No part of Palestine off-limits to settlers
This posting includes 1) the map of E. Jerusalem settlements, 2) Geoffrey Aronson’s article on the extent and purpose of the settlements and 3) his interview with Ghassan Daghlass, the PA official responsible for tracking settler activity.
By Geoffrey Aronson, FMEP Settlement Report, Vol. 24 No. 2
Only hours before U.S. president Barack Obama’s March 3, 2014 White House meeting with Israel prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reported that the number of construction starts in West Bank settlements had more than doubled in 2013 to 2,534 units, which is more construction than took place in Tel Aviv. Close to 6 percent of all new construction last year was located in West Bank settlements. In absolute terms, the number was the highest in a decade. In addition, there were more housing starts in Jerusalem in 2013 than anyplace in Israel. Most of this new construction is located in the settlement areas of East Jerusalem, almost doubling the settlements’ share of national construction.
In a pre-summit interview, Obama acknowledged that “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Ha’aretz noted in its March 5 editorial titled, “How Israel has Done Its Part,”
The 2,534 new housing units built in the occupied territories in 2013 are the Netanyahu government’s real contribution to advancing negotiations with the Palestinians. While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was running all over the Middle East and making great efforts to obtain an agreement, the Israeli government was building more and more houses in the settlements in an effort to sabotage the chances of any such agreement being obtained. . . .
“There is no more reliable litmus test of its intentions than construction in the settlements. A government that intends to evacuate territory doesn’t continue to build in it, and certainly not at such an accelerated pace. . . .
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, one of the Israeli cabinet’s foremost opponents of a diplomatic agreement that would result in evacuation of settlements and creation of a Palestinian state, agreed. “The [CBS announcement] is proof that there is no way there will be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River,” he declared.
“We need to build more throughout Israel,” Ariel continued, “in the Galilee, in the Negev, and in Judea and Samaria. This is part of the solution to the housing crisis [in general] that is in itself a difficult problem. As the prime minister said on the Knesset plenum, we will continue to build in Judea and Samaria. . . .”
On April 1, 2014, Ariel announced the reissue of tenders for new housing in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo.
Minister of Justice Tzippi Livni accused Ariel of “intentionally sabotaging” the talks by issuing the tenders. Ariel charged that that Livni “failed miserably” after receiving “unlimited credit to make peace and release murderers,” and was now looking to blame “anyone but herself.”
The Gilo announcement helped to precipitate a cascading series of what U.S. officials described as “unilateral” and “unhelpful” measures by both the Netanyahu government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that have produced the gravest crisis in relations in years—a crisis that threatens Washington’s diplomatic effort with failure.
Strategic Impact of Settlements
Settlement expansion continues to destroy Palestinian confidence that diplomacy will end the Israeli campaign to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Expansion is occurring everywhere.
Settlement activity is increasingly focused on carving out Israeli areas in the heart of Arab East Jerusalem, including the strategically located Post Office opposite Herod’s Gate, even as housing expansion in existing settlement areas aims at preempting the territorial basis on which to realize Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
In settlement “blocs” east and west of the separation barrier, government and private construction continues. National housing policies are well on their way to accomplishing the strategic objective set out by Ariel Sharon decades ago to “thicken” Israel’s narrow waist by expanding the area of permanent Jewish settlement east into the West Bank. The most recent reflection of the success of this effort is the growing equalization of housing prices east and west of the Green Line in metropolitan Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, notwithstanding generous subsidies for homebuyers in settlements. This important development is the consequence of :
– national housing policies that have created a housing shortage in metropolitan Tel Aviv, leaving prospective purchasers “no choice” but to buy in settlements;
— the equalization of services and infrastructure between Israeli localities on both sides of the Green Line; and, as explained by The Marker’s real estate correspondent Erez Cohen:
– the recognition [by Israelis] that the settlement blocs of Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Elkana and Ariel will remain within sovereign Israel as part of a final status agreement.
Within 4 to 5 years and with out any connection to the results of discussions with the Palestinians an equalization will be created between the real estate prices in communities within the Green Line and those that are located in the settlement blocks of the consensus. . . . The big paradox is that this change will not be principally because of political changes in one direction or another, but first and foremost because of pragmatic economic decisions of the Israeli public.
