Otherwise Occupied / The Spirit of Sacrifice

Ilana Dayan told her listeners last week that the tent protesters can learn a lot from the settlers; a disturbing new report about dwindling Palestinian population in Area C confirms her remarks, though probably not in the way she intended.

The Yesha Council of settlements has sent out an e-mail with a link to journalist Ilana Dayan's remarks last Thursday on the Army Radio program "Nakhon Le'akhshav." Dayan praises the new tent protest movement for "this summer's discovery: that it is okay to get up and shout and completely upend the rules," and that it is also okay to change your mind and to make a mistake and to admit it.

For that very reason, Dayan said, on her program, that she wished to say something to "some who have hitched a ride and found for you [the protesters] the greatest enemy - who happen to be the settlers."

dayan - Olivier Fitoussi - August 8 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

She continued: "They [the hitchhikers] claim: 'The settlers don't know the meaning of high housing costs, they are pampered with a ton of benefits.' And it seems to me that whoever is writing that has not been to Gush Etzion or Eli or Har Bracha in a long time and did not see young couples like the young people of Rothschild Boulevard, without an espresso bar and takeaway, adhering to a path, and danger, and a spirit of sacrifice, yes, like the one that is now flooding Tel Aviv. It is possible to argue with the settlers; it is okay to think differently than they do and even to fight with them over priorities. But anyone who wants a values-oriented society here, with solidarity, can also learn something from them, or at least try to get acquainted with them."

These remarks by Dayan offer a good lesson for those seeking social justice: Don't look at individual matters like the size of the settlers' mobile homes and villas, or their niceness. Focus on the policy that makes it possible to place mobile homes and build single-story homes and Jewish neighborhoods and housing for Jews and permits individual ranches, and two meters away from them razes Palestinian tents and houses. On both sides of the Green Line, but lack of space obliges us to focus on its eastern side.

In the first six months of 2011, this policy led to the destruction of the homes of 656 Palestinians in Area C in the West Bank, 351 of them children. This figure emerged from the figures of the UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ). Yes, the same Area C to which the Yesha Council wants to tempt the tent protesters, and where it believes the solution to Israel's housing problem lies.

The number refers to 342 Palestinian structures, including 125 houses (the majority of them tents and corrugated tin huts ). OCHA found this to be an increase of almost five-fold over the number of demolitions and the number of people who lost their homes, in comparison with the same period last year. In July, another 100 Palestinians or so whose houses were destroyed were added to these figures.

Even without demolitions, the report found that among Palestinians in Area C there is a phenomenon of involuntary displacement. The common reason for it is that Israel prohibits them from building in areas under its full control, which amounts to nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. In the whitewashed language of the Civil Administration: There are no master plans. In the language of ordinary human beings: There are no master plans for Palestinians. Only for Jews. And master plans, as is known, come neither from the Holy One Blessed Be He nor from Allah.

For the convenience of those interested, these findings are presented in OCHA's new report, published last week, on forced displacement. There is not much new in it, true. Basically the report addresses a routine chronology, some of whose shrapnel occasionally makes it way into the Israeli media. For the convenience of those with short memory, there is also a reminder about discrimination between Jews and Palestinians in services, including access to water sources. On the other hand, the current report spares readers from exhaustive details about the history of Israeli domination over either private lands or public lands and their transfer to those we promised not to refer to personally.

OCHA's field researchers visited a sampling of 13 Palestinian communities in Area C, and sought to check the veracity of the rumors and speculation about a supposed trend among the residents to leave. The reports are reliable, it seems. And the people leaving are primarily young couples. Ten communities reported people moving due to building prohibitions; 11 of the communities reported erosion in their sources of livelihoods (from sheep-herding or agriculture ), as a direct result of Israeli restrictions on the Palestinians' use of land and water and on freedom of movement. Ten of the communities indicated settlement activity of some kind as a cause of daily hardships, and six reported physical harassment on the part of settlers (the other side of "danger and a spirit of sacrifice" ). In most of the communities, the interviewees stressed that their day-to-day lives had deteriorated in comparison to those of the previous generation, in terms of personal security, freedom of movement and access to sources of livelihood and services, including education.

Perhaps a generation ago it was less difficult. But in Area C, the single large land reserve for Palestinian villages and cities - or rather, for a Palestinian state - in the West Bank, there are only some 150,000 Palestinians living. Why so few? Because Israeli restrictions on Palestinian development in those areas have been in effect since the early 1970s, long before Oslo and its tracks. In that way, potential population growth was blocked. Here is the "adherence to a path" of the Israeli policy makers.

It is possible to ignore the warning from OCHA that a continuation of the Israeli policy will lead to the "breakdown and total disappearance in the next generation, if not earlier" of several of the Palestinian communities in C. In very cautious language, which can also be ignored, the report stated that OCHA is concerned about "demographic shifts and changes to the ethnic make-up of the West Bank."

It is also possible to ignore the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA ), which was apparently spurred by OCHA's cautious language to issue a press release that changes tense so as to determine that we are already there. That the Israeli policy in C is already "destroying the very fabric of these communities and ultimately contributing to a demographic shift which is changing the ethnic make-up of the West Bank." You cannot get closer than that to a protest (as toothless as it may be ) over ethnic cleansing.

More senior Israeli legal experts than Ilana Dayan oppose the interpretation of the UN and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that the entire West Bank, including Area C, is occupied territory where the occupying country's population should not be relocated. But did we, along with real estate deeds for the entire land that we received directly from the Holy One Blessed Be He, also receive a commandment to discriminate between the blood of one person and another, one people and another, or between one child and another?