The Slow Creep of Israel’s Annexation


First they were told that they were building a wall between the two populations for the protection of both. ….. Then they were told them that the wall on their land was necessary for the protection of Israel.

Then they told the Palestinian farmers on whose land the wall rests that they would have unlimited access to their lands……after which gates were erected along the wall – gates which would be opened only three times a day. ….Then the Palestinian farmers were told that if they wanted to work their land – now on the Israeli side of the wall – they would have to get special Israeli work permits in order to pass through the gates which only opened three times per day.

 

This is the story of Jayyous. Jayyous is a small village of approximately 3,500 people located six kilometers from the “green line” (the internationally recognized border between Israel and the Palestinian territories). The so called Israeli “security” wall, as in most places on the West Bank, was not erected on the green line border but, rather, deep in Palestinian territory. Consequently, it consumes some 85% of Jayyous agricultural land. Only about fifteen percent of Jayyous’s land is now located on their “Palestinian” side of the wall. To complete the narrative sketched out above, after the Israeli soldiers informed the Palestinians that they would require work permits in order to pass through the gate in order to work their own lands – though now on “Israeli” territory – they told them as well that the only ones likely to receive permits were those either over fifty or under fifteen years of age. Finally, they told the farmers – whose crops have been devastated by these decisions – that they would no longer be able to sell what is left of their produce in Israeli markets.

 

These events have had disastrous social and economic consequences for the farmers and community of Jayyous. This land has been taken illegally, and in direct opposition to the Military Court of Israel’s decision just last year that land would not be taken from farmers. In a matter of less than a year following that decision, various measures have been taken and barriers erected to make it extremely difficult – if not impossible – for these farmers to get to their lands. In the end, it seems as though the observation made to me by a soldier one year ago has turned out to be true: “the [security] wall will be the new green line.” 

I first came to Jayyous two years ago, when the path for the security wall was then being cleared. At the time, I, the Palestinians, and other observers had to watch as huge caterpillar bulldozers tore away hundreds of olive trees. Villagers stood in the path of the bulldozers and armored military vehicles in an attempt to resist this injustice by peaceful means. Jayyous, like most other Palestinian communities, has maintained a commitment to non-violent resistance. This commitment is admirable considering the levels of violence and incidence of theft which they have endured for many years. On the one hand, it is amazing and inspiring to see such spirited and sustained non-violent marches, actions, and protests after all these years. On the other, it is an unbearable tragedy to know that their non-violence has not been successful, nor even recognized and valorized. Many people in the US and elsewhere still view the Palestinians as the primary sources of violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

A few days ago, when I came to Jayyous it was for a social visit. Seeing friends in the Palestinian territories is often one in which sadness and despair can easily overwhelm hope and desire. In the midst of asking such simple questions as, “How are things?” I have been informed that, as bad as things have already been, they continue to deteriorate from one month to the next. Ample examples were provided: A new Israeli settlement is being built on Palestinian farmlands immediately to the latter’s side of the wall on lands which are currently being cultivated. Jayyous residents only discovered this when they stumbled across signs and maps on their land stating – in Hebrew – that over 850 Dunams (225 acres) “to start” would be taken for the construction of Jewish only housing. The settlement is to be placed in front of the two gates which the Jayyous residents currently use to access their farmlands on the Israeli side of the wall. They will effectively be barred from ever passing through the gates again. No new gates have been planned at this time.

 

Furthermore, because the new settlement is to be built right next to the fence and within meters of existing Palestinian homes, the villagers believe that it is likely that their homes will be destroyed. The justification for this destruction will be that the Palestinian homes pose a security risk to the settlers. Accompanying the new settlement will be a large military base as well, just meters from the village. While listening to this news, I sat in shock and groped for words for my old friends. I could never imagine something like this happening to my own community, and so it was difficult for me to put myself completely in their shoes. What can one say about the fact that their entire livelihood and means of sustenance had been completely torn from them by another people with claims to the need for “security”? 

 

 The situation in Jayyous is similar to that of many communities located immediately next to the “security wall”. Israel continues to argue that the purpose of the wall is to “separate” the two populations for the protection of Israeli citizens. How can such a wall be defended when the facts surrounding its construction have little to do with protection? How can a wall be merely for protection when its practical purpose is to annex the best Palestinian land and give it to Jewish settlers? Who themselves are illegally colonizing Palestinian territory? These practices clearly violate the Geneva Convention. For instance, regarding land leveling and property destruction carried out for the construction of the wall, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “any destruction by the Occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or other public authorities or social or cooperative organizations is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

 

Israel’s settlement practices are in clear violation of other international law as well. In 1980, the UN passed Security Resolution 465, which determined that,  â€œ[A]ll measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Also, according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice earlier this year, the wall violates international law and causes untold suffering to Palestinians and their communities. As such, the ruling demanded that the wall be torn down.

