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Occupied Palestine Not 'Settling' for Nothing

The cessation of the settlement moratorium was never in doubt to the Palestinian residents of Wadi Rahaal.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

 by Al-Jazeera English

The one-lane road to Wadi Rahaal weaves its way through impossibly
deep, rocky valleys, whose perimeters are speckled by Israeli
settlements and settler outposts cascading from the hilltops.

“It wasn’t always like this,” Shadi Fuwaghara, an energetic 23
year-old resident of Wadi Rahaal told me as we stepped outside in the
searing afternoon heat.

Pointing to an empty asphalt road once used by villagers -- and now
behind the barriers of the nearby Efrat settlement, next to the rows of
identical housing tracts -- he said it used to take people five minutes
to get to Bethlehem’s city limits. “Now, it takes us thirty minutes or
more, and we have to pass by seven villages,” he continued. In the
winter months, the roads are flooded, making the route impassable -- and
further locking the entire community of 1700 people inside a veritable
prison.

A tiny village on the dry desert outskirts of Bethlehem, Wadi Rahaal
has been suffocated by the settlement and its accompanying security
apparatus: the path of the separation wall has been set with concrete
curbstones, and when completed, it will pull more of the village inside
the walled boundaries of the settlement.

Several homes were demolished when plans were drawn to re-route the
wall deeper into Wadi Rahaal’s land, and there has been an Israeli
military order in place since 2006 that prohibits any new homes from
being built in the village -- a punitive and cynical measure when
compared to the 4,000 new, modern homes the mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi,
says he will start building inside his settlement across the street as
the ten-month moratorium ends this week.

"In the matter of practicalities it can be done within days, within a
day or two we can have the tractors turned on and starting to work," Revivi
told ABC News this week. In other words, the villagers of Wadi Rahaal
are bracing for more aggressive annexation, after years of slow and
steady land confiscation that has devastated their village.

Efrat’s expansion has already taken nearly fourteen per cent of the
village’s land, according to Fuwaghara’s statistics, and Wadi Rahaal’s
residents feel that there is an atmosphere of incessant siege. “They
dump the garbage from the settlement right next to our elementary
school,” Fuwaghara said. It was not hard to guess what kind of message
this sends to the village’s youngest population.

However, with all eyes on the theatrics surrounding the end to the
moratorium -- a moratorium that never was, declared settlement watchdog
group Peace Now, which documented 600 housing units built in 60
settlements during the ten-month charade -- the bigger issue has been obfuscated from the discussion.

What’s happening in Wadi Rahaal, and to the hundreds of villages,
towns and cities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem held hostage by
the encroaching settlement industry is entirely illegal under
international law.

In June 2010, Israeli human rights group B’tselem released a report
documenting settlement activities and land confiscation since 1967.
“Some half a million Israelis are now living over the Green Line: more
than
300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which
control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in
twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the
Jerusalem Municipality,” the report stated.

“One of the objectives of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention
is to preserve the demographic status quo in the occupied territory,”
continued B’tselem in its report. “The article states that, “The
Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian
population into the territory it occupies.” According to the commentary
of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the purpose of this
article is to prevent a practice that was adopted by certain powers
during World War II, ‘which transferred portions of their own population
to occupied territory for political and racial
reasons, or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories.’”

Additionally, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled
in 2004 that the “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian
Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to
peace and to economic and social development.”

Ignoring the central legal violations of the settlement industry
itself, in place of much hand-wringing over the distorted and
ineffective theatrics of Netanyahu’s moratorium, is the elephant in the
room; and it is not lost on Palestinians who ceaselessly watch their
land annexed to growing settlement blocs.

The Americans’ soft-line tactics urging Israel to halt new growth --
instead of demanding the dismantling of the hundreds of illegal
settlement colonies as a substantive move towards lasting justice in the
region -- belies the agonizing reality of Israel’s colonialist project
and ensures future negotiation failures.

Israel has effectively used the moratorium issue to distract
attention away its rampant creation of irreparable "facts on the ground"
-- such as the continued demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West
Bank, East Jerusalem and inside the state itself, in the Negev; the
ceaseless granting of permission to violent, armed Jewish settlers in
taking over Palestinian homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem; and the
unremitting siege and blockade against the Palestinians sealed inside
the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Shadi Fuwaghara, his family, the children and the elders
in their tiny village of Wadi Rahaal are intently watching Efrat’s
tractors fuel up, bracing for the worst but strengthening the
determination of the community not to give up hope.

“You can see what’s happening here,” he said. “Soon, we’ll be
surrounded on all sides by the settlements. So we cultivate the land. We
hold meetings and protests. We fight to stay here.”


© 2021 Al-Jazeera English
Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of "In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine" (Just World Books, 2014).

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