Jonathan Kuttab works as an attorney in Ramallah. He grew up in the West Bank. After finishing college in the US and getting a law degree from the University of Virginia, he returned to the West Bank in 1979. He recently obtained accreditation from the Israeli bar. He works with Law in the Service of Man, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, which analyzes the military orders and legal mechanisms used to implement Israeli policy and documents human rights violations. He spoke with Joe Stork in Baltimore on April 12, 1983.
What is the situation in the West Bank since the Lebanon war?
We can only talk about an acceleration of a process that already existed. In the Israeli attempts to colonize the West Bank and to transform its character from Arab to Jewish, we have seen massive land confiscations. Actually, land is not confiscated, but rather declared to be state land, by the thousands of dunams. We also observed a number of new military orders that increase the restrictions over the Palestinian economy, especially agriculture.
The second development is a consolidation of a structure of dominant Jewish life in the West Bank. This process began where settlements were set up and gradually organized into administrative units called regional councils. Eventually they even acquired their own courts. Under Begin this process accelerated rapidly. During the last year we have seen it crystallize into a clear pattern. This is reflected in the attempts to attract a lot of Israelis to live in the West Bank, non-ideological Israelis, who are pressured by economic necessity to obtain housing in the West Bank, particularly in Ma’ale Adumim.
The third element, which is also new, is the extent to which right-wing, fascist elements in Israeli society generally, and in the West Bank in particular, have been extending their influence and operating with a free hand. In the West Bank we see more vocal pressures for harsher treatment of Palestinians—for instance, very clear demands that stone-throwing children and their families should be deported. Jewish settlers take an active role in “maintaining order” by manning roadblocks and by arresting—we call it kidnapping—individuals.
Do these arrests have any legal status?
Well, they may. An Israeli settler confronting a Palestinian can be acting in any one of three capacities: he can be acting as a reserve soldier in the Israeli army, or he can be doing guard duty for his settlement—military orders impose the obligation of guard duty as well as give certain rights to the settlers when they are doing that. Or he could be acting as a private citizen, under directions from the Almighty himself. And the Palestinian never knows in which capacity he’s acting. All that he knows is that the settler is carrying a gun. The military government is now making a point to tell the population in some refugee camps or certain towns that unless they behave themselves, the military will let in the settlers. “They know how to deal with you,” the commanders say. In some cases, they actually do let in the settlers, who carry on rampages worse than those of the army. This happened in Dahajiyya refugee camp during the past month, and before that in the town of Sa’ir and other places. The settlers have been working very hard to create a psychological relationship of intimidation and fear between them and the surrounding villagers.
Is this something new?
It is not new, but it is more frequent now, and more open.
Have they put curfews on the camps?
Generally the settlers come in only when there’s a curfew on the camp. But not always. Usually the army specifically lets the settlers in. Other times, the settlers would just come themselves in a large group.
Does this mean that when they’re not letting the settlers in, the IDF units act to keep the settlers out?
Yes. In Qalandiya refugee camp, for instance, armed settlers stopped taxis on the way to Ramallah, forced the people out, and gathered about 300 in the schoolyard of the refugee camp. Those Palestinians were afraid that they were about to be massacred en masse, Sabra-Shatila style. They were saved at the last moment, so they said, by an Israeli army patrol that happened by and released them. I’m not saying there was about to be a massacre—we don’t know. But we do know that in many West Bank communities now, the population has to look to the Israeli military government for protection against the lawless activity of the settlers, just as in southern Lebanon the population needs to look to the Israeli Army for protection from Sa’ad Haddad and his militias.
Is there evidence that the Israeli government is setting this up and encouraging the settlers?
We see that clearly. When Moshe Arens became defense minister, he went to Kiryat Arba and toured Hebron in the company of Rabbi Levinger and made clear statements that the settlements should take a more active role in policing and maintaining order in the West Bank. He also said that they have to do it according to the law.
One got the impression here that Arens was trying to assert more control over the settlers.
In fact that is not true. There are two kinds of extremists as far as the Israeli government is concerned. There arethe exhibitionists like Meir Kahane and the Kach movement, who are viewed by the government as dangerous. The government keeps them under strict control and pulls them in for questioning and administrative detention. But then there are, from my point of view, the much more dangerous Gush Emunim, Levinger and the extreme right. They seem to have very good friends in very high places. They have a consistent record of getting away with lawless violence, not only against Palestinians but even against Israelis.
Would you say that the Gush Emunim is setting the tone?
They seem to be. Actually, there is great ignorance among Palestinians of what exactly is happening. We tend to look at settlers as a monolith. Maybe we are wrong in that, but we don’t have the wherewithal of grasping the differences. The settlers in the high-rise buildings surrounding Jerusalem seem to be more of a cross-section of Israelis rather thatn an ideologically committed minority. There are even Peace Now people living there, and people who will speak very favorably about recognition, even statehood for the Palestinians.
