Opinion

The Israeli Occupation Is a System Meant to Tighten the Screws on Palestinians

A reminder that while there are different actors implementing the occupation, their strategy is one

Palestinians sitting next to Israeli soldiers in front of a tent set up by settlers in Pnei Hever, in the West Bank, July 2018.
AFP

In this column I am asking my readers as well as my editors to remember that the actions of the Israel Defense Forces and its civilian arms – the Civil Administration and the settler militias – which are reported on separately and are ostensibly unconnected, are part of a systematic continuum.

Very briefly, I’ll mention issues I have reported on recently and to which I will return in the future. I would ask you to place them in an ascending vector. 

A report in early April by the human rights NGO Yesh Din reminds us that the expropriation law, also known in whitewashed parlance as the "regularization law" (calling for retroactive authorization of Israeli outposts and illegal construction in the occupied territories), is not the only one of its kind. During the term of the last Knesset, there was a transformative leap in the process of de jure annexation, not only de facto one,  of the West Bank. Sixty bills containing clear and fundamental elements calling for extending Israeli law to the occupied territory were proposed. Eight were enacted into law, along with the Basic Law on the Nation State of the Jewish People. But during the last years there was also a transformative leap with respect to four key areas I have covered:

A road leading from Jerusalem to Hebron, that is forbidden for Palestinian cars, and surrounded by protective walls to isolate it from the occupied West Bank city of Beit Jala, on April 17, 2019.
AFP

• Outposts. Since late 2016, 16 new outposts have been established in addition to those built on abandoned army bases. So as not to risk any more evictions from privately owned Palestinian land, the new outposts have been built at the edge of “state-owned lands,” as seen in an analysis by independent researcher Dror Etkes, and in an investigation by Michal Peleg, an activist with the human rights group Ta’ayush, published on March 9 in the (Hebrew) on-line magazine Siha Mekomit (the sister of 972mag).

Many of the residents of these outposts own livestock. While pasturing their herds and terrorizing Palestinian villages – with the assistance of the army – these armed settlers have been able to spread over much larger areas than those taken up by the settlements' villas and commercial centers.  Careful planning, large sums of money and the similar modus operandi of the outposts  all point to one hidden guiding hand.

• Procedures concerning "Mixed" families: about two-and-a-half years ago restrictions on Palestinian couples were once again tightened. On the one hand, since 2000 Israel has frozen “family unification” (which, according to the Oslo Accords was to have accorded permanent residence status to the non-resident spouses of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza). On the other, Israel is making it difficult for them to obtain or extend visitors’ visas and also prohibits such individuals from working.

A crane lowers a caravan to the ground in Amichai, a new settlement which will house some 300 Jewish settlers evicted in February 2017 from the illegal West Bank settlement of Amona, on April 6, 2019.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

The visas are not extended because the non-resident spouses worked for a living, they are considered illegal residents in their own homes, and thereby are forced to leave the country (that is, the West Bank) and go abroad permanently or for long periods, or are deported at the airport (as happened to Elaine Zoughbi from Bethlehem).

• Military legislation. Two military orders, originally intended to thwart construction of settler outposts, have been applied in recent years to Palestinians: “demarcation” order No. 1539, which demands the demolition of buildings in certain areas, and order No. 1797, pertaining to the removal of new structures. A false symmetry has thus been created between the robbers and the robbed: The robbers receive building permits from the Civil Administration for abundant construction of and in the settlements. The outposts they build without permits are only add-ons that will be retroactively approved.

A view of the Israeli settlement of Efrat situated on the southern outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on April 12, 2019.
AFP

But that same Civil Administration prohibits Palestinians from building on land on which they have been living with their families, cultivating it and tending their flocks, for years. In such cases, phased construction is a necessity: a classroom, a toilet, a water pipe, a solar panel. The orders expedite the destruction of Palestinian communities, circumvent Jordanian legislation and expunge the rights of Palestinians as human beings.

• The Seam Zone:  In the past three years the Civil Administration has initiated cynical changes in procedures relating to issuance of entry permits for Palestinians whose agricultural land is locked between the separation barrier and the green line of pre June 4 1967 in the vast area of the West Bank dubbed the seam zone. These changes have led to a drastic decline in the number of people receiving permits to cultivate their land. Years long legal work by HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual,  testimonies collected by  the women grass root anti occupation MachsomWatch, and Haaretz research have revealed one of the most nefarious ways of stealing land. 

On the one hand, the Civil Administration and the Military Advocate General impose the artificial division of family land, according to the number of supposed heirs of the registered owner (for example a grandfather who passed away or an ageing father).  This is while the family regards the plot as its collective property, that is cultivated by some of the family members – for the benefit of all. So, for example, a 2.5 acres (10,000 square meters) plot will be split up to 8 hypothetical portions (with no concrete demarcation) – if there are 8 brothers and sisters.
 
The size of the plot determines the number of permits issued.  Children will not be given a permit to assist their parents, after the land was artificially divided – because it is "too small".  Let the father work alone. 

On the other hand,  if the land – after it was coercively parceled out – is smaller than 330 square meters,  it has no "agricultural necessity" according to a new invention of the civil administration, backed by its military legal experts. For such small land no regular permit is issued.       
  
Do you understand this? In five or 10 years, tens of thousands of dunams will be artificially split up into plots "with no agricultural necessity" of 5 square meters or of 80 square centimeters, according to the number of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of each land owning family and no one will receive a permit to work the land. 

Unfortunately until now, I haven’t yet been able to fully convey to my readers or editors the enormous scope of the danger and depth of the deceptiveness embodied in these regulations.

The licensed violence inflicted by Hebrew shepherds and the bizarre procedures prohibiting cultivation of land are constantly eating away at the already shrinking Palestinian spaces. The demolition and the demarcation orders and the bizarre regulations about “mixed families” – all are demographic manipulations that are leading to expulsion to Areas A and B (under full and partial control of the Palestinian Authority, respectively) and abroad, of farmers and shepherds whose movements in their own land are so restricted,   and of families exhausted by bureaucratic torture. 

There is a strong correlation between those transformative leaps in military, bureaucratic procedures and the outposts' violence, a correlation that corresponds to the goal of the outgoing Knesset annexationist bills, but achieves more than them.