The prospect of an Israeli retreat to still-undefined settlement blocs as part of a final status agreement has become a cornerstone of today’s diplomatic narrative. Nevertheless, the consolidation of the 100 or so settlement outposts established since 1996 continues apace. Israeli commitments to evacuate these new settlements have not been realized. For example, the civil administration demolished only 19 structures among all the outposts in 2011–2012, the last year for which such figures are available. These actions are far less extensive than the construction of permanent facilities—houses, farms, irrigation, and roads—that most such locations now boast.
Men from the Ma’on settlement, wearing white shabbat clothing, enter the village of At-Tuwani. Accompanied by soldiers, they yell insults and make obscene hand gestures at gathered Palestinian residents. The soldiers allowed the settlers to reach an area just 50 metres from the first house of the village. Four armed settlers stood guard several metres behind the others. From ISM.
These outposts, located on the periphery of older existing settlements, are at the center of the almost daily confrontations over control of the land. Settlers, secure in older settlements and increasingly so in the newer outposts, are undertaking efforts to expand their control by not only denying Palestinians access to lands for agriculture or grazing, but also by increasing their sense of overall insecurity. The Israel Defense Forces, despite being required by international law to protect Palestinians’ well being, serve the higher mandate of protecting the settlers. The security services of the Palestinian Authority are not permitted to exercise any authority over settlers or to protect villagers against settler depredations, which often take place in Area C, where Israel’s writ is supreme.
Palestinian villagers on the front lines of such strife are adapting to the absence of protection by establishing informal, volunteer observers in and around villages where settlers are most active. Citing a former security official, Yediot Aharonot noted on April 7 that “in nine out of ten instances of disturbances by Jews in Judea and Samaria, [Israel’s security service] knows who is responsible for the reprehensible acts. The idea that ‘Price-Tag’ actions against Palestinians and IDF commanders severely damage the State of Israel and settlement in Judea and Samaria is contemptuously rejected by the perpetrators and those who are close to them. They see themselves as modern-day sicarii [armed Jewish zealots in Roman Palestine] who know better than anyone what is good for the State of Israel.”
In this spirit, Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home Party is a key member of the ruling coalition, recently declared that “the whole Land of Israel is a single bloc. There are those who say we can build inside the settlement blocs,” he continued, “and others who say we may not be able to hold onto the towns outside the blocs. I have come to tell you what the Arabs already know—that the Land of Israel is one [settlement] bloc.”
“Unfortunately, prisoners were not released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, April 8, 20
If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction—and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time—if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.
President Barack Obama, March 2, 2014
Ghassan Daghlass is an official of the Palestinian Authority in the northern West Bank, responsible for tracking settler activity. This interview was conducted by Geoffrey Aronson on March 12, 2014 in Ramallah.
By Geoffrey Aronson, Settlement Report, Vol. 24 No. 2
Question: What has changed in the seven years that you have been following settlement activity?
Daghlass: Every day there are developments on the ground. It is true that the settlement project is expanding all the time. What is worse, however, are the “price tag” groups operating in the West Bank.
We have a continuing expansion of settlements. And added to this are the often-violent acts that settler groups are undertaking, and these are expanding as well. Our statistics show that the aggressive acts of settlers are increasing. The protests of settlers have gone from protesting inside their settlements to protests outside of the settlements, then into the mosques and to our orchards and lands. Today there are more than 632,000 settlers in the West Bank and [East] Jerusalem.
What is the relationship between the settlers and the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]?
Israel is a settler state—100 percent. We are fieldworkers, so whenever there are settler actions we see them with our own eyes. Whenever settlers uproot trees and undertake other actions, we always notice that the [Israeli] army is standing on the side of the settlers, who feel that they are above the law. The punishment imposed on a settler who burns a mosque is simply banishment to Israel for three months. The settler who killed Ibn Qadus in Burin was fined only 30 shekels [$8.00]. We feel that the army’s actions are simply a theatrical performance between the settlers and the army.
If the Israeli authorities were truly interested in stopping settler violence, they could do it easily. For example, we presented the Israeli authorities with tapes and testimony that show the uprooting of trees and other actions against us. It is ironic that when the Israeli military and legal authorities are presented with such material, they do not give those [Palestinians] who wish to testify a permit to travel to the judicial proceedings.
