Still standing fast: Svalbard priest grateful after helping save Palestinian village from destruction, but fear lingers

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During a week when much of the world’s outrage was directed at the killing an 18-month-old Palestinian boy in an Israeli firebombing, another nearby West Bank village under constant threat was celebrating a reprieve – for now.

“They have stopped razing of Susiya due to international pressure,” said Eid Suleyman, a member of Palestinian family hosting Svalbard Church Priest Leif Magne Helgesen during his final days in the West Bank village.

Helgesen, blogging about his experiences in the area this summer as part of an international campaign to prevent the demolition of the village, which was supposed to occur by Monday under an order by Israel’s Supreme Court. Dozens of top-ranking political and religious leaders from Europe and elsewhere visited the 350-person village, made mostly of tents, to appeal on behalf of its residents.

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Palestinians from Susiya and elsewhere in the West Bank gather for one of numerous protests that received worldwide media attention. Photo by Leif Magne Helgesen.

“The danger is that Israeli authorities and soldiers will come with their bulldozers when international attention ceases,” Helgesen wrote in his farewell blog Tuesday. “Families in Susiya are still living under the great danger that their homes will be destroyed.”

A meeting between residents and Israeli authorities is scheduled Aug. 11, after which a new date for a court hearing will be set, according to Helgesen.

The priest, who spent the final three months of 2014 in the area protesting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, was called back on short notice to help with the Susiya campaign on behalf of Norwegian Church Aid. His blogs during the summer detail numerous encounters with – and occasional destruction and physical abuse by – Israeli soldiers, but never the full-scale destruction Palestinian residents feared after the end of Ramadan.

Israeli leaders say the village, which has been demolished several times in recent decades, was initially built on an archeological site dating back to biblical times and remains a “unrecognized” settlement. Helgesen’s blogs – and his call for a total boycott of all Israeli-made products – received mostly supportive feedback, but also generated plenty of controversy and criticism.

“Incredibly one-sided reporting,” a reader wrote in a comment following the priest’s farewell blog post. “Is it not a paradox that Palestinian terrorists are hailed, given martyr status and have streets named after them?”

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