The Palestinians’ West Bank
Squeeze them out
As Jewish settlements expand, the Palestinians are being driven away
IT WAS just another day for the Israeli army on the West Bank. Having parked its jeeps in the hills south of Hebron, a unit of soldiers checked the papers of the Palestinians who lived there, confiscated one or two, and then herded the people and their flocks off a hilltop which a nearby Jewish settlement, called Susiya, has been eyeing with a view to taking it over. “Military zone,” tersely explained an Israeli officer, who had just received a warrant declaring it such. “Off you go.”
Taking time out from their Saturday morning prayers, a few settlers looked on approvingly. “Don’t argue,” replied the officer, when a Palestinian shepherd asked why the soldiers were moving Arabs out of the newly acquired military zone but not Jews. “You have a minute to move or I’ll arrest you,” said the officer.
“Settlers are just off-duty soldiers,” mumbled the shepherd to his sons as they stubbornly continued to tend their sheep. A Palestinian mother picnicking with her two toddlers is hauled away by Israeli soldiers, while villagers plead for her release.
The signs of previous bouts of displacement ring the adjacent hills. Mobile homes for young Jewish settlers sprout on the hilltops. Armed with a list of military orders, Israeli soldiers are herding the West Bank’s Palestinians out of the rural 60% of the territory, officially known as Area C, where Israel has full military and civilian control, and into cities. On some days the Israeli army declares a patch of land to be a live-fire military zone. On other days they say the Palestinians must move because of an impending archaeological dig. The erection of hilltop stations to provide antennae for Israeli mobile phones (but not for Palestinian ones) is another oft-cited reason for pushing Palestinians out. Eight Palestinian hamlets around Susiya face demolition.
Armed Jewish settlers assist the clearance. Soon after the army did its job, a Jewish shepherdess from Susiya brought her flock onto a Palestinian field of wheat to let it graze. Someone had scratched out all the Arabic road signs. “The only weapons we have are our cameras,” says Alia Nawaja, a mother of seven turned amateur camerawoman, who lives in a nearby hamlet. Palestinian violence, however, still occasionally erupts. On April 30th a Jewish settler was killed by a Palestinian for the first time since September 2011, at the other end of the West Bank.
A barrage of reports by the UN, the European Union and assorted charities has repeatedly warned that the Palestinians in Area C are under threat. Some 350,000 Jewish settlers now inhabit over 200 settlements and outposts in the same area, usually on the high ground, twice as many people as the Palestinians in the land below. Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s new defence minister, the ultimate authority in the West Bank, backs a report commissioned last year by the Israeli government, endorsing all such Jewish settlements. Naftali Bennett, another powerful minister in the new coalition of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, wants all of Area C to be annexed outright to Israel.
In many respects this has already largely taken place. A senior Israeli officer recently testified in court that in the past 45 years of Israeli occupation the army has redistributed around 70% of the West Bank land designated as state-owned either to Jewish settlers or to the World Zionist Organisation, whereas less than 1% of supposedly state-owned land was granted to Palestinians. While Israel’s government expands Jewish settlements and ties them to Israel proper with a network of roads, it bars and sometimes reverses Palestinian development. It habitually denies housing permits to Palestinians, thus stunting the community’s natural growth, yet provides uninterrupted water to Jewish settlements. Water for the Palestinians generally comes once a week, by lorry. Israeli soldiers have destroyed scores of small EU-funded projects, ranging from wells to solar panelling, and threatened to demolish scores more.
So far this year, Israel’s army has evicted almost 400 Palestinians from the West Bank and dismantled over 200 homes, the fastest rate for two years, according to the UN. The number of such incidents has risen sharply since a new Israeli government, with even stronger settler influence within it, took office in March. As a result, the European Union called on April 26th for an end to what it calls “the forced transfer” of Palestinians out of Area C. The Israeli army has also again demolished a restaurant, al-Maghrour, in a rural spot that was popular with Palestinians from nearby Bethlehem, which is increasingly hemmed in by settlements. In addition, some 2,300 Bedouin have recently been earmarked for removal from the strategic west-east corridor known as E1, which links Jerusalem to a big Jewish settlement, Maale Adumim, and to its smaller satellite community, Kfar Adumim, where Israel’s new housing minister, Uri Ariel, happens to reside.