‘It’s like 1948’: Israel cleanses vast West Bank region of nearly all Palestinians

In mere months, entire Palestinian communities between Ramallah and Jericho have been chased out by settler violence and state policies — paving the way for a total Israeli takeover of thousands of acres of land.

Aerial view of the area around al-Qabun school after the Palestinian community fled under the threat of Israeli settler violence, West Bank. (Oren Ziv)

Oren Ziv writes in +972 August 31, 2023

There are almost no Palestinians remaining in a vast area stretching east from Ramallah to the outskirts of Jericho. Most of the communities who lived in the area — which covers around 150,000 dunams, or 150 square kilometers, of the occupied West Bank — have fled for their lives in recent months as a result of intensifying Israeli settler violence and land seizures, backed by the Israeli army and state institutions. The near-total emptying of the region’s Palestinian population shows how Israel’s slow but gradual process of ethnic cleansing is continuing apace, effectively annexing large swathes of the occupied territory for exclusive Jewish settlement.

More than 10 settler outposts — which are illegal even under Israeli law, though the current far-right government is working hard to legalize them — have been established in this area over the past few years, with their settlers weaponizing shepherding as a means to take over Palestinians’ land and force them out. The few small Palestinian communities that remain in the area may also soon be forced to leave, out of grave fear for their physical safety and mental wellbeing. In the last year alone, hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced in this way.

To date, four Palestinian communities have been expelled from this region. In 2019, two groups of Palestinian families evacuated from the southern part of the area, near the Taybeh junction. In May of this year, the 200 residents of Ein Samia dismantled their own homes and fled following relentless settler violence. In July 2022, the 100-strong community of Ras a-Tin followed suit. In early August, the 88 residents of al-Qabun were forced to abandon their homes.

There are currently only three Palestinian communities left in the area: Ein al-Rashash, Jabit, and Ras Ein al-Auja. All of them are exposed to the same settler harassment that forced their former neighbors to flee.

This phenomenon is beginning to spill over to other Palestinian communities in adjacent areas. According to data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 35 residents of the nearby village of Wadi a-Seeq recently packed up and fled, while the families that remain are facing heightened danger. In al-Baqa’a, 43 residents — the majority of the community — fled in July following the establishment of a new settler outpost and an arson attack on a house in the village.

According to Kerem Navot, an NGO that monitors developments on the ground in the West Bank, Israeli settlers have now effectively taken over an area between the Allon Road in the west, Route 90 in the east, Al-Ma’arjat Road near Taybeh in the south, and Route 505 near Duma in the north. This region includes Firing Zone 906 — designated across 88,000 dunams by the army in 1967 — around which most of the outposts have been established, and which was mainly used as a grazing area by Palestinian Bedouins. The remaining 60,000 dunams, between the firing zone and the Allon Road, is where these communities lived until they were forcibly displaced.

All of this land is located in Area C, which is designated for Israeli civil and military control under the Oslo Accords. Some of it is privately owned by Palestinians, and other parts are deemed “state land” by the Israeli occupation authorities. Today, Palestinians only have access to about 1,000 dunams of this territory, and even those are prone to settler harassment and attacks.

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