The government of Norway has decided to make a distinction between produce originating in the occupied territories and within the 1967 borders, the so-called Green Line. The timing of this decision is apparently unrelated to the crisis around the extension of the ordinance regulating the status of Israeli settlers in these territories, a crisis now threatening the existence of the coalition government. However, there is a tight link between this apartheid ordinance, the continued approval of which has become a routine matter for Israel’s legislature, and the move made by Norway.
The said Israeli ordinance subjects a Jewish settler to one justice system, and his Palestinian neighbor to an inferior one. The Norwegian ordinance gives preferential treatment to a farmer living in Israel proper (both Jewish and Palestinian) growing peppers for his livelihood, while denying these perks to his Israeli brother who makes his living by growing peppers on occupied territory – or so-called “state land” that is not part of the state of Israel.
The new Norwegian law, like a law already in effect in several countries in the European Union, touches upon a law which is no less racist and corrupt – and perhaps even more so – than the ordinance that has been making headlines recently. This law legitimizes the takeover of West Bank lands by Israeli farmers, industrialists and contractors, enabling them to undermine a diplomatic solution while making a profit.
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The Knesset is absolved from having to repeatedly affirm the law that regulates this land theft. The Turkish sultan did that in an 1858 land law, which Israel now sanctifies. To be more precise, Israel has given some of the law’s key clauses an interpretation that benefits the occupier at the expense of Palestinian residents.
Unlike the West Bank ordinance, which needs to be renewed every five years, the older law has no expiration date. The law’s magical words, “state lands,” pass from generation to generation, from government to government. According to this law, “state lands” are any piece of land the “natives” cannot prove they own. Since there has been no other state in the West Bank for the last 55 years, the Israeli occupier takes it all.
How many times have you heard the argument-reprimand, “what do you want from us, we haven’t taken anything from any Arab? Our settlement sits on state land.” But Israel has not annexed these lands, and not because of any moral qualms. It refrained from doing so in order not to incorporate hundreds of thousands of Arabs with that territory and to avoid squabbling with the United States. It prefers holding these lands as a trustee, doing what it pleases with them.
In their pure impudence, the right-wing settler movement draws on the Oslo Accords as support for their claim that Israel is meticulous in taking over “only” Area C, as designated in those accords, which, one should note, comprises 60 percent of the West Bank. Who remembers that the validity of the concept of Areas A and B was supposed to expire in the previous millennium, making way for a permanent accord?
International law and common decency oblige the trustee – the military commander in this case – to preserve “state lands” and develop them for the benefit of the local Palestinian population. The Supreme Court even ruled that a military administration must look after protected residents in an occupied territory.
In practice, almost all “state lands” are now in the hands of settler regional councils, included in their area of jurisdiction. This means that the Palestinians, comprising 88 percent of the West Bank’s residents, were prevented a priori from using these lands even before they were allocated to someone else for any use.
According to figures given by the Civil Administration to Peace Now, over one million dunams, or 247,000 acres have been declared as “state lands” over the years. Moreover, 99.76 percent of state lands allocated for use in these territories were given to settlers. The Palestinians received 0.24 percent, at most. Thus, with the aid of a law that was tailored to imperialist purposes, Israel has taken over most of the land in the West Bank. This is on top of thousands of dunams in East Jerusalem, which Israel has expropriated from Palestinians through the use of the Absentee Law.
After all this, the Foreign Ministry dares reprimand countries that from time to time remind us of the evils of the occupation, which is implemented with the help of laws that would feel natural in the apartheid regime of South Africa. Someone has already proposed dismantling the conference of donor states, which Norway heads, a mechanism that was established in the 1990s in order to support the peace process and later became a subcontractor of the occupation. A fitting punishment. It’s time we started paying for our control over millions of people and for the theft of their land.