the wild, in the rain,” the fact that they can no longer access two- thirds of their original land because of the settlers, the expectation that if Susiya goes, other vulnerable villages will also fall to Israel’s greed for Palestinian land.
But the story glosses over these details to present the Susiya’s case as above all a successful publicity effort. The Times would have us believe that the real story here is how the village became an “outsized” international cause, through “years of advocacy.”
Susiya is just one of many villages in Israel’s Negev and in the occupied West Bank where Israel is determined to ethnically cleanse certain areas of their indigenous inhabitants and install Jewish residents in their place. Times readers are finally learning about Susiya only because international attention has forced the newspaper to acknowledge the issue.
The village should have been known to readers long before now, just as they should also know of dozens more facing annihilation: Al Araqib, Umm Al Kher and Khirbet Yarza, to name just a few. In the South Hebron Hills alone, where Susiya is located, some 30 villages are faced with demolition.
But even now the Times can’t just tell the story of a village nearly helpless under the weight of Israeli might, a community faced with extinction after centuries of living on the land. Instead we find an effort to play down the tragedy, to present it as an overblown cause, not really worth our concern.