Inside Israeli land grabs
Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed
the Israeli government’s
support of the settlement movement by planting a tree in each one of the
three biggest settlement
blocks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Despite the Israeli
government’s support, funding,
and approval of settlers, they are often presented in the media as in
conflict with the state and the
army. In this report, The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky looks at this claim
through a recent lecture by
Shir Hever, an economist with the Alternative Information Center. A
perfect example of the
methodology Hever describes can be seen in the settlement of Kedumim
which lies adjacent to the
Palestinian village of Kaft Qadum. The Real News spoke to the village
council of the Palestinian
village and the associate mayor of the settlement about how they’ve
expanded and the impact this
has had on their lives.
LIA TARACHANSKY (VOICEOVER), PRODUCER, TRNN: On Wednesday, 30 Palestinians from the village of Beitillu were injured when settlers from the nearby outpost of Geva Binyamin attacked them. The settlers’ riot is part of something called the "price tag policy", whereby the Israeli government decides to demolish a small Jewish outpost in the West Bank or to enforce the settlement construction limit, and in retaliation the settlers attack Palestinians. The media continue to portray the settlers as being in constant conflict with the government and the army, but since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the construction limit in December, there have been dozens of attacks on Palestinian villages by settlers, oftentimes with the military present or nearby. The prime minister himself reiterated the government’s support for the three biggest settlement blocks during the weekend, when he planted a tree in each one, saying these settlements are inseparable from the state of Israel forever. In a recent lecture, Shir Hever, of the Alternative Information Center, described the mechanism by which settlers take over Palestinian land and expand. He talked about how a settler colony receives proactive or retroactive permits from various ministries, how the government supports its expansion, and how Israeli and international banks fund it.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: The Ministry of Defense gave a retroactive permit for this colony and recognized it as a community, as an official community in Israel. And after the Ministry of Defense gave their permission, this colony is now considered a town, a town in Israel, although, of course, they’re not in Israelï¿½they are on occupied land. But they’re not just a town. They also get a municipal area around them, which is determined by the Ministry of the Interior. And what the Army does, they evict all the Palestinians who live in the municipal area when the colonists want to establish a new neighborhood. But rather than establishing their neighborhood close to the center, they establish it right at the border of their municipal area. It could be 7 km away; it could be that the colonies don’t even see each other, they don’t even know each other. It’s for all purposes a new settlement, a new colony. But the way that they officially present it, it is as if it is part of the same community. And then, again, the water administration of Israel connects this new neighborhood to water, the electricity company connects it to electricity, the Ministry of Transportation will make sure that they have their own road, and the army would put their own platoon to protect this new neighborhood. What the army would usually do is to kick out the Palestinians from this area. And after a while, the colonists would come to the Ministry of the Interior again and say, "You know, all this land around us is empty. There are no Palestinians around us now. So why not add this new land to the municipal area?" And so the Ministry of the Interior gives them some more. The next neighborhood they can build here, and then get another piece of municipal area. And meanwhile the colony can expand also in another direction.
TARACHANSKY: Kedumim was the first Jewish settlement in Samaria, the northern West Bank. It follows the example Hever described in his lecture. Settlement representatives often argue the subsidies they receive are in compensation for the risk they are assuming and the harsh living conditions they endure. But instead of growing in a cluster to ensure security, Kedumim, like so many other settlements, spread out over many hills. The Real News spoke to Shoshana Shilo, the associate mayor of Kedumim.
SHOSHANA SHILO, ASSOCIATE MAYOR, KEDUMIM SETTLEMENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Ariel Sharon, who was a very good friend of the settlers, very good friend, he built most of the settlements and he told us to run fast and grab all the hilltops before they give them to the Arabs. [He] said that probably there won’t be a choice, and we’d have to connect the small settlements into big blocks and then give the small settlements away.
TARACHANSKY: Across the hill from Kedumim lies the Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum. Its residents told The Real News that the settlement lies on land stolen from them and that they are subject to constant attacks by the settlers.
UMM EHAB (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): My name is Umm Ehab. We get bothered a lot by the settlers and the army. Just two days ago, or only two nights ago, my daughter Meriam was studying here, not very far from the house. The army came fast. There were three soldiers. They followed her and they ran after her.
TRANSLATOR (SUBTITLED): Do you remember life before the settlement was built?
EHAB: Yes. You see this settlement? This is the land of my family. When we were young, when we were 10 or 15 years old, we would keep playing there until the sunset call for prayer.
SAMIR AL-QADDOUMI, VILLAGE COUNCICL, KAFR QADDUM (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): It started as a small settlement with few houses and caravans, and then it started expanding into a settlement, extending piece by piece, until now it looks like islands that forcefully annexed all the lands of Kafr Qaddum. The Israelis wanted to build a wall around this settlement. There was a decision to build the wall and that decision was taken. We were even happy with the decision for the building of the racial discrimination wall, because we wanted to be relieved of the expansion of Israelis and settlers upon us. But, unfortunately, the people responsible for the settlements refused the wall, so as to keep the ability to expand and extend the settlements.
SHILO: In Kedumim, we don’t have the [segregation] fence. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in Kedumim, there is no fence. This is thanks to [former mayor] Daniella Weiss. She led this line. She said that after the Holocaust, Jews won’t live in ghettos, definitely not in Israel, and she said if you want to fence someone in, go ahead, fence in the Arabs. We don’t have a problem with it. And all the governments and all the chiefs of staff tried to fence us in with the purpose of protecting us, but Daniella said we don’t believe that a fence protects. If there is a fence, it sends a message to the enemy that we are afraid and we’re fencing ourselves in. Thanks to this, we’ve also grown each time into a new neighborhood. Of course, I want to emphasize: all the settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) are on state land. No settlement took Arabs’ land, private lands, and settled on them.
HEVER: And the only way Palestinians can stop them is if they are able to prove that the land which is annexed to the colony is privately owned by a Palestinian farmer. Unfortunately, there are many Palestinians, farmers or house owners, landlords, that do have all the documents to prove that this land does belong to them, but their documents are not accepted by the Israeli court. And, also, Israel is using an Ottoman law that remains from the period of the Ottoman Empire, which means that if a Palestinian is not using their land for three years, this land can be confiscated.
TARACHANSKY: In 2008, Michael Lesence, from Kedumim, attempted to invoke this law by taking the lands of Abdul Rahim, Abdul Latif, and Ahmad Abdallah of Kafr Qaddum. After a long legal fight, however, the Israeli legal NGO Yesh Din was able to return the land to the Palestinians, and in the legal proceedings revealed that the settler’s lawyer himself admitted the confiscated lands were indeed privately owned.
HEVER: The process of expansion means a lot of investment, mainly government investment, because the government gives all these illegal colonies high-priority in terms of economic development and gives them more money. The illegal colonies are also receiving special subsidies from the government. And make no mistake: the subsidies in the West Bank apply only to Jewish illegal colonies. Palestinians under occupation receive no money from the Israeli government at all.
TARACHANSKY: But regardless of whether the land is private or not, according to a legal opinion commissioned by the UN and issued by the International Court of Justice in 2004, all the Israeli settlements and the annexation wall in the West Bank are against international law. This legal opinion led to an increase in Palestinian and international resistance to land confiscations. After a popular campaign in Belgium, the only international bank that loaned to settlements, Dexia, announced six months ago that it will stop renewing its loans. Earlier this week, two Danish banks also divested from Israeli companies because of their involvement in settlement construction and the wall. Thomas H. Kjaergaard of the Danske Bank Group commented that "We do not want to put our customers’ money in companies that violate international standards."
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.