Salim al-Shawamreh, his wife, Arabia and their six children live in the village of Anata, half of which is classified as Area B (under Palestinian municipal control) and half — where Salim’s house sits — as Area C (under full Israeli control). About a third of Anata’s 12,000 residents hold Jerusalem identity cards. The rest are considered West Bank residents, and thus cannot enter Jerusalem, including the section of Anata classified as part of Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), 5,000 acres of Anata’s lands have been expropriated to build the Jewish settlements of Alon, Kfar Adumim, Almon and Ma’ale Adumim, a town of 20,000 whose surface area now exceeds that of Tel-Aviv. A bypass road connecting these settlements to Jerusalem is being constructed around Anata on the village’s former lands; Palestinians will not be allowed to use it. [1]

Crowding in Anata has become chronic, reports ICAHD. Twenty-three house demolition orders have been served to Anata residents by the Jerusalem municipality, the Ministry of the Interior, and, where Anata is classified Area C, the Civil Administration. The Shawamreh family’s home lies in Area C. After several attempts to obtain a permit, their house, built on privately owned land, was demolished amidst great violence in July 1998. After being rebuilt, the house was demolished again in August 1999. The family has paid a high price: besides losing their home, Arabia Shawamreh suffered a deep depression requiring hospitalization.

A 32-Year Occupation

Such scenes are as common as they are tragic, human rights agencies report. According to ICAHD and B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organization dealing with the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has taken control of 70 percent of the occupied territories since 1967. During that period, more than one million acres of agricultural land have been confiscated for 195 Israeli settlements, numerous by-pass roads, industrial parks, nature preserves and military bases.

For 32 years, Israeli civil and military authorities have destroyed homes and orchards standing in the way of settlement projects. According to B’Tselem, Israel has uprooted 300,000 olive and other fruit trees from Palestinian fields in the occupied territories. Such agricultural warfare denies thousands their means of subsistence. Israel has also destroyed 6,000 Palestinian homes on the West Bank, leaving 30,000 people homeless.

The situation is worse in and around over-crowded East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government is feverishly redrawing the city’s boundaries by building as many new Jewish “neighborhoods” as possible. Palestinians without passes cannot enter the city, even to visit family, and Jerusalem’s Arab refugees have no right of return. If family members are deported from the city, those who remain live in forced isolation from their relatives. Such policies divide husbands from wives and children from parents — unless, of course, they sell and leave, as many Palestinians have done.

Home demolitions are especially common in East Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Land Defense Committee (PLDC), thousands of Arab homes have been demolished in and around Al-Quds (Jerusalem’s Arabic name), since the occupation began; 2,140 are currently under demolition orders. A few of these homes were demolished because they housed suspected “terrorists” (illegal according to international law), but most were destroyed because owners lacked proper building permits or land titles. [2]

Although Jews living in Jerusalem and the occupied territories often receive building permits in a matter of months, Palestinians must endure a costly and enervating process lasting three or four years and requiring thousands of dollars. Even after spending considerable time and money, most Palestinian requests are denied. Rather than undertaking this fruitless process, many Palestinians go ahead and build. If their home lies in the path of a road, military base, or expanding settlement, it will not last long.

“[The government’s] justification is that it’s illegal, that they don’t have a permit — which they say gives them the right to demolish it,” says Uda Walker of LAW, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. “The permit system hides the ongoing Israeli conquest behind a legal façade,” says Walker.

A Systematic Conquest

Few human rights workers believe these abuses are random. Rather, many assert that the pattern of home demolitions, land confiscation and road construction reveal an Israeli “mater plan” to consolidate the occupation by creating “facts on the ground.”

“If you look at a map of where the settlements are and where Jerusalem is, you see that settlement building follows a systematic plan… meant to ensure that the Palestinians won’t get one contiguous chunk of land,” claims Walker. LAW views the recent Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, as well as the Wye accords and the two earlier rounds of Oslo, as mere stalling tactics that allow Israel to take more land and redraw the boundaries of Jerusalem and the occupied territories. “The Israeli government, first under Labor and then Likud, used the Oslo Accords as a smoke-screen behind which to pursue policies that irrevocably change the situation on the ground in the Occupied Territories, making permanent Israeli control a historical inevitability,” Walker maintains.

In its effort to control the West Bank and confine Palestinians to overcrowded “reservations” or “Bantustans,” settlers and the military, backed by the government, are seizing land around new settlements to create contiguous Jewish areas within Palestinian territory. According to LAW, 702 houses were demolished between 1993 and 1998. From January until October 1999, 60 houses have been demolished. Twenty-nine by-pass roads, which Palestinians are forbidden to use, connect settlements to Jerusalem while separating Palestinian villages from one another, creating what some call as “Swiss cheese” state.

“It’s clear that the land issues can only be understood in terms of the final status negotiations: to strengthen the Israeli bargaining position,” says Jessica Montell, B’Tselem’s development director. “The fewer Palestinian houses there are in any area, the easier it will be for Israel to take over that territory.”

Multiple Motivations

Israel’s motivations in the West Bank fall into three categories: security, ideology and economics. The first can be explained by a combination of neurosis and the land-hunger of an expansionist, militaristic state. Many Israelis still believe that the Arabs want to push them into the sea, and many in the government and military believe the only way to ensure Israel’s survival is by playing a hard-edged game of realpolitik.