Villagers from Nabi Saleh and Israeli supporters walk down the hill to a spring which settlers have seized. The army drives them off with tear-gas grenades.
We have one example where the Israeli authorities succeeded in arresting settlers during the olive harvest. Undercover police were sent to the area and arrested the troublemakers. I saw this with my own eyes. This shows the ability of the Israeli authorities and soldiers to prevent settler attacks. It seems, however, that Israel rushes to punish a young boy or farmer who defends his land, but is keen on defending settlers.
Last week in the village of Luban, I caught a settler with my own hands. We made sure that no one hit him or hurt him. I sat with him until the army arrived on the scene. He admitted that he had stolen a horse and that he was from the nearby outpost. I asked him why he attacked the farmers. He said, “I saw the mare, I wanted to take it.” I asked him why he attacked us, and he answered, “I want to kick you out of this land and take it.” I informed the Palestinian Authority [PA] coordination office, and Israel came with a military force. I told the settler that he must present this evidence and acknowledge what he had done, so he told the Israeli officer exactly what he told me.
What is your area of responsibility?
My area reaches from the north of Ramallah to Salfit and the Jordan Valley. In every village in a conflict situation, I have a team. In my phone, I have 2,500 telephone numbers. I am in every locality. I built this system. The PA offers no financial support for this effort other than my salary. We are more a popular movement of volunteers than PA representatives.
People feel safer when I am around. We call [ourselves] the Guard Committees. Groups stay up late in the evening, and if they see a settler attack, they call me, and they go to the mosque and announce it to everyone. People wake up and confront the settlers.
How many Guard Committees are there?
There are a number of Guard Committees. We have a crisis, so there are many. They work in a shift system, 24 hours a day. They co-operate with the village council or locality without any financial assistance from the PA. The volunteers come from many walks of life. Whoever offers is taken. Most are farmers. It is a communal organization that is self-generated. We have no arms, and no radios, other than our cell phones. We only look at Area C where settlers are active.
Where are you most active?
Kusra is very active. There we have a great village council leader. Also in the villages of Boreen, Hourif, Haris, Salfit, and Brukhin, where today, for example, settlers appropriated 100 dunams of land. In the Salfit area, there are 23 settlements and 21 Palestinian villages.
Are the Guard Committees effective?
At the end of the day, the most important achievement is that settlers are aware that people are awake and observing. As a consequence, the nature of settler actions has changed. Direct attacks against villages have decreased while attacks have moved to the land and roads. In Dir Istiya, for example, settlers burned the mosque because there was no guard team of observers in the village. When such groups are present, settlers select areas where they see that no committees are active.
Is there more that the PA could do?
At this point, the PA cannot do anything. Only popular committees on the ground can affect the situation. We give all our information to the PA, and we update them on all developments. We help to organize popular protests, and if trees are uprooted, we replace them. The Palestinian liaison officer comes himself and submits a report on every event and also files a complaint [with the civil administration] even though we know that the complaint is meaningless. After we were told that the settlers were complaining about our activities, we decided to make our own complaints as well.
The cost for Palestinians who confront settlers on their own is high. Settlers often will make a complaint, and someone can be fined NIS 5,000 [$1,400] and a year in jail. The cost of confronting settlers is very high.
Is the diplomacy having any effect on the situation on the ground?
Recently 28 [European] consuls recommended all kinds of things, but Israel does not respond in anyway and does not take such suggestions into consideration. Had there been any positive change in settler behavior, the international community would not be calling for a boycott of settlement products.
How often are you able to protect villagers from settler actions?
Many times. in Koostra, Talfit, Luban . . . many times. We tell settlers that we are not keen on violence. We want peace, but not at any price. We do not want to see the army or settlers. All we want is to be left alone. I am 42 years old. I [first] saw the sea when I was 39. I do not want to see my children denied such pleasures. The presence of settlers and the occupation will not give any hope for peace.
How explosive is the current situation on the ground?
The olive harvest [that occurs in the fall] marks the peak of confrontations between settlers and the people. The “outposts” will become full-fledged settlements. All the numbers indicate that Israel is not keen on establishing peace.
It is worrying that things might develop into an explosion. It is worrying that settlers enter into the hearts of villages. The stalemate on the political level contributes to this feeling. When I see Israelis marching with huge numbers of Knesset members, we are demoralized.