Were it not for the razor wire, giant concrete blocks, steel gates, watchtower and standard-issue surly teenage soldier, it would be impossible to tell at what point the barren uplands of Israel’s eastern Negev give way to the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.
The military checkpoint of Shani vaguely marks the formal demarcation between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, but in practical terms the distinction is meaningless. On either side of the Green Line, Israel is in charge.
In recent weeks it has been intensifying a campaign to evict Palestinian farming communities summarily from their ancestral lands to replace them with Jewish newcomers.
Israeli human rights lawyers, tired of the international community’s formulaic criticisms, say it is time to be more forthright. They call these “ethnic cleansing” zones — intended to drive off Palestinians irrespective of the provisions of international law and whether or not the Palestinians in question hold Israeli citizenship.
In the occupied South Hebron Hills, a dozen traditional communities — long ago denied by Israel the right to enjoy modern amenities such as electricity and running water — are struggling to remain in the cave-homes that sheltered them for centuries.
Israel has reclassified much of their land as a military firing range and demands that they leave for their own safety. An appeal to the Israeli courts, the latest instalment in a 14-year saga to avoid eviction, is due in the next few days.
Israel’s concern for the villagers’ welfare might sound more convincing were it not encouraging Jews to live close by in illegal settlements.
Palestinians in other parts of the occupied territories coveted by Israel — such as villages next to Jerusalem and those in the fertile Jordan Valley, the territorial backbone of any future Palestinian state — are being squeezed too. Firing ranges, closed military zones and national parks are the pretexts for Israel to appropriate the farmland these rural communities need to survive.
As a result, Palestinian life is withering in the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank Israel was temporarily entrusted with — the so-called Area C — under the Oslo Accords. Endlessly harassed Palestinians have sought sanctuary in West Bank cities under Palestinian Authority control. Today the remnants in Area C, a population of about 100,000, are outnumbered three to one by Jewish settlers.
A discomfited European Union, normally mealy-mouthed on Israel’s occupation, has started to describe this as “forced transfer.” The term may sound ominous and reproving, but human rights groups say that, from a legal perspective, the terminology obscures rather than illuminates what is taking place.
“Forced transfer,” observes Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s minority of 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, usually describes uncoordinated and unofficial incidents of population displacement, often as an outcome of war.
Bishara and others argue that Israel is carrying out a systematic and intentional policy to drive Palestinians off their land to replace them with Jewish communities. This, they say, should be identified as “ethnic cleansing,” a term first given legal and moral weight in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s.
As evidence, the lawyers point to recent developments inside Israel. The treatment of tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev, all of them Israeli citizens, is virtually identical to that of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills.
The Bedouin too have faced a prolonged campaign to push them off their ancestral lands and into a series of “townships,” forcibly urbanizing them in the country’s most deprived communities. In the disconcerting language of Israeli bureaucracy, the Bedouin need to be “concentrated.”
Israel has increased the pressure — as in the West Bank — by denying these Bedouin all public services, and demolishing any concrete homes they build. As with Palestinians under occupation, the Bedouin have found their communities reclassified as firing ranges, military zones or national forests.
The village of al-Araqib, near Beersheva, for example, has been demolished more than 50 times in recent years as Israel plants on its land — with a suitably sinister irony — the Ambassadors’ Forest, commemorating the help provided to Israel by the international community’s diplomatic corps.
Waiting in the wings are developers ready to build on the Bedouin’s land 10 new towns for Jews only. The rest of the territory is being eaten up by Jewish ranches, given swathes of land to create vineyards, offer camel rides and, in one case, provide a pet cemetery.
But, as in the West Bank, the Bedouin are refusing to budge, and pressing their historic land claims in the Israeli courts. Rather than wait for a verdict it may not like, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is rewriting the Bedouin’s citizenship rights.
The Prawer plan, which passed its first reading in parliament last month, will force 40,000 Bedouin off their land — the largest expulsions inside Israel for decades. Unlike Jewish citizens, they will have no say over where they live; they will be forcibly assigned to a township.
For the first time, Israeli citizens — the Bedouin — are to be deprived of any recourse to the courts as they are harried from their homes. Instead Israel will resort to administrative procedures more familiar from the occupied territories.
The policy is clear: Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are to be treated like sheep, fenced into ever-smaller areas, while Jews will have unrestrained access to a Greater Israel envisioned by Mr Netanyahu.
The international community has long criticized Israel for the “discrimination” its Palestinian citizens face and for the “oppression” of Palestinians under occupation. This terminology needs overhauling too, say the human rights lawyers.
A system that treats one ethnic group as less human than another already has a legal name: it is called apartheid.