How do you see the role of American settlers in particular?
North American settlers have been usually among the worst. They are the mainstay of the Gush Emunim extremists in the West Bank. About half of the settlers in the West Bank, I think, are new immigrants from the US and Canada.
How is Israeli Jewish life being institutionalized in the West Bank?
The settlements now have been organized into regional councils, they are connected to each other by a system of high-speed access roads. They have their own infrastructure, their own courts, their own governance.
Does the jurisdiction of these settlement courts extend just to the settlers, or to the Palestinians as well?
It’s not clear at all. There was a report of a Kiryat Arba court summoning the acting mayor of Hebron to appear before it on charges that he is attempting to restrict the development of Kiryat Arba. He did not go, as far as I know, lt’s not very clear what their jurisdiction is.
But it is officially recognized?
Oh yes. These settlements also have a development plan applying only to them. The present policy of the government is to restrict the physical growth of the Arab population centers. In the past, certain specific areas would be closed to Arab building because they were slated for Jewish development. Now everything outside the present Arab population centers is restricted. Palestinians can’t build anywhere. The power of the local Palestinian municipalities to issue building permits has in fact been taken away and transferred to the Higher Planning Committee, which is composed of Israeli officials.
What is the domain of the regional councils?
Each regional council includes two or more settlements with all the land in between. We have never been able to get an adequate answer as to whether a regional council also includes the Arab towns that fall within its area. The councils have officials, they have their own security networks separate from the Israeli army and they are peopled by settlers from the area.
What is actually on the books in terms of their responsibilities?
The military orders pertaining to the settlements are only in Hebrew and are not distributed to the population. We managed to get some of them and translate them. One way that they keep information from Palestinians is by issuing a single military order, number 892, for instance, which authorizes somebody else to issue regulations pursuant to that military order. So the military order, one or two paragraphs, may be available, but the regulations themselves, which can run into 150 to 250 articles describing the whole internal structure, are another story.
Who issues these regulations?
The military governor or the commander of the area or the head of the civilian administration.
Are any of these subsequent regulations published in Hebrew?
If they are, it’s probably in the dining hall of one of the settlements. Not anywhere where we could obtain it.
Do the regional councils come under the Civil Administration then, or under the military governor?
It seems that within the military government there are two separate apparatus, one for governing the Palestinian Arabs and one for governing the Jewish settlements. There are also different administrative units. The Arab areas are divided one way, and the Jewish areas are divided into these regional councils. The two do not coincide with each other. You have an effective apartheid system in the West Bank now.
What has been happening with regard to water in the West Bank?
What has changed is control over agriculture. There have always been strict controls and limits on agricultural development through confiscation of land and holding the level of water usage to what it was in 1967. There have also been controls on export of agricultural products, both to Israel and to Jordan. A recent military order, number 1015, regulates the planting of fruit-bearing trees for commercial purposes without a permit. Commercial purposes means anything over 25 trees. That military order allows them not only to fine the owner, but also to uproot at the owner’s expense any illegally planted trees. Also, every farmer who owns a field must, within 90 days of the promulgation of the order, report the fact that he owns the field, its size, its borders, the number of trees in it, their kind and approximate age, if there is a well, how much water was used from it during the previous year, and provide evidence of ownership. This military order was amended by military order number 1039, which includes vegetables as well.
What’s the situation now in terms of financial resources for the Palestinian inhabitants of the region?
The Israelis passed new military orders controlling the transfer of money. Military order number 952 prohibits bringing in over $3,000 without getting a permit. Military order number 973 says that if any of the money is coming from a “hostile country,” i.e. the Arab world, you need a permit no matter what the amount is and you need to state for what purpose you’re bringing it in. Military order number 974 states that such money must be deposited in a special fund, called the “Fund for the Development of Judea and Samaria.” You need another permit to get it out of that fund. The Israelis have been monitoring very carefully all the money that is coming in. As of about five or six months ago, anybody who comes over the bridge [between Jordan and the West Bank] cannot bring in more $3,000, and they record how much each person brings in.
Even if it’s less than $3,000?
Yes. And there have been hints that they are beginning to look into the finances of different West Bank institutions and associations to see where they are getting their support. In Gaza, associations are not allowed to solicit contributions or funds within the community without obtaining a permit, which the Israelis don’t give them.
When did this new order go into effect?
Within the last year. It’s very difficult to pinpoint when an order goes into effect, because usually the date it carries is abouttwo months before the date that it first becomes known to any attorney, and it may be a different date from the day it begins to be implemented, lt may begin to be implemented the day it is promulgated even though it’s not distributed, or it may be left on the books for a period and only applied sporadically until people get familiar with it.
