By Joharah Baker
One of the most dangerous, and most insidious, powers of time is that it can slowly neutralize issues that once evoked strong sentiments. Of course, this has a positive side to it, represented in the common maxim “Time heals all.” In the case of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, however, time has not been on our side at all.
In strict legal terms, the status of these settlements, numbered somewhere close to 200 in the West Bank, could not be clearer. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, prohibits Israel from establishing colonies, while the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 452 in 1979, which carried the same message:
“…calls upon the Government and People of Israel to cease the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.”
Still, Israel has continued to build, expand and multiply these illegal settlements unabated. While the first Jewish settlement was established in the West Bank just months after the 1967 War, by the end of 1968, there were 30 others speckled throughout the newly occupied territories.
Today, there are approximately half a million settlers living in West Bank settlements, according to AREEJ, the Applied Research Institute. Approximately 200,000 settlers live in settlements around Jerusalem, which has always been the primary target for Israel as a way to squeeze out as much of the Arab Palestinian population from the city as possible and flood it with Jewish residents.
Settlements have always been a major source of contention between the Palestinian leadership and Israel. However, while Israel has still not succeeded in convincing the entire world that these settlements are part of “Israel” and not illegal, it has succeeded in whittling down the razor sharp criticism surrounding settlements, especially in Jerusalem. Shockingly, this has even spilled over into certain sectors of Palestinian society.
For years, Israel has insisted on calling Jerusalem-area settlements “neighborhoods” or “communities” of Jerusalem rather than by their real name. The fact is, Israel has created two rings around Jerusalem – one inner and one outer ring, to create what it unilaterally calls “Greater Jerusalem.” These “communities” are all part of this grand plan. However, what happens when even relatively intelligent and educated Palestinians buy into this propaganda and believe the east Jerusalem settlement of Gilo is just a neighborhood in the city?
Here is where the real danger lies. Gilo, established in 1971 on lands confiscated from the Palestinian villages of Beit Jala, Beit Safafa and Sharafat, is part of the inner ring of settlements around Jerusalem. Not only are the settlements illegal under international law given that they are built on occupied land, but they are based on discriminatory housing criteria. Residents of these three Palestinian villages cannot live in Gilo on the very land that was previously usurped from them.
So, where have we as Palestinians gone wrong in portraying the accurate portrait of these cancerous growths? It is one thing for the United States to dance around Israel’s illegalities in the name of their brotherly alliance, but it is totally unacceptable for our own people to be sucked into the same labyrinth of semantic deceit. Our leadership cannot afford to be anything but vigilant in forwarding the battle against illegal settlements, not only to the outside world, but to our own people as well. Nothing short of a complete boycott of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem will suffice if the Palestinians are ever to have a chance at curbing this quickly accelerating Israeli policy, which if we are not careful, will eventually devour what is left of the small portion of Palestine still up for negotiation.
Israel understands this play for time more than anyone. With the realization that a final settlement with the Palestinians will inevitably be reached, Israel is scrambling to create as many facts on the ground as possible. Hence, the discriminatory Separation Wall, which has devoured large chunks of West Bank territory and of course, settlement growth. According to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, Israel approved tenders for 690 new settlement units in two major east Jerusalem settlements: Ma’aleh Adumim and Beit Illit less than two months ago. Once the housing units are up and running, they could accommodate up to 2,800 new Jewish settlers.
This is all happening under the noses of the international community and even the Palestinians themselves. While Israel purposely allows the spotlight to be shone on its military aggression in the Gaza Strip in particular, it is working stealthily behind the scenes to secure its future in the West Bank. Once real people are living in real homes and have real lives, Israel’s leaders know it will be much more difficult “from a humanitarian” viewpoint to uproot them in order to make way for the “less deserving” Palestinians.
What will remain, sadly, are a few isolated cantons, pathetic pockets of Palestinian rule, carved out of a larger canvas of major settlement blocs and bypass roads connecting Jewish-Israelis everywhere.
Right now, the Palestinians have to choose their battles carefully. While it is extremely important to make the world see the injustice of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank and force it to halt its bloody onslaught, it is equally as important to look further than the tip of our noses. Because if we don’t, we will wake up one day with the little land we thought we could surely claim as our own, pulled out from beneath us.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org