A small Palestinian village named Shushahleh in the West Bank is evacuated every night by the Israeli army, citing that the villagers should not be allowed to stay on an agricultural land.
But for the 22 families of Shushahleh, staying in their village is essential for tending their lands, all of which are privately owned and registered under their names, according to their land deeds.
The tiny village, overlooking the suburbs of one of the oldest Palestinian cities, Bethlehem, is no more than 1.2 square km in size, but it is surrounded by four settlements, namely Afrat, Sidi Boaz, Eliazar, and the closest, Daniel.
The villagers are not allowed to spend the night at the village anymore or lock the doors to their homes, according to newly issued orders by the Israeli army.
Despite the limited access into the hilly community, the Salah family of Shushahleh keeps working on its lands.
Myasar Salah, 60, said the Israeli decision came as a surprise to them last September, and she still does not understand the reasoning behind it.
“One morning, a few months ago, the Israeli army came to us and said ‘you have to leave,'” she said. “Since then, they don’t let us stay overnight, and they don’t let us lock the doors.”
The residents had to move to the nearby village of al-Khader, but they go back to their homes and lands in Shushahleh everyday.
Although lacking basic infrastructures, the village is considered an important source of living for its former residents.
Munzer Salah, 44, said that the villagers are now not allowed to lock the doors or turn the lights on after sunset.
Salah, who was born and raised in Shushahleh, the situation got more difficult with the expansion of the adjacent settlement, Daniel.
“They’re watching us 24 hours a day via cameras from the settlement and Highway 60, and they know that we are peaceful and never cause any trouble,” Salah said, pointing to a surveillance camera on an electricity pole a few meters away.
“They want us to leave completely to expand the settlements, even though we were here before them,” he said.
While the overwhelming majority of the villagers rely on agriculture, it is not very feasible to maintain the lands under such condition, especially under a ban on almost all farming-related machinery and equipment.
To reach the village, the residents usually use an opening in the Highway 60, a main road connecting the West Bank’s south and north, and walk uphill for about 1.5 km.
Mousa Salah, 65, a retired school principle, said the village’s agricultural activity is barely enough to feed the households.
“It is costly and exhausting to maintain the lands under such condition, but we are going to keep doing it everyday,” he said.
Israeli authorities told Hasan Breijiyeh, the lawyer representing the families of Shushahleh, that the nighttime eviction decision is based on the recommendation by the military who considers the town, with a population of 170 Palestinians, as an agricultural area and not a residential community.
“We will work to revoke this recommendation, because it is not based on a solid legal argument,” said Breijiyeh.
Some of the homes in Shushahleh date back to 1897. At first, they were used as shelters by some Palestinian farmers during the harvest season. They later turned them into their homes.
The villagers have turned one of the old homes into a museum as a way to show their roots in the endangered village. Enditem