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Formalizing Israel’s Land Grab
Posted on Aug 16, 2010
By Chris Hedges
Editor’s Note: Chris Hedges’ next column will appear Sept. 6.
Time is running out for Israel. And the Israeli government knows it. The Jewish Diaspora, especially the young, has a waning emotional and ideological investment in Israel. The demographic boom means that Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories will soon outnumber Jews. And Israel’s increasing status as a pariah nation means that informal and eventually formal state sanctions against the country are probably inevitable.
Desperate Israeli politicians, watching opposition to their apartheid state mount, have proposed a perverted form of what they term “the one-state solution.” It is the latest tool to thwart a Palestinian state and allow Israel to retain its huge settlement complexes and land seizures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The idea of a single state was backed by Moshe Arens, a former defense minister and foreign minister from the Likud Party, in a column he wrote last month in the newspaper Haaretz asking “Is There Another Option?” Arens has been joined by several other Israeli politicians including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
The Israeli vision, however, does not include a state with equal rights for Jewish and Palestinians citizens. The call for a single state appears to include pushing Gaza into the unwilling arms of Egypt and incorporating the West Bank and East Jerusalem into Israel. Palestinians within Israeli-controlled territory, however, will remain burdened with crippling travel, work and security restrictions already in place. Palestinians in the occupied territories, for example, cannot reclaim lost property or acquire Israeli citizenship, yet watch as Jews born outside of Israel and with no prior tie to the country become Israeli citizens and receive government-subsidized housing. Palestinians in the West Bank live in a series of roughly eight squalid, ringed ghettos and are governed by military courts. Jews living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, like all full Israeli citizens, are subject to Israeli civilian law and constitutional protection. Palestinians cannot serve in the armed forces or the security services, while Jewish settlers are issued automatic weapons and protected by the Israel Defense Force.
If Israel sheds Gaza, which has 1.5 million Palestinians, the Jewish state will be left with 5.8 million Jews and 3.8 million Arabs. And, at least in the near future, Jews will remain the majority. This seems to be the main attraction of the plan.
The landscape of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, known as “facts on the ground,” has altered dramatically since I first went to Jerusalem over two decades ago. Huge fortress-like apartment complexes ring East Jerusalem and dominate the hillsides in the West Bank. The settler population is now more than 462,000, with 271,400 living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and 191,000 living in and around Jerusalem. The settler population has grown at the rate of 4.6 percent per year since 1990 while the Israeli society taken as a whole has grown at 1.5 percent.
The net effect of the Israeli seizure of land in East Jerusalem, which includes recent approval for an additional 9,000 housing units, and the West Bank is to promulgate a form of administrative ethnic cleansing. Palestinian families are being pushed off land they have owned for generations and evicted from their homes by Israeli authorities. Dozens of families, tossed out of dwellings they have occupied in East Jerusalem for decades, have been forced onto the streets. Groups such as Ateret Cohanim, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish private organization that collects funds from abroad, purchases Palestinian properties and pursues legal strategies to evict families that have long resided in East Jerusalem. Israel’s judicial system and police, in violation of international law, facilitate and enforce these evictions and land seizures.
Heavily armed settlers carry out frequent unprovoked attacks and ad hoc raids and house evictions to supplement the terror imposed by the police and military. They are the civilian arm of the occupation.
“This acquiescence in settler violence is particularly objectionable from the perspective of international humanitarian law because the settlers are already unlawfully present in occupied territory, making it perverse to victimize those who should be protected—the Palestinians—and offer protection to those who are lawbreakers—the settlers,” said Richard Falk when we spoke a few days ago. Falk is the U.N. special rapporteur who was denied entry into the occupied territories by the Israeli government.
Falk said that incorporating Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank into a single Israeli state would see Israel impose gradations of citizenship.
“If the Palestinians in pre-’67 Israel enjoy second-class citizenship, those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will be given a third-class citizenship,” Falk said. “The real proposal, the envisioned outcome of this kind of proposal, is an extension of Israeli control over the occupied territory as a permanent reality. It is presently a de facto annexation. The creation of a single state would give the arrangement a more legalistic cover. It would seek to resolve the issue of occupied territory without the bother of international negotiations.”
“The effect is to fragment the Palestinian people in such defining ways as to make it almost impossible to envision the emergence of a viable Palestinian sovereign state,” said Falk. “The longer it continues, the more difficult it is to overcome, and the more serious are the abridgement of fundamental Palestinian rights.”
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