 

The sinister history of settlements

 

To understand the reasons why Israel continues to annex land from the Palestinians and to expand and build new settlements, one needs to understand the sinister history of the project.

 

 Zionists began building settlements in the first half of the 20th century. It was their belief that settlements would eventually provide the practical, ground level basis for sovereignty claims. In 1948, when Israel proclaimed independence, they did so based on the patterns of settlements already established – even though they were a small minority of the population in many areas. After the 1967 war, Labor-led governments sought to create settlements on the territory captured (West bank, Sinai, Gaza, and the Golan Heights). In contrast to earlier politicians, Moshe Dayan, an important Israeli leader, reasoned that settlements – by themselves – were not going to bring about more security for Israel; it is “not because they can ensure security better than the army, but because without them we cannot keep the army in those territories. Without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population.” Later, in1977, Begin’s Likud government speeded up the settlement project. At that time there were only about 50,000 Israelis living in annexed East Jerusalem, and 7,000 settlers in tiny West Bank settlements. Ariel Sharon also entered the picture in 1977 as Minister of Agriculture in the Begin government. He unveiled a plan called “A Vision of Israel at Century’s End” which aimed to quickly and densely populate the Palestinian West Bank. The plan deliberately proposed to place Jews in areas of high Palestinian concentration, as well as build a north-south axis of settlements. This north-south chain would run from the Golan Heights to the Negev, encircling Jerusalem with a ring of settlements to effectively cut it off from the rest of the West Bank, and to concentrate settlers in what they called “Samaria”, in the center of the west bank. This planned settlement scheme – politics as an extension of war? – was to bring about a “demographic transformation” in the Occupied Territories. Thirty years later, more than 400,000 settlers have now been settled in the territories – along with dozens of military bases, settler-only roadways, and other infrastructure.

 

Israeli architects Segal and Weizman made the following observation:

“What becomes evident is that by placing settlers across the landscape, the Israeli government is not merely utilizing the agencies of state power and control, namely the police and army, for the administration of power, but that it ‘drafts’ the civilian population to inspect, control and subdue the Palestinian population. An inconsistency develops between what the settlers want to see, the way they describe and understand the panorama, and the way that their eyes are hijacked’ for the strategic and geopolitical aim of the state. The desire for a single family home is being mobilized to serve the quest for military domination, while an act of domesticity, shrouded in the cosmetic façade of red tiles and green lawns, provides visual territorial control”.

What can settlement building be except the conquest of land and the subordination of another people to Israeli political will? These acts cast doubt on the rhetoric of Israeli officials claiming that Israel wants peace; Israel does not want peace, it wants more land! The settlement project first gave them a country, now they are using settlement as a means to expand their borders. After all, Israel is a country that has never formally established fixed borders. How can it establish borders if it continues to build settlements and lay claim to foreign territory?  Sometimes, leaders are candid about their intentions, such as when Air Force Commander Eitan Ben Eliahu said: “Eventually we will have to thin out the number of Palestinians living in the territories.”

 

Perhaps the entire problem can be debated as one of how a state defines itself. Israel was founded as the state for the Jewish people. As in other places, such as Serbia, when one group defines and prioritizes the rights of one group over another, the notion of superiority and privilege is an inevitable component of the social fabric. As such, for even the Palestinian citizens of Israel proper, tacit and institutional discrimination exists. For these Palestinians, the fight is a civil rights struggle. For Palestinians living in the militarily enforced ghettos of the west bank and Gaza, there are no such rights to fight for. Rule and law serves only for their control, without the promise of civil rights or liberties. Can there be a democracy where 1.8 million Palestinians are both “inside” and “outside” the polity?

 

 Americans cannot understand that the basic source of conflict in this area is settlement and the taking of land. The conflict is about space. As such, the conflict is more than resistance to a foreign military occupation, but also resistance to foreign civilian colonists. The ways in which the settlements have been planned and built has been about controlling the land and dominating the lives of the Palestinian people.

 

 Palestinian Poet Darwish expresses it well:  “The Occupation doesn’t content itself with depriving us of the primary conditions of freedom, but goes onto deprive us of the bare essentials of a dignified human life, by declaring constant war on our bodies, and our dreams, on the people and the houses and the trees, and by committing crimes of war. It does not promise us anything more than the apartheid system, and the capacity of the sword to defeat the soul”.

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