Wednesday, April 7, 2010
THE USURPATION OF THE LAND
When Britain took over the Palestinian Territory after World War I, as a result of defeating the Ottoman Empire, Jews made up about 5% of the population of historic Palestine. By the end of World War II, Jews made up about 30% of the population in Palestine. This growth was largely due to European Jewish refugees—people that neither Britain nor the United States was willing to accept in large numbers. Britain, however, was willing to throw open the door to Palestine and allow Jews to settle there.
The inevitable conflict between the indigenous people and the Jewish newcomers meant that Britain was soon ready to transfer responsibility for the area to the United Nations. In 1947,the UN proposed a two-state solution to the problem—a solution that would give the Jews 55% of the land to establish Israel while the larger Palestinian population would get only 45%. Naturally, the Jews were willing to accept this proposal. Also naturally, the surrounding Arab states (no one asked the Palestinians) didn’t see this as fair and refused.
The Zionists didn’t wait for statehood to be declared before taking things into their own hands. They began a process of displacing the Palestinians, forcing 750,000 of them off of the land (see previous blog on The Nakba). By the end of 1948, having defeated the few ill-equipped Arab armies that tried to repel them, Israel had taken possession of 78% of the land, leaving only 22%—the physically unconnected areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—for a future Palestinian state.
Even 78% wasn’t enough. The goal of the Zionists (a minority of Jews in Israel at that time) was to control all of the land. In 1973, Ariel Sharon said, “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them. We'll insert a strip of Jewish settlement, in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlement, right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years time...nobody will be able to tear it apart." And that is what Israel has done by creating settlements in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, even though to do so violates international law. Of course, military occupation and the subsequent control of the Palestinians’ lives also violate international law.
The settlers insinuate themselves throughout the fabric of the land while Palestinians cannot get building permits. If they build, or add onto their homes, they risk eviction, after which Jewish settlers move in, often taking over even the possessions that are left behind. The settlers destroy the orchards, on which the Palestinians rely to make a living, foul the wells from which the Palestinians get their water, and block access to both the orchards and the wells. As the settlers permeate the Palestinian lands, they become more and more difficult to dislodge.
Roads throughout the West Bank are reserved for Jews: no Palestinians allowed. Palestinian towns and villages are cut off from one another due to this system. The infamous (and illegal) Apartheid Wall being built by Israel through the West Bank also cuts off Palestinian villages and families, who are not permitted to move freely enough to visit one another. The Wall is being built on and further usurps Palestinian lands. Orchards are clear-cut to create ‘secure’ zones next to the Wall, thus taking more land out of Palestinian hands. Homes are plowed into rubble by bulldozers (made specifically for this job by the American company, Caterpillar).
These Israeli tactics may well backfire. Indeed, the Jewish settlements are so interwoven with the Palestinians and their land that it is becoming impossible to separate them out. While Israel talks peace on the one hand, on the other, it supplies the settlements and continues to build the Wall. However, the intertwining is making the two-state solution an unlikely one. The only viable avenue is looking more and more like a one-state solution—one state in which Israelis and Palestinians are equal.
While official Israel hoped to force the Palestinians to flee to other countries (notably Lebanon and Jordan) by making their lives unbearable, the technological age makes it impossible for the abuses to continue unobserved. The frightening fact on the ground, from Israel’s perspective, is that if the Palestinians remain, Jews are the minority, and will continue to be the minority. Forcing four million Palestinians to live on 22% of the land cannot change that fact. Evacuating four million Palestinians from the area is untenable (even overlooking the immorality of such an action). Peaceful coexistence and equality constitute the only viable path forward.
[An expansion of this information can be found in the book, 'Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict', by policy analyst Phyllis Bennis.]