Using war to swallow Palestinian land
The hudna, or cease-fire, between Israel and the Palestinians is predictably
over, and the horrific cycle of violence that has killed over 2,000 Palestinians and over
800 Israelis has resumed.
A major retaliatory attack was expected after Israels assassination on Aug. 14 of
Mohammed Sidr, the head of Islamic Jihads military wing in Hebron. This expected
attack occurred on Aug. 19, with the suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 Israelis,
six of them children. Since then Israel has responded with brutal violence: the
assassination on Aug. 21of Ismail Abu Shanab, a leading Hamas official, and the attempted
assassination of Mahmoud Zahar, a senior figure in Hamas, were perhaps the most visible
manifestations of Israeli retaliation, but not the only ones. Almost daily, Palestinians
are killed, injured and made homeless. Palestinian extremists then seek revenge on
innocent Israelis, recently killing 15 people and injuring dozens more in two
suicide-bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And the violence escalates.
According to Gideon Levy, a writer for the Israeli daily Haaretz, much as Israel
claims that the Palestinians are violating the truce and regrouping in order to perpetrate
savage acts of terror, its pleading cant alter the facts: Up until Israel renewed
its assassinations campaign, there were no suicide bombings, and the two attacks (at Ariel
and Rosh Haayin) last week were direct responses to the Askar refugee camp slayings (of
two Hamas activists).
It seems obvious to some analysts, at least, that by engaging in such provocative acts
which clearly do little if anything to protect the security of Israels citizens, and
do a great deal to jeopardize it the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is
deliberately trying to undermine the diplomatic process, and thereby ensure Israels
continued occupation of Palestinian land and resources. Put in more poignant terms, one
Israeli observer recently wrote: They slay Palestinians and expect them to exercise
restraint. The recent decision by the Israeli government to expel Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat from Palestinian areas if carried out will further undermine, if not
altogether destroy, what is left of the diplomatic process.
However, even during the recent cease-fire and despite the Israeli Armys
tentative withdrawal from Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip (which has again been cut into
three disconnected parts), the limited release of Palestinian prisoners and the
dismantling of a few unauthorized settlement outposts the Sharon government pursued its
policy of repressive occupation, and did little to ease Palestinian suffering. This was
nowhere more apparent than in the continued construction of the separation wall in the
West Bank. In this regard, it is critical to understand that while the decline in terror
attacks in Israel was real and visible during the cease-fire, and Israeli life improved as
a result, no parallel improvement occurred in Palestinian life.
In July, during the cease-fire, the first phase of the separation wall was completed. It
is now 140 kilometers long and over 200,000 Palestinians are trapped on the
Israeli side of the barrier. According to the Israeli Defense Ministry and
other sources, during this first phase of construction, 51 Palestinian villages were
isolated from most of their land, and 25 lost total access to their land, a critical
problem for future economic survival. In the village of Jayous, for example, 0.56 square
kilometers out of 13 were taken to build the wall, and almost 9 additional square
kilometers, two-thirds of the villages land, now lie on the Israeli side
of the wall.
In addition, the first phase of the walls construction resulted in the massive
destruction of physical assets. By December 2002, approximately six months after the
walls construction began, the World Bank already reported extensive physical
destruction of agricultural lands and assets. In a 2002 survey conducted in 53 communities
with an estimated combined population of 141,800, the damage incurred within just a few
months included the bulldozing of 85 square kilometers of land and the destruction of
around 0.62 square kilometers of irrigated agricultural land (including greenhouses), 37.3
kilometers of water networks, and 15 kilometers of agricultural roads.
Furthermore, according to the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, 11 of the 53
communities surveyed possess approximately 241 square kilometers of land, which has been
or is being isolated between the Green Line Israels border with the West Bank
and the wall. These 11 communities cultivate about 138 square kilometers, or 57 percent of
this land, mostly with olive trees and field crops. It is likely that with the walls
construction most, if not all, of this land will be, or has already been, severed from the
The Israeli Defense Ministry claims that there are 41 gates allowing Palestinians access
to their lands. Right now, only landowners are permitted to pass through these gates,
while farmers must apply for permits, which are extremely difficult to obtain. Palestinian
sources say that the number of gates that are actually open is around six while the United
Nations reports passage through only 14. Because accessibility is unclear, seemingly
arbitrary, and ultimately dependent on the security situation, more and more Palestinians
sometimes entire families are camping on their land, returning to their villages
only once a week.
Furthermore, the weaving path of the wall, which deviates several kilometers into the West
Bank at some points, has placed almost 123 square kilometers of Arab land on the Israeli
side, representing a loss to Palestinians of 2 percent of the West Bank thus far. The
World Bank has estimated that when completed, the wall could annex 10 percent of the West
Bank. However, a report released by Amnesty International on Sept. 7, 2003, concluded that
with the walls completion, some 45-55 percent of the West Bank would be annexed to
Israel, together with 98 percent of Israeli settlements. In addition, approximately
440,000 Palestinians would be enclosed on the Israeli side of the wall, cut
off from their lands, their families and from other Palestinian communities.
On Aug. 21, no doubt in response to the suicide bombing in Jerusalem, Israel destroyed the
entire commercial market of Nazlat Issa in one day. This was done in order to build an
isolation barrier, which is an extension of the wall designed to entrap and
completely isolate the community and its surrounding areas. Over 100 shops and five homes
were demolished, representing the single largest demolition of buildings in years. The
Nazlat Issa market, which was previously targeted in January 2003 (when it lost almost
half of its shops), was the commercial center for the entire region.
Israel has defended the wall as a necessary security measure, arguing that formidable
concrete barriers will stop future suicide bombings, rather than trigger them. The Bush
administration concurs in principle, if not in fact. For a large and growing number of
Palestinians the choice is a stark and increasingly untenable one: a home without a
livelihood, or a livelihood without a home.
Which would you choose?
Sara Roy is a research scholar at the
Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, and author of The Gaza Strip: The
Political Economy of De-Development. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR