Formalizing Israel’s Land Grab

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Formalizing Israel’s Land Grab

Time is running out for Israel. And the Israeli government knows it. The Jewish Diaspora, especially the young, has a waning emotional and ideological investment in Israel. The demographic boom means that Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories will soon outnumber Jews. And Israel's increasing status as a pariah nation means that informal and eventually formal state sanctions against the country are probably inevitable.

Desperate Israeli politicians, watching opposition to their apartheid state mount, have proposed a perverted form of what they term "the one-state solution." It is the latest tool to thwart a Palestinian state and allow Israel to retain its huge settlement complexes and land seizures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The idea of a single state was backed by Moshe Arens, a former defense minister and foreign minister from the Likud Party, in a column he wrote last month in the newspaper Haaretz asking "Is There Another Option?" Arens has been joined by several other Israeli politicians including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

The Israeli vision, however, does not include a state with equal rights for Jewish and Palestinians citizens. The call for a single state appears to include pushing Gaza into the unwilling arms of Egypt and incorporating the West Bank and East Jerusalem into Israel. Palestinians within Israeli-controlled territory, however, will remain burdened with crippling travel, work and security restrictions already in place. Palestinians in the occupied territories, for example, cannot reclaim lost property or acquire Israeli citizenship, yet watch as Jews born outside of Israel and with no prior tie to the country become Israeli citizens and receive government-subsidized housing. Palestinians in the West Bank live in a series of roughly eight squalid, ringed ghettos and are governed by military courts. Jews living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, like all full Israeli citizens, are subject to Israeli civilian law and constitutional protection. Palestinians cannot serve in the armed forces or the security services, while Jewish settlers are issued automatic weapons and protected by the Israel Defense Force.

If Israel sheds Gaza, which has 1.5 million Palestinians, the Jewish state will be left with 5.8 million Jews and 3.8 million Arabs. And, at least in the near future, Jews will remain the majority. This seems to be the main attraction of the plan.

The landscape of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, known as "facts on the ground," has altered dramatically since I first went to Jerusalem over two decades ago. Huge fortress-like apartment complexes ring East Jerusalem and dominate the hillsides in the West Bank. The settler population is now more than 462,000, with 271,400 living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and 191,000 living in and around Jerusalem. The settler population has grown at the rate of 4.6 percent per year since 1990 while the Israeli society taken as a whole has grown at 1.5 percent.

The net effect of the Israeli seizure of land in East Jerusalem, which includes recent approval for an additional 9,000 housing units, and the West Bank is to promulgate a form of administrative ethnic cleansing. Palestinian families are being pushed off land they have owned for generations and evicted from their homes by Israeli authorities. Dozens of families, tossed out of dwellings they have occupied in East Jerusalem for decades, have been forced onto the streets. Groups such as Ateret Cohanim, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish private organization that collects funds from abroad, purchases Palestinian properties and pursues legal strategies to evict families that have long resided in East Jerusalem. Israel's judicial system and police, in violation of international law, facilitate and enforce these evictions and land seizures.

Heavily armed settlers carry out frequent unprovoked attacks and ad hoc raids and house evictions to supplement the terror imposed by the police and military. They are the civilian arm of the occupation.

"This acquiescence in settler violence is particularly objectionable from the perspective of international humanitarian law because the settlers are already unlawfully present in occupied territory, making it perverse to victimize those who should be protected-the Palestinians-and offer protection to those who are lawbreakers-the settlers," said Richard Falk when we spoke a few days ago. Falk is the U.N. special rapporteur who was denied entry into the occupied territories by the Israeli government.

Falk said that incorporating Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank into a single Israeli state would see Israel impose gradations of citizenship.

"If the Palestinians in pre-'67 Israel enjoy second-class citizenship, those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will be given a third-class citizenship," Falk said. "The real proposal, the envisioned outcome of this kind of proposal, is an extension of Israeli control over the occupied territory as a permanent reality. It is presently a de facto annexation. The creation of a single state would give the arrangement a more legalistic cover. It would seek to resolve the issue of occupied territory without the bother of international negotiations."