Palestine: Profiting from Occupation
Israel’s occupation of Palestine is propped up with the help of international corporations and financial institutions. This project profiles international and UK-based companies complicit in the occupation and analyses the role of international trade projects in institutionalising the Israeli apartheid regime.
1. Israeli companies: Since the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in 1967, Israeli companies, hand in hand with the Israeli state, have exploited the Palestinian economy and workforce. Agricultural companies have set up farms on land expropriated from Palestinian communities and have crippled Palestinian agriculture, already decimated by the military occupation and closures, by flooding Palestinian markets with cheap Israeli goods. These companies have taken advantage of the EU-Israel Trade Agreement to export large quantities of their produce to the European market.
2. International Corporations: Many international companies have taken the opportunity to profit from the suffering of the people of Palestine. Arms companies sell weapons to Israel in full knowledge of Israel’s ongoing war crimes; construction companies accept contracts for the building of illegal settlements; and multinationals open branches on illegal settlements. Some settlement produce is also marketed as ‘organic’ on European supermarket shelves.
3. States: Several foreign governments plan to set up new industrial areas inside the West Bank on territories under Israeli military occupation. In the occupied Jordan Valley, the Japanese government plans to facilitate the setting up of an industrial area where Israeli and international companies will take advantage of the desperate Palestinian workforce. The construction of this industrial area will entail further entrenchment of the Israeli apartheid system through the development of settler roads linking the zone to 1948 Israel. The German, British and French governments have expressed interest in setting up similar industrial areas elsewhere in the West Bank. These zones will exploit Palestinian workers, whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the Israeli military occupation and who often have no choice but to work for settler companies for low wages and with no protection or right to unionise.
There is an established and growing movement in solidarity with Palestine. Since 2004, the focus of this movement has been a Palestinian call for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions‘ (BDS). The call was made by hundreds of Palestinian civil society organisations and all major Palestinian trade unions. Campaigners around the world have engaged in diverse forms of solidarity action in line with this call. Corporate Watch’s research intends to strengthen and provide a resource for the growing BDS movement and the wider international solidarity movement.
Obama clearly defined lines appear to offer little hope to Palestine
President Obama more closely aligned himself with the Israeli government’s terms for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians Thursday as he continued his visit to the region. Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Obama urged Palestinians to drop their longstanding demand for Israel to halt settlement construction on Palestinian land as a precondition for talks.
President Obama: “What I shared with President Abbas, and I will share with the Palestinian people, is that if the expectation is, is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations. So I think it’s important for us to work through this process, even if there are irritants on both sides.”
Obama had previously backed the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze at the start of his first term. On Thursday, Obama said the Israeli settlements are not “constructive” or “appropriate,” but he stopped short of calling them illegal, a point stressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Mahmoud Abbas: “Regarding the issue of settlements, it is not only our perception that settlements are illegal, but it is a global perspective. Everybody considers settlements not only a hurdle, but even more than a hurdle, towards the two-state solution.”
E1 Silence: Israel’s decision to allow settlements in the E1 area of the occupied West Bank is a slap in the face of the two-state solution. So why aren’t American Jews speaking out about it?
Overwhelming silence. That’s been the public stance of the leaders of most major American Jewish institutions since the Israeli government announced that they were reactivating plans to construct a new settlement in the area of East Jerusalem known as E1. This absence of public response represents a missed opportunity for leadership on an issue that threatens both the vital relationship between Israel and the United States and the very future of the Jewish state.
Constructing settlements in E1 almost definitely destroys hopes of ending the occupation, which violates the human rights of Palestinians and threatens the long-term viability and security of Israel. Since E1 links East Jerusalem with the West Bank, Israeli settlements there would literally present an obstacle to a two-state solution. While final plans have not been released, previously-proposed plans suggest that such settlement will probably also limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement, restrict access to private agricultural land, and displace the Jahalin Bedouin living in the area.
Today, virtually every major Jewish organization publicly voices support for the creation of a Palestinian state. However, our leadership cannot profess commitment to this solution while closing our eyes to actions that undermine this very possibility.
NEWS UPDATE: The Union for Reform Judaism said it opposes the Israeli decision to build new settlements, “especially in the critical ‘E1’ area” of the West Bank. The declaration came in a policy document that addresses fallout from the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.
The announcement of plans to build in E1 is a slap in the face to the United States, Israel’s closest and most important ally. The U.S. just recently stood with Israel in being one of the only major countries to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s bid to elevate its status to “non-member observer state,” and even used political capital to persuade other nations to vote no or abstain.
President Barack Obama strongly and publicly supported Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of rocket attacks by Hamas, while financing the Iron Dome system that saved Israeli lives. Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.
