Israel expands settlements in West Bank

February 28, 2009

The Israeli apartheid state, seemingly unconcerned by worldwide outrage and condemnation of its latest attacks on Gaza, has set about extending its domination over the occupied territories.

Central to this colonial project has been the continued growth of illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. These areas are often controlled by Jewish religious hardliners, but populated by poorer Israelis enticed by government-subsidised housing.

To oversee this, religious extremists formed the Yesha settlement council in the 1970s. The mandate of the Yesha council is to promote and assist illegal Jewish settlers in every way possible. Yesha is the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria, Gaza (i.e. the West Bank and Gaza).

Although a product of the religious parties, the Yesha council has the support of all major Israeli political parties. It works in coordination with both military and government to ensure a "smooth transition" of power. The army is often used to force Palestinians out of these areas, so Palestinian infrastructure and land can be declared as "abandoned assets".


Despite living in adjacent towns, life could not be more different for Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank.

While settlers vote in Israeli elections and further expand their control over the West Bank, Palestinians are forced to live under military occupation. They drive on alternative roads and exist in ghetto-like conditions created by walls, checkpoints and roadblocks.

And while Israel's government exerts full control over Palestinian lives, Palestinians are subjected to discriminatory laws they cannot even vote against.

The February 25 Scotsman reported Israel's continuing attempt to demolish the Palestinian neighbourhood of Al Bustan in east Jerusalem, to make way for a "biblically resonant" archeology theme park. The plan is set to turn yet another thousand Palestinians into refugees within their own lands.

Yakir Segev, the head of east Jerusalem affairs for the city municipality, told the Scotsman, "The houses there were built without permits. It is preferable that these people leave voluntarily, but if not the law will be applied."

The plan to takeover the neighbourhood of Al Bustan was first floated four years ago, but was delayed thanks to an international campaign of condemnation. However, the Scotsman now reports that local residents have exposed renewed plans to construct the park.

"Each house has a demolition order against it and there is an order against the entire neighbourhood," Fakhri Abu Diab, a Palestinian neighbourhood activist, told the Scotsman.

Another example is the expansion of the Zionist settlement of Efrat, outside Bethlehem. In this case, the expulsion of Palestinians has been approved by the Israeli courts according to a February 23 Alternative Information Centre (AIC) report. Nine affected families lodged legal appeals to stop the land confiscation. Only one was accepted.

Efrat was first established in 1983 and has since become one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank. AIC reports that the confiscation plan has been strategically undertaken to eventually join Efrat with the Gush Etzion settlements to the south of Jerusalem.

Role of Fatah

Despite Israel's unrelenting attacks on human rights, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has failed to coordinate Palestinian resistance to land confiscations. Instead, since it took power in the West Bank in a US-backed coup in 2007, Abbas's Fatah party has worked to undermine the capacity of Palestinians to resist their oppressors.

Hundreds of Hamas activists, along with members of other Palestinian parties, have been arrested by forces loyal to Abbas. During the attacks on Gaza, Fatah forces were instructed to suppress solidarity protests in West Bank towns.

Clearly, Fatah now believes that by collaborating with Israel, Palestinians can get a better deal. But just as South African bantustan "leaders" were used to subdue resistance from black South Africans, Abbas's forces are playing neatly into imperialism's hands.

As Abdul Hadi Hantash of the Land Defense General Committee told AIC, "Whoever believes that they [Israel] want the peace is mad. They say that they want peace, but we want to see facts to support this on the ground. We want to put an end to the bloodshed and we want to live as a free people. But giving a hand to Israel is the same as putting snakes in our pockets. Not one of them dares to say: 'we want to stop confiscating the land, demolishing houses, building the Wall, etc,".

Apartheid wall

Central to Israel's plans in the West Bank is the ongoing construction of a giant wall — dubbed the apartheid wall by Palestinians — dividing Palestinian communities and confiscating the most fertile land.

Recently, Israel has yet again announced a route change for the wall.

The change will affect the southern area, around the Alfe Menashe settlement, cutting