"The effect is to fragment the Palestinian people in such defining ways as to make it almost impossible to envision the emergence of a viable Palestinian sovereign state," said Falk. "The longer it continues, the more difficult it is to overcome, and the more serious are the abridgement of fundamental Palestinian rights."

Falk, who taught international law at Princeton University, will issue a report to the United Nations this fall in which he will assert that the Israeli process of colonialism and apartheid has accelerated over the past three years. He will call in the report for the U.N. to consider unilaterally declaring Palestine an independent state, as it did with Kosovo. Falk cites as examples of Israeli colonialism the official 121 Jewish settlements, as well as roughly 100 "illegal outposts" in the West Bank, and the extensive network of roads reserved exclusively for Jews that connects the settlements to one another and to Israel behind the green line. He estimates, when "all restrictions on Palestinian control and development are taken into account," that Israel has effectively seized 38 to 40 percent of the West Bank.

The punishing conditions imposed by the Israeli blockade of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza have been replicated for the roughly 40,000 Palestinians who live in "Area C," the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under complete Israeli military control. Save the Children, UK (STCUK), in a recent report called "Life on the Edge" argues that Israeli policies of land confiscation, expanding settlements, lack of basic services such as food, water, shelter and medical clinics are at "a crisis point." The report concludes that food security problems are even worse than in Gaza. According to the report, "[s]eventy-nine percent of communities surveyed recently don't have enough nutritious food; this is higher than in blockaded Gaza where the rate is 61 percent." Palestinian children growing up in Area C experience, according to the report, malnutrition and stunted growth at double the level of children in Gaza. Forty-four percent of these children were found to suffer from diarrhea, often with lethal effects. STCUK writes that "Israel's restrictions on Palestinian access to and development of agricultural land-in an area where almost all families are herders-mean that thousands of children are going hungry and are vulnerable to killer illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia."

"Children are being forced to cross settlement areas and risk beatings and harassment by settlers, or walk for hours, just to get to school ... many children are losing hope in the future," Jihad al-Shommali of the Defense for Children International Palestine Section was recently quoted as saying with reference to the problems of children in Area C.

Falk said, "This overall pattern suggests systematic violations by Israel of Article 55 of Geneva IV and Article 69 of the First Geneva Protocol of 1977 that delimits Israel's obligations to ensure adequate provision of the basic needs of people living under its occupation, especially in Area C where it exercises undivided control."

The annexation of Palestinian territory has been reinforced by the construction of 85 percent of the separation wall-256 of a planned 435 miles has been completed-on occupied Palestinian territory. The barrier cuts the West Bank off from Israel and has been built in a configuration which plunges deep into the West Bank. The settlements and the land to the west of the wall, which makes up 9.4 percent of the West Bank, have already been absorbed into Israel. The seizure of nearly 40 percent of the West Bank includes Israeli control of most of the Palestinians' water supply. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank are allotted per capita four to five times the amount of water allotted to Palestinians by the Israeli government.

The settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank violate Article 49(6) of Geneva IV, which prohibits the transfer of the population of an occupying power to the territory temporarily occupied. Israel's stubborn rejection of the demand of Security Council Resolution 242 that it withdraw from Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967 creates, as Falk said, "a background that resembles, and in some dimensions exceeds, in important respects the situation confronting the government of Kosovo."

"Lengthy negotiations have not resolved the issue of the status of Palestine, nor do they give any reasonable prospect that any resolution by negotiation or unilateral withdrawal will soon occur," he said. "Under these circumstances, it would seem that one option available to the Palestine Liberation Organization [the Oslo Agreement empowered the PLO to negotiate international status issues] acting on its own or by way of the Palestinian Authority under international law would be to issue a unilateral declaration of status, seeking independence, diplomatic recognition and membership in the United Nations. The recent Kosovo advisory opinion of the World Court in The Hague provides a well-reasoned legal precedent for such an option."

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

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