Last week, B’Tselem issued a new report – Expel and Exploit: The Israeli Practice of Taking over Rural Palestinian Land. The report surveys the fragmentation of Palestinian rural space in the West Bank through a case study of the process that three villages in the Nablus District – ‘Azmut, Deir al-Hatab and Salem – have undergone since 1980, when Israel established the Elon Moreh settlement nearby.
Separating the residents of these Palestinian villages from their farmland, pastureland, and natural water resources – while the nearby settlements expand their built-up areas and the land they use for farming and pasture – has undermined the villagers’ way of life. The collapse of their self-sustaining economy has reduced many villagers to a life of poverty, food insecurity and social instability. Denied access to the natural resources that used to be the mainstay of their livelihoods - and cut off from urban centers, roads, and communities that share their customs and social structure - a local way of life and unique cultural identity has been devastated. (See photo blog.)
Recent weeks have seen heated debate in Israel regarding governmental efforts to avoid dismantling the illegal settlement outpost of Amona. Yet while all eyes are on a single hilltop dotted with a few dozen trailer homes, behind it lie more than 200 settlements that control over 300,000 hectares of land throughout the West Bank. Setting aside the narrow legal focus on individual cases of Palestinians whose land ownership has been recognized by the Israeli courts, our new report offers the broader view, surveying an institutionalized system of dispossession across the West Bank.
Evacuating Amona and relocating it to another site of dispossession - this time officially sanctioned under the guise of a distorted, manipulative reading of the law - will not change reality. Instead of settlers directly robbing Palestinians of their land, Israeli authorities will do so by indirect means, and the wheels of the occupation will keep turning. Amona should be evacuated - but so should Ofra, Ariel and Elon Moreh, all settlements recognized under Israeli law. The fact is that the entire settlement enterprise is unlawful, and no amount of legal maneuvering can change that.
Batan al-Hawa, Silwan, is the setting for the largest expulsion in recent years in E. J’alem. Supported by Israeli authorities, the Ateret Cohanim assoc., that already has 6 buildings in the neighborhood, plans to evict 81 Palestinian families. On top of facing discrimination in funding and services throughout E. J’alem, Batan al-Hawa residents must also fight for the right to live in their homes, due to efforts by the authorities and settler associations to cement Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem’s Old City. There are already 2,800 settlers living in these Palestinian neighborhoods, leading to increased presence of official and private security forces, who also use violence against local residents, and disrupt life in an area that is home to 100,000 Palestinians.
According to WHO figures for Jan.-Oct. 2016, cancer patients filed 7,267 applications for entry permits; 2,042 applications have either been denied or have yet to be answered. Israel retains significant control over Gaza, so that the development of Gaza health services or even obtaining treatment outside Gaza still depend on Israel. Yet Israel both imposes restrictions that hinder development of the local system and limits the number of patients it allows to exit Gaza for treatment in Israel or the West Bank. Although many patients cannot obtain satisfactory treatment in Gaza, Israel severely limits the number of entry permits it issues, a number it has further reduced since Operation Protective Edge.
On the night of 3 Nov. 2016, soldiers raided two homes of the Salem family in al-Am’ari R.C., Ramallah District, woke the children, and arrested 8 family members. The mother was released in the evening; 6 others, including a 15-year-old boy, were released a week later; one person remains in custody. The case illustrates how Israeli troops citing flimsy security arguments abuse their authority and disrupt the already precarious routine of West Bank Palestinians. Night raids on Palestinian homes - which intimidate residents, violate their dignity, damage property - have long since become an intrinsic part of life under occupation.
For over twenty years, Israel has been enacting a policy of separation based on discriminatory practices, implemented primarily through many permanent checkpoints in the city. Since Oct. 2015 the military has enhanced infrastructure and beefed up security checks at existing checkpoints, and placed age restrictions on entry to certain neighborhoods. This added a dimension of severe collective punishment to Israel’s separation by discrimination policy in central Hebron. This conduct makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to lead normal lives in the area, forcing them to leave and advancing the ongoing silent transfer of Palestinians from Hebron’s city center.
On 25 Oct. 2016, a military inquiry stated security forces “could have acted differently in recent incidents involving the shooting of Palestinians – and in some cases could [have] even avoided opening fire”. B'Tselem’s investigation shows that security forces killed two Palestinians, one aged 15, and injured another Palestinian aged 15 without justification. The security establishment’s response to the incidents does not lead to real change on the ground or steps against those responsible, nor will it prevent similar incidents in the future.
In recent weeks, the military has held several maneuvers in residential areas or grazing land belonging to Palestinian communities. Israel claims that the areas are “firing zones,” despite the fact that these communities have lived and worked on the land for many years. The repeated displacement threatens the ability of residents to continue living in the communities. As an occupying power, Israel may not use land for general military purposes, and certainly must not displace the residents or damage their livelihood on these grounds.