Continuing colonisation - GulfToday

Continuing colonisation

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Children play as the evening sun casts long shadows in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Photo: TNS

The West Bank town of Beita, south of Nablus, has become the latest icon in the 140-year history of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli colonalisation. Following the clashes between

Palestinians and Israeli troops and colonists in occupied East Jerusalem and Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in May, Beita adopted a simple but effective strategy to harass 50 Israeli colonist families who, while attention was focused elsewhere, set up modular housing, a temple, and a other facilities on a hill top near Beita. They called this colony, illegal under both Israeli and international law, “Evitar,” after a colonist who was slain by Palestinians some time ago. The colonists’ aim is to create a network of colonies to extend their control over the Mount Sabih area and isolate Beita and nearby Palestinian towns and villages.

The inhabitants of Beita decided to resist the colonists by staging resistance operations 24 hours a day seven days a week. During the day they mounted gatherings, demonstrations, and sit-ins; they chanted, sang nationalist songs, delivered speeches and held Friday prayers on Mount Sabih. During the night, they adopted “son and lumieres.” They blasted the colonists with noise from loudspeakers and horns and used flashing lights, lasers and fireworks to light up the scene. They burned tyres to envelope the colonists in thick smoke, sickening many. Colonists and troops protecting them could not sleep, children were disoriented and fretful, and tensions between Beita and the colony built up.

However, instead of forcing the colonists to leave and take away their homes and other structures, the new Israeli government led by pro-colonist Naftali Bennett reached a “compromise.” The families departed but the colony was declared “a closed military area,” and army remains in place until a decision is taken on who owns the land the colonists have appropriated. In most cases, the colonists win, naturally.

This is standard Israeli policy. The authorities or the military declare land whether privately-owned or registered as state property under the Ottomans, a “green zone,” a “closed military area,” or Israeli “public land,” and confiscate this land to, eventually, turn it over to colonists. The vast urban colony of Har Homa, built on hills between occupied East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, was constructed on Palestinian land originally declared a “green zone,” thereby barring Palestinians from farming it or living on it. This land did not long remain off limits to Israeli colonists.  

A week ago, Israeli troops fired tear gas and live ammunition at hundrends of Palestinian demonstrators protesting the continuing presence of the illegal outpost, wounding at least 379, after demonstrators threw stones at the Israeli forces and burned tyres after Friday prayers at Beita. Protesters elsewhere across the West Bank were also attacked by Israeli forces.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued a landmark advisory opinion which held that “the construction of the [West Bank] wall by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is contrary to international law.” This opinion was also interpreted to mean the entire Israeli colonisation enterprise is illegal.  

The practice of mounting Friday protests against land grabs began in the Ramallah area village of Bil’in, located four kilometres east of the Green Line dividing the West Bank from Israel before the 1967 occupation. In January 2005, villagers launched regular protests against Israel’s apartheid wall which split Bil’in into  two sections, the built-up hill village and 60 per cent of its farmland. The demonstrations, organised by the Popular Committee Against the Wall headed by Iyad Burnat, attracted the attention of Israeli and international activists opposed to Israeli colonisation. They marched ahead of the villagers to protect them from being assaulted by armed troops deployed among the olive trees near the wall. After verbal exchanges, between protesters and soldiers, the latter fired tear gas, rubber bullets and, on occasion, live ammunition at the protesters, who responded with stones. Many were wounded, one villager was killed.

At the outset these Friday clashes were well covered by local and international media. Gulf Today was gassed while covering a protest during the first year. Ayad Burnat, a farmer, recor-ded the demonstrations as his infant son grew up in this blighted village, and turned it into the Oscar-nominated film “Five Broken Cameras.” The title of the film was taken from the five video cameras smashed by the Israeli troops who do not like their abuse of Palestinianians to be filmed.

Publicity forced the Israelis to reroute the wall and reunite Bil’in with its land, but by then Bil’in’s example had been taken up by other towns and villages suffering from expropriation and colonisation. While West Bank protests against Israeli colonisaiton have become so wide spread and regular, Israeli opponents, world capitals and international public opinion have come to ignore continuing Palestinian resistance, allowing Israel to proceed with its illegal seizure of Palestinian land.  

However, in December 2016, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 which rules that Israeli colonisation constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law, has “no legal validity” and demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention” which prohibits an occupier from transferring its population into conquered territory. It is significant that the Obama administration, abstained on this resolution rather than following the usual US practice of vetoing any measure critical of Israel. Consequently, the resolution passed 14 to 0 with one abstention.

Nevertheless, nothing was done to make Israel halt colonisation or pay a price for continuing with this effort. During the violent events of May this year, 34 Palestinians were killed, the highest number in a decade, in 600 clashes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem where 650,000 colonists dwell in 200 colonies and 116 illegal outposts among 3 million Palestinians.

Clearly fed up with Israel’s continuing colonisation, Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, last week told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Israel’s colonies “amount to a war crime. I submit to you that this finding compels the international make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free.”

His words amount to a challenge to the 14 countries which voted for resolution 2334, and to the Biden administration, which has called for the “two state solution” involving the emergence of a
Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israel’s long-term strategy for preventing this from taking place is colonisation to the point there is no land for a Palestinian state.

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