Many of the 350,000 settlers living in the West Bank and in areas of “Jerusalem” beyond the green line are ideologically motivated. Claiming that the biblical land of Israel stretches at least to the Jordan River, if not further east, many would prefer to expel the Arabs from the territories and annex their lands. Ideological settlers comprise a large portion of Jews who move to the West Bank, as do people Walker terms “economic settlers,” i.e., those who settle in the occupied territories because the government offers them cheap land. “Many economic settlers are American. They’ll receive a little area of land and come to start a new life because it’s subsidized,” Walker says.

Many also believe Israel’s conquest is driven by broader economic ambitions. In addition to fueling a multi-billion dollar defense industry, the occupation provides Israeli business with an immense pool of cheap Arab labor. “It sets of the Middle Eastern equivalent of a maquilladora system,” Walker explains. “You have this captive population that needs work, and now they’re dividing them up into even smaller, more disadvantaged groups. They have nothing left to do but work for Israel, and that’s exactly what Israel wants.”

Resistant Resistance

Can anything be done to stop this continuing land grab? Israel and Palestinian peace activists hope so. Gross power imbalances and sharp restrictions on civil liberties always hamper the peace movement in Israel/Palestine. Jews in Israel enjoy more freedom to protest, yet their actions are usually confined to rallies and demonstrations. Although organizers easily draw tens of thousands, and sometimes as many as 200,000, (i.e., five percent of Israel’s population), such actions fall short of more militant, non-violent organizing some in Israel are now advocating.

Groups like ICAHD are committing acts of civil disobedience in an attempt to halt the occupation. In early September 1999, ICAHD defied military orders by bringing 40 Jews, Arabs and Christians from Europe, America, Israel and the occupied territories to a hilltop near the village of Abu Dis ten miles east of Jerusalem and a mile from Ma’ale Adumim. The group spent seven hours rebuilding the home of the Halaseh family, Bedouins whose house had been demolished four times in two years by the Israeli authorities.

Over the last several years, ICAHD and groups like Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) and the Palestinian Land Defense Committee (PLDC) have organized more direct action: rebuilding homes, blocking roads and sitting in front of bulldozers. Even members of Peace Now, Israel’s largest peace group, have participated in such actions.

Yet Peace Now and other groups are reluctant to employ direct action and civil disobedience if it might disrupt the lives of ordinary Israelis whom many in the peace movement do not want to alienate. “We try to think about what is the best tactic now,” says Mosi Raz, Peace Now’s General Secretary. “We don’t want to turn public opinion against us.”

Although Raz expressed some optimism concerning prospects for a just peace under Israel’s new government, he believes that Barak’s election ironically compounds the peace movement’s problems. “Now everyone looks at the government as a peace government, but it’s not,” Raz says. “It’s more difficult to get heard, because people say, ‘What do you want? Your guys are in power!’’

Global Connections

Few activists in Israel and Palestine believe that a just peace will be achieved through the efforts of local peace movements alone. A missing foreign component is crucial to the struggle. “On issues like home demolitions, land confiscation and torture, the international community’s role is key. The people who make these decisions have outside contacts. If there isn’t enough pressure in Israel, pressure from the outside can help,” says Susan Mordechay, an ICAHD activist.

Peace activists consistently decry the US’s role. The three billion dollars in mainly military assistance that the US government annually provides Israel helps Israel maintain its domination over the region. That, coupled with the US bias towards Israel in the “peace process,” ensures that the outcome of negotiations will favor Israel, says Walker. “Madeline Albright has said she’s against house demolitions, so why doesn’t she lobby against them? The US threatens to pull aid, but they never do it,” Walker says. “If they were to put real pressure on Israel, I think some things might change.” Walker knows, however, that this won’t happen until Americans are fully informed and motivated enough to pressure their government.

Until Then…

Dramatic reversals in US or Israeli policies are unlikely. For now, peace activists try to pressure the Israeli government and to raise awareness in Israel and abroad. In the meantime, they extend comfort and encouragement to victims of the occupation, like Halaseh’s 16 year-old daughter Aliya, who spent a week in prison for resisting arrest as her home and 200 fruit trees fell under the weight of the bulldozers. “We are weak,” says Aliya, “but I know I am in the right, so why should I be afraid?”

Despite enormous obstacles, Palestinians and Israelis resisting the occupation believe their cause will eventually triumph. For the sake of the two million non-Jewish inhabitants of the occupied territories, they hope victory will come sooner rather than later. “It’s time Israel recognizes we are people like any other people in the world,” says Issa Samaden of the PLDC. “Israel is stronger, but you can’t keep a people from demanding freedom. The question is, how many more victims do they want?”

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[1] The 5,000 acres expropriated from Anata were taken at different stages. Some where taken between the late 1960wss and early 1970s for army bases (especially the large Anata base nearby), settlements (such as Pisgat Ze’ev) and industrial parks (such as the Anata industrial park) and more recently (after Oslo), for a large by-pass road linking settlements and preventing Anata’s expansion, as well as for the E-1 parcel that will connect the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem, thus effectively cutting the West Bank in half. Anata has been reduced to a very dense but very compact urban area (most of it was incorporated into Jerusalem in 1967), with little area for its natural expansion.

[2] Demolition orders fall partly in areas where roads or settlements are built (thus “public purposes” serves as the overall justification), but mainly in areas that fall into “Area C: of the West Bank, where they are demolished for a number of reasons, primarily because land is zoned for agricultural (although it is in fact unfit for agriculture). In some cases, houses are demolished because the land they are built on is considered too steep for the use of large machinery required for home construction, such as bulldozers. Yet, as one Palestinian wryly observed, “they can bring bulldozers to demolish my home, but not to level the slope!”

How to cite this article:

Roni Krouzman "Twenty-First Century Palestine," Middle East Report 213 (Winter 1999).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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