The Washington Post reports:
For a quick reality check on the current stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s no better place to visit than this little village of miserable huts and sheep pens in the middle of nowhere.While the WaPo article doesn't claim that Susiya was an Arab village and only that the lands belonged to Arabs, other sources have insisted that there was an old Arab village - from at least Ottoman times - with that name (see Rabbis for Human Rights, Shlomi Eldar in Al Monitor.)
The hamlet in the hills south of Hebron has become an improbable proxy in a cold war waged among Jewish settlers, the Israeli government, Western diplomats, peace activists and the 340 or so Arab herders who once inhabited caves on the site and now live in squalid tents.
Israel’s military authority in the West Bank wants to demolish the Palestinian community, contending that the ramshackle structures made of old tires and weathered tarpaulins were built without permits and must come down.
The Palestinian residents insist they are not squatters but heirs to the land they have farmed and grazed since the Ottoman era.
They say Israel wants to depopulate the area of Arabs and replace them with Jews.
“It’s ethnic cleansing,” said Nasser Nawaja, a resident of the village, who also is employed by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which opposes the demolition.
That is nonsense, said Josh Hasten, international director for the pro-settler group Regavim, which has been pushing the Israeli government “to stop kicking the proverbial can down the road” and shove these “illegal squatters” off the land.
Hasten described Susiya as a phony village and part of a plot funded by the European Union and supported by the Palestinian Authority to assert rights that do not exist and create a “de facto Palestinian state” on land that should belong to Israel.
So, did Susiya exist as an Arab village before 1948?
The question should be an easy one to answer.
Plenty of travelers to the area in the 19th century noted that there were ruins there from an ancient synagogue. But none noted any Arab residents.
Here is everything Wikipedia says about it:
Ottoman eraThe only evidence of an Arab presence there comes from maps - contradicted by other maps - that show Susiya as a village rather than as ruins. Wikipedia reproduces the detail of one of the maps, but the text says that this map is from the the F.J. Salmon map that identifies Kh. Susya as ruins, not as a village.
In his book The Land of Israel: A Journal of travel in Palestine, Henry Baker Tristram wrote "We rode rapidly on through Susieh, a town of ruins, on a grassy slope, quite as large as the others, and with an old basilica, but less troglodyte then Attir. Many fragments of columns strewed the ground, and in most respects it was a repetition of Rafat."
Victor Guérin noted in 1863: "I see before me extend considerable ruins called Khirbet Sousieh. They are those of a city important bearing whose homes were generally well built, like attested by the vestiges that still remain, and possessed several buildings built in stone."
In 1883, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine says "This ruin has also been at one time a place of importance...".
Maps of the 19th century which made the distinction sometimes depicted Susieh as a ruin and sometimes as a village. For example, the Palestine Exploration Fund map of 1878 and the Guérin map of 1881 showed it as a ruin, while the earlier Zimmermann map of 1850, the van de Velde maps of 1858 and 1865, and the Osborn map of 1859 showed it as a village.
The Bartholomew's quarter-inch map of Palestine by The Edinburgh Geographical Institute and the F.J. Salmon map of 1936 show Susya as ruins.
So were there any Arabs living in or near the ruins?
There are two obvious places to look - the official census of Palestine of 1922 and the official census of Palestine of 1931 by the British.
I looked in both places for the words Susya, Sousieh, Sussiya, Susieh, Susiya and every other spelling I could find. I looked at every reference to the word Khirbat or Khirbet (or "Kh.") and Qadima since it was also referred to in articles as Khirbet Susya or Susya Qadima.
The Wikipedia article in a separate section claims that there were some nomadic residents who lived in caves in Susiya during certain seasons but whose permanent homes were in Yatta and Dura. However, the British census noted nomadic populations as well.
In fact, that census also noted areas where there were nomadic populations who moved in and out of areas depending on the seasons, but Susya is not mentioned.
The British census lists hundreds of villages, but Susya is not mentioned at all in any variant of its spelling.
It appears that Regavim is correct, and the Europeans and others like Rabbis for Human Rights who insist that Susiya is some sort of ancient Arab village is nonsense.
See also this earlier article on the same topic from a different angle.
(UPDATE: Clarified that WaPo didn't explicitly claim that Susiya was an old Arab village, h/t Israellycool.)
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