American Jewish communal leaders — including heads of major institutions, rabbis, and local leaders — have a historic opportunity to respond to these new developments by taking leadership on three fronts: vis-à-vis the Israeli government, the American government, and our own communities.
The Israeli government has a history of responding to concerted pressure by the American Jewish community. Usually, such pressure has focused on questions of religious pluralism within Israel. But if the most visible leaders of the American Jewish community made clear that we want settlement to stop, and real peace talks to begin, perhaps the Israel government would be moved to listen. As a community, we invest millions of dollars a year in Israeli society, and work hard to ensure bilateral support for a safe and secure Israel.
U.S. elected officials have demonstrated time and again their willingness to heed American Jewish leaders on matters relating to Israel. Today, Jewish leaders have the opportunity to tell our elected officials that we believe that the long-term safety and security of Israel as a Jewish state depends on maintaining a path to peace.
Within our own communities, Jewish leaders must do a better job of helping our constituents to understand the hard choices that will no doubt be required for a lasting peace.
This standoff takes place in the week that Jewish communities read the Torah portion that tells the story of the painful split between Joseph and his brothers. This is a story in which every character abdicates responsibility for his own contribution to the family rift. Jacob openly shows favoritism to his son Joseph. Joseph flaunts his role as favorite son. The brothers seize an opportunity to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt.
But the story doesn’t end here. After Joseph achieves his position as second-in-command to Pharaoh, his brothers journey to Egypt in search of food to sustain them during a famine. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they shudder with fear. They assume that their now-powerful brother will take revenge on them for their betrayal of years before. Instead, Joseph seizes the opportunity for leadership. He reconciles with his brothers, provides them with food, and finds them a safe place to live. By moving beyond blame, Joseph succeeds in achieving a lasting peace with his former adversaries.
Within the American Jewish community, we are good at pointing fingers to explain why we have not yet achieved peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We blame the Palestinian leadership for their internal fractures, for their failure to accept previous peace deals, for the unjustifiable terrorism that marked the Second Intifada, and for the approach to the U.N. There’s certainly reason to say that the Palestinians and their leadership have made mistakes. But pointing fingers gets us no closer to any resolution of conflict.
I am proud to call myself a Zionist. For me, Zionism means the right for Jews to live in a safe and secure state in the Land of Israel. It means that we have a refuge from oppression and a promise that the Holocaust cannot happen again. But Zionism also means taking hold of history. For thousands of years, history was something that happened to the Jewish people. Other nations invaded our land, expelled us, and massacred us. Zionism offers a new possibility, in which Jews make our own history. This new power demands that we refuse to stand back and simply blame others — even when others make mistakes. Instead, we should always be asking ourselves what we can do to create a better future for our own people and others.
Today, it is time for those of us who consider ourselves Jewish leaders to take leadership by demanding that Israel protect human rights and preserve the possibility of long-term peace.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. Her most recent book is “Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-on Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights, 2011).
The move has been seen as defying a UN vote that implicitly recognised Palestinian statehood in the region.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s conservative government had authorised the construction of 3,000 housing units and ordered “prelimiliary zoning and planning work for thousands” more.
The official would not elaborate. But Israeli media said the government sought to hammer home its rejection of yesterday’s upgrade, by the UN General Assembly, of the Palestinians to “non-member observer state” from “entity”.
Israel and the United States had opposed the resolution, which strenghtened the Palestinians’ claim on all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, saying territorial sovereignty should be addressed in direct peace talks with the Jewish state.
Those negotiations have been stalled for two years, however, given Palestinian anger at continued Israeli settlement.
The Israelis insist they would keep West Bank settlement blocs under any final accord as well as all of Jerusalem as their capital.
That status for the holy city has never been accepted abroad, where most powers consider the settlements illegal for taking in land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The 193-nation UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the world body to issue what he said was its long overdue “birth certificate”.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has hailed the United Nations’ implicit recognition of a Palestinian state and called for an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem.
Palestine now has the same status as the Vatican.
A statement said: “The Holy See welcomes with favour the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations,”
It also said it was a “propitious occasion” to recall a “common position” on Jerusalem expressed by the Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organisation when the two sides signed a basic agreement on their bilateral relations in 2000.
While attempts have been made by the Palestinians to create a better life for themselves, these refugee camps have been forced upon them to this day by American Taxpayer funding, and Anglo American, Europe backing and banking for Israel that has propped up the forced ‘state’ of Israel for more than fifty years.
Illuminati, New World Order elite have been at the forefront in protecting European and American settler people who stole the land and continue to steal the remaining few segments of land from the Palestinians, in essence taking away from the Palestinians piece by piece this land over these many years.