By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Since achieving military hegemony over its neighboring states and forging a strategic –indeed paramount- relationship with the US, the world’s sole military superpower, Israel as a settler-colonial state felt free to colonize the occupied Arab lands. The Israelis changed the name of the West Bank to the Biblical names of Judea and Samaria, annexed East Jerusalem and launched Jewish-only settlement programs to expand the borders of their state. All Israel’s secular, religious and conservative parties carried out and supported vigorous settlement activities. The seculars’ concept of colonization has been to create new defensible borders avoiding densely populated areas; the religious and the so called conservatives have been committed to the ideology of creating ‘Greater Israel’ by giving the Jews the right to settle everywhere in the West Bank.
The 1967 Minister of Labor government, Yigal Allon, presented the first plan for Israel’s future borders that would meet security requirements in case peace is established with its neighbors. The plan proposed to keep 40% of the occupied area under Israel’s sovereignty including 6 to 15 miles wide belt along the Jordan Valley. When the Likud Party came to power in 1977, the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division prepared a guiding plan for settling the West Bank. Ariel Sharon prepared another plan to annex West Bank areas vital to Israel security, leaving small number of densely populated enclaves by Palestinians.
What is happening on the ground in the West Bank and Jerusalem suggests that all the proposed plans have been implemented; a continuous chain of settlements have been built in the cultivable areas over the length of the Jordan River valley; East Jerusalem is annexed and more than 150 settlements have been built all over the West Bank and Jerusalem areas; and the settlements have been continuously expanded. Some settlers chose to live in the occupied lands for political reasons and others settled for getting housing at a low price besides better quality of life. The settlers receive government subsidized housing with open space on confiscated Palestinian public and private land; and highways have been constructed exclusively for Jews to link the settlements to Israel proper and allow settlers employed outside the area to commute.
In 2002, Defense Minister in Ariel Sharon government proposed ‘E1 Plan’, a scheme to fill in the terrain between Maale Adumim settlement and East Jerusalem with a ‘settlement corridor’ of 3,500 housing units, industrial and commercial zones, and tourist resorts. And in 2012, the Israeli government decided to revive the ‘E1’ Plan. Implementing ‘E1’ Plan would sever territorial and transport contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank.
The Israeli government developed strategic plans for the infrastructures that included roads, electricity, water, sanitation and telecommunications as integral parts of colonizing the West Bank. For transportation, the Israelis designed two separate road systems, one for the settlers and the other for the Palestinians. The apartheid road system was a move to ensure certain areas of the West Bank will remain under complete Israeli control in the future. It has been designed to create Israeli territorial contiguity in the West Bank, protect the settlers from the Palestinians on joint roads, ensure easy access from Israel proper to the settlements and make it easy for the Israeli military to conduct more effective incursions and control over the lives of the Palestinians. At the same time Israel can claim it is fulfilling its promise to provide some kind of contiguity for the Palestinians’ territory. The separate roads have sliced through the territory, cutting areas off from one another and causing extreme hardships on the Palestinians.
The main roads were updated, transformed into a wide network of modern multi-lane highways and assigned as perpetual roads for the Israelis (Jews) only. All Jewish-only settlements have been connected by access Jewish-only roads to adjacent Jewish-only high-ways even if the number of settlers that may use the roads was very low. Examples: Seven miles road was constructed to connect Kaddim settlements, home for 160 settlers, to the main highway. Six miles road in a rocky terrain was built for 170 settlers of Eshkolot Settlement to connect them to Lahav settlement in the Hebron Mountains. The Jews-only highway arteries that ensure free traffic among the settlement blocks can be characterized as octopus arms surrounding Palestinian population centers.
The Israeli planners diverted the Palestinians’ transportation from the existing roads to less efficient secondary roads with limited capacity. Many by-passes and bridges were added to the West Bank apartheid roads in strategic locations for supporting roadblocks where the Israeli military can close major Palestinian traffic at any given moment. The Israeli army has been using more than 500 checkpoints, roadblocks and earth mounds to restrict Palestinians’ travel and the transit of goods or shut off entire Palestinian areas from each other at very short notice. Roads have been closed quite often as collective punishment, interrupting trade, education, health services, access to religious sites and all facets of normal daily life. The Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoints use the most common harassment measure against commuting Palestinians by confiscating their identity cards for no reason and forcing them to wait hours before getting their cards back. The travel restriction choked the Palestinian economy and seriously limited Palestinians’ freedom and mobility in their own country. Human rights organizations reported many disastrous humanitarian effects at roadblocks including deaths. The apartheid road system that includes ‘for-Jews-only’ and the roads laid ‘for-Palestinians’ destroyed the landscape and damaged the area ecological habitats.
Israel expected the donor countries to finance the Apartheid road system that was intended to ensure the success of Israel’s plan to strengthen its hold on the West Bank. In 2004, the Israelis requested and received funding from the donor states for building the transportation system. The project that was submitted to the donor countries and the World Bank included building 500 kilo-meters of roads, scores of by-passes, tunnels and bridges, and upgrading existing roads. For justifying the request, the Israelis assume ‘the settlements in confiscated Palestinian land a given, a fact’ and there is imminent danger to the lives of the settlers and other civilian Israelis on the joint roads; and the proposed system keeps the Israeli and Palestinian vehicles far apart. According to Suheil Khalilieh, the head of Settlement Monitoring, at Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, ‘the USAID financed the construction of 114 kilometers of the Israeli proposed roads.’ The donor countries provided the funds requested by Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian lands and leave the settlements intact.
Once the donor countries financed the project, they supported Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian lands and they became accessories in constructing a project that divides people based on their ethnicity. The donors support Apartheid. Hypocrites!!
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.