Israel has taken good advantage of four years of the Trump administration to advance the project of dispossessing Palestinians and boosting Jewish settlement. In these years there were a few moments that attracted wide public attention and many more of a violent routine that’s not considered “news,” just dust in the wind.
On Election Day in the United States, Israel made the most of one more day of the Trump administration, dispatching its bulldozers to destroy an entire Palestinian community in the northern Jordan Valley, Humsa al-Fuqa. Eleven families – 74 people, including 41 minors – were made homeless. Humsa has been in Israel’s sights for years, along with dozens of other Palestinian communities. The technique that Israel generally uses requires patience: turning the lives of the residents into an ongoing nightmare in the hope that the message will be received and the dust will scatter in the wind – as if of its own accord – and go somewhere else.
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In practice, this technique means relentless harassment of the residents: sometimes an order to temporarily vacate the location (on the pretext of it being used for military training), sometimes via demolitions (on the pretext of “illegal construction”) and always without being hooked up to running water or the electricity network. How long would you hold out in such conditions?
But when an opportunity presents itself, it can all be done in one day. The opportunity that Israel spotted was Election Day in America, and the action – the demolition of an entire Palestinian community – condensed into a few hours the kind of state-sponsored violence that normally takes years.
The tension between these two approaches, the debate over the correct pace at which to dispossess Palestinians, epitomizes the range of opinion among nearly the entire Jewish political spectrum in Israel: Almost everyone agrees on the objective, and if there’s any debate, it’s over the “details” – when, how, on what pretext, on what scale. For the architects of dispossession, these are the details to be worked out. For those on the other side of the bulldozer’s blade, or the military injunction, or the striking fist, it’s a whole life ruined. Dust in the wind.
The makeup of the current government neatly reflects this reality. Yes official annexation, no official annexation – what really matters is to keep establishing more and more facts on the ground. The recent reports of internal disputes between the office of the prime minister and the office of the alternate prime minister regarding plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar reflect their fundamental agreement: The community will be demolished and its residents expelled; on that there is consensus. All that’s left to discuss are the details. Benny Gantz reportedly wanted to go ahead with the demolition, and Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to wait. For now, they’ve decided to wait four months.
Of course, none of this could take place without the cooperation of other parties, chiefly the Supreme Court justices, who have repeatedly given approval for the demolition orders that will enable the razing of Khan al-Ahmar. They also deem military training in Palestinian areas legal, even if it entails repeated evacuations, as has been happening in the Jordan Valley, including in Husma al-Fuqa, and as the state seeks to do in the southern Hebron Hills as a pretext for expelling the communities of Masafer Yatta in an area Israel has labeled Range 918.
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The debris of Husma al-Fuqa now lies scattered on the ground. Israel exploited an opportunity, and is waiting for more of them. Other Palestinian communities in the West Bank know it’s only a matter of time, scale and pretext. Dust in the wind.
The writer is director of B’Tselem.