One gets the sense that things are building up rapidly to a critical stage that may be marked by an effort to deal with what some Israelis call “the demographic problem.”
During the past year, I have seen many danger signals that this could very well happen in the near future. You cannot really talk about it with any degree of certitude, only with foreboding, with a sense of warning. One signal is the formation of regional defense units. Israeli settlers have been taken out of the regular reserve units and put into regional defense units whose job it is to control the population and secure the areas surrounding their settlements during a time of war or emergency.
Second, the settlers are developing a psychological relationship of intimidating and frightening the local population and of being above the law. They’ve always claimed that the military government is too soft on the Arabs and that they know howto deal with them. Atthe same time, you see things like the statement of the deputy speaker of Knesset, that 200-300,000 Arabs should have been kicked out of the West Bank in 1967. Of course, there was the statement two years ago of the chief of army intelligence that there are contingency plans for evacuating 700-800,000 Arabs, using a state of emergency. Different incidents begin to look like dress rehearsals: soldiers coming in at night, forcing everybody into the town square, loading them on trucks and driving off with them into the darkness.
Where has this happened?
In Halhoul, in the past few months. We hear about incidents here and there. Most importantly, perhaps, is the present campaign waged in the US, that “Jordan is Palestine.” If Jordan is the Palestinian state, that’s where the Palestinians should go. They built the Farah prison camp near Nablus, a year and a half ago, not as a prison but as a detention center in preparation for expulsions. You’ve been back in the West Bank for four years now.
What incident has chilled you the most?
I think I was most frightened after the Emil Grunzweig incident. Not because of the bomb itself—any crackpot can throw a bomb—but because of the events that surrounded it, and the intimidation of the Israeli peace movement and the left since that time. They are physically afraid for their own personal safety. This revealed a whole different reality that I had not seen before. I had been too busy having dialogues with “good” Israelis. I had not been conscious of the reality of those Israelis who are in the majority, who are willing to kill other Israelis, those who would applaud in a bus when the news came that Emil was killed, who would try to beat up doctors trying to give first aid to another Jew!
Is there any sector of the Palestinian population that seems to be particularly vulnerable at present?
One major target is refugee camps. They are being subjected to harsh measures of collective punishment on a semi-permanent basis. Another is youth, generally. Youth is now a political category in the West Bank. If you’re between 15 and 20 you will be harassed and persecuted just because you are between 15 and 20.
Another element in collective punishment is massive fines. Over the last month, fines all of a sudden almost quadrupled. You began hearing about fines of 100,000 shekels for participating in a demonstration or stone throwing. These have to be paid within seven days. The whole community has to pay it. Another thing that we are seeing is mass trials. “Speedy trials,” they’re called. We have a report of a “speedy trial” in Qalandiya in which 60 people were convicted within two hours and got fines of 25-30,000 shekels each. 30,000 shekels would be about $800.
Putting aside for a moment the possibility of organized mass expulsion of the Palestinians, how do you see the demographic picture? Are Israeli tactics significantly eroding Palestinian resistance to this?
There has been a population drain in the West Bank, qualitative as well as quantitative. But there is a sense among Israelis that Palestinians may not be leaving fast enough, and the settlers could have very different tactics in mind—entirely new variations on the 1948 model, lt is not necessary, for example, that there be two or three small massacres, then mass panic and evacuations in trucks. Entirely new and imaginative ways may be found to scare away the population.
The incident where the schoolgirls thought they were being poisoned alerted me to this possibility. A very small number of Israelis can implement these scenarios. The majority of Israelis, including the Israeli government, can later deny any foreknowledge.
What is your evaluation of the episode in the girls’ schools?
The facts aren’t all in yet. We do know that the population does not trust the Israeli investigation. The episode indicates that the demographic situation is very much on the minds of the Palestinian population, as much as it is on the minds of the Israeli right.
How would you characterize the current phase of this occupation, which is now 16 years old?
The current phase of colonization is closing off the last possible avenue for a compromise settlement. Whether one approves of it or not, the only logical, reasonable, and remotely possible compromise is something like a two-state solution. That possibility is being very rapidly closed off.
Are we talking about months or years?
Is it five minutes to midnight or five minutes after midnight? It depends on how much power you’re willing to use to move that hand back. With sufficient US and American Jewish pressure, you can reverse it. With little or no US pressure you will not be able to reverse it.
Do you see any signs of that pressure?
Very little. There seems to be a lot of hard searching in the Jewish community, but precisely this searching has stimulated the Israeli right to speed up the colonization.
It would seem that this pressure mainly has to develop internally in Israel.
I think it mainly has to be developed abroad. When Begin has to report to the Israelis that he has received an American ultimatum, then he will be able to sell it to his population, including his right wing.