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Lebanonwire, September 23, 2003

The Daily Star

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Using war to swallow Palestinian land
Sara Roy

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 Israel’s assassination on Aug. 14 of Mohammed Sidr, the head of Islamic Jihad’s 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 can’t 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 Israel’s 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 Israel’s 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 Army’s 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 village’s land, now lie on the “Israeli” side of the wall.
In addition, the first phase of the wall’s construction resulted in the massive destruction of physical assets. By December 2002, approximately six months after the wall’s 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 ­ Israel’s 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 wall’s construction most, if not all, of this land will be, or has already been, severed from the communities.
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 wall’s 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

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