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Hope Is All That Remains for Susiya

27/07/2015 11:10 BST | Updated 26/07/2016 10:59 BST

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As the crowd of left-wing Israelis arrived at Susiya, they stopped dumbfounded. What greeted them in the vast South Hebron hills was a mix of ramshackle tents, mattresses and a few grape vines. Is this really the village making headlines around the world? They might have wondered why this village needed saving at all.

However, the 500 demonstrators who met in Susiya last Friday on a sweltering July afternoon decided that yes, the planned demolition of the Palestinian village by the Israeli authorities was definitely something to protest about.

Friday's protestors hailed from as far away as Europe, America and Australasia. Closer to home, but perhaps more surprisingly, most of the protestors were from Israel. Three buses from Tel Aviv and three from Jerusalem shipped 300 Israelis out to the West Bank for the peaceful demonstration.

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The fact that 500 people turned up to try and save a village which is home to only 300 residents is testament to its newfound fame. Social media has been ablaze with activists urging Israel to "Save Susiya". Even the U.S. State Department released a statement condemning the Israeli plan, saying that the "demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative".

Indeed, whilst Susiya might not seem like much, take a short history lesson in Susiya's struggle, and you'll understand why it is so important to its residents, why it has become the poster child for Israeli oppression, and why it is a test case for whether activists can change the policy of conservative Israel.

The original village of Susiya was demolished in 1986 to make way for an archeological park. Residents were evicted from their homes and left with nothing. Families who had lived in Susiya for generations had to face a life in which their children would not grow up in their ancestral homes. Determined to save the Susiyan community, residents did the best they could. They moved to the neighbouring agricultural land which they owned and had been using to farm. Since then, Susiyan residents have constantly been living on the edge, repeatedly facing demolition orders.

Susiya is part of Area C, the large part of the West Bank which is under Israeli military control. Here Palestinians live next to Israeli settlements, which are constantly expanding. "Israel plans to join up all of their settlements, so they deliberately make life hard for us. They eventually want to take over all of Area C, and remove all Palestinians from here", one resident told me.

The Israeli authorities claim that they can demolish the village because none of the tents and make-shift buildings that make up the small village has a license. However, this is because the authorities, who administer the licenses, have repeatedly rejected Palestinian plans and applications. Bimkom, an Israeli NGO, found that out of 240 Palestinian building requests made in 2014, only one was approved.

Even if Susiya does not get razed to the ground, inequalities are still rife. I spoke to Mohammad Jaber Al-Nawajaah, headmaster of Susiya's school. "In our school we have no playground. Our children play on the rocks. They learn in tents because the civil administration rejected our application to build a proper school. The Israeli settler school has a swimming pool, a basketball court, computers. Is that fair?'

Mohammad is passionate and eager to talk to me. "Are you from Europe?" he asks, "Write down what I am about to say, please... Israel says it is a democratic country. Is this democracy? Will these actions lead to peace? We want people from other democratic nations, like the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, to force Israel to respect our human rights".

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Mohammad Jaber Al-Nawajaah, headmaster of Susiya's school

Indeed, it seemed that the protest was not just about Susiya's imminent threat, but about the wider Palestinian struggle too. To ferocious applause one of the protest's leaders said into a megaphone: "Israel will not stop its aggressive foreign policy. Netanyahu will never make peace, and he has to be brought down. And he can be brought down not only by statements and not only by demonstrations, but also by boycott divestment sanctions".

However, for Friday's protest, all that could be done was to peacefully make a stand against Israeli policy. Passing water around, banging drums, speaking animatedly in multiple languages, children shaking spray cans of paint: the atmosphere was hopeful, hopeful that change could be made for the Palestinians who have lived and farmed on this land for generations.

"We want to tell the story of Susiya to the world", said resident Nasser Mohammad Nawaja. Let's just hope it is enough.

Photographs: Catherine Wyatt