By EA Margaret, Northern West Bank
The day before I arrived in Palestine for my three months as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA), the Knesset (Israeli parliament) took the extraordinary decision to give preliminary approval to a regulation bill legalising the Jewish outposts built on Palestinian privately-owned land deep in the occupied West Bank. This disputed bill retrospectively legalises under Israeli law the outposts built without Israeli authorisation. These remain illegal under international law.Outposts usually start with a few pre-fabricated huts on remote hilltops lived in by a handful of settlers. Over time they acquire Israeli military protection and are hooked up to water and electric networks; with time they formalise into townships and neighbourhoods. The Palestinian village of Yanoun is surrounded by several outposts around the settlement of Itamar. Their unlikely names are Gvao’t Olam, Hill 836, Hill 851, Hill 777 and Hill 782, and they shine spotlights down onto the village throughout the night. Approximately 70 per cent of Yanoun’s land has been lost due to the expansion of Itamar and its outposts towards the Jordan Valley. This has made subsistence farming here almost impossible for the remaining Palestinian families who have lived here for seven generations.Israel’s own Attorney General has stated that this proposed legislation is a violation of international law, that it “allows the expropriation of private property”, and that he will be hard pressed to defend it at the Supreme Court.
A thoughtful Israeli I met explained that the far-right Jewish Home and Likud political parties are pushing for this law because they wish to retain the political support of settlers by circumventing another Supreme Court order to destroy the settlement outpost of Amona. Amona is the largest unauthorised Israeli outpost, where 40 caravans have been on Palestinian-owned land for over 20 years. Its demolition was set for 25 December 2016.
Amona was established in 1995. Its first demolition orders were issued in 2000 and 2005 after the Israeli peace group Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ). This demolition took place in February 2006 and resulted in violent resistance.Last week EAs talked with some Palestinian landowners from Silwad, Ein Yabrud and Taybeh along with their legal counsel (from the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, which petitioned the HCJ in 2008 for the removal of Amona). They showed us satellite pictures of the parcels Palestinian land that have been handed down from generation to generation.
The Israeli state conceded to the High Court that Amona is illegal, and undertook to evacuate it peacefully by the end of 2012. It has never fulfilled this obligation, however, and in the meantime there have been claims of illegal land purchases, a criminal investigation into the forgery of purchase documents, and petitions and counter petitions, while the state continues to neglect its obligation.
One landowner from Ein Yabrud, who has not had access to his land for 20 years, told me about the devastating impact the loss of this land has had on his family income. Another landowner from Silwad, who was over 80 years old, told me about her family history with the land where she lived alongside neighbours, family and friends, some seasons living in the caves, others in tents. She told me that if she sees her land again it will be like seeing a son she has not seen for 20 years, but she has many worries about the state of her land after years of neglect.Many Palestinians fear that the Israeli government will destroy Palestinian homes and resume work on hundreds of new settlements to compensate the Amona settlers for this evacuation. This is of great concern to the families of Yanoun and its valley – whenever there are increased tensions with settlers there is a huge increase in the number of ‘price tag’ attacks. These are acts of vandalism and violence by extreme right-wing Jewish settlers, among others. For almost ten years, extremist settlers based at illegal outposts supported by the Israeli settlement of Itamar have persistently harassed Upper Yanoun’s villagers. The villagers see the settlers’ aim to be ‘transfer by stealth’, gaining control of the villagers’ land by scaring them away. Nearly all the residents of the Upper Yanoun evacuated the village on 18 October 2002. The next day the villagers began to return, accompanied by Israeli and international activists, including EAs. Unfortunately, internal presences are still needed 15 years on. Our team of EAs will need to be present tomorrow when one of the farmers goes to plough his land, to deter harassment from the settlers.
The entwined issues of the new bill, Amona, and settler attacks in Yanoun makes it all the more urgent that we find the partners for peace on both sides and bring them together to end this occupation, which harms Israeli and Palestinian alike.
Sign up and follow: Peace Now Settlement Watch http://peacenow.org.il/en/category/settlement-watch, Israel’s largest and longstanding movement advocating for peace through public pressure.
Sign up and follow: Yesh Din’s http://www.yesh-din.org/en/ legal advocacy for structural change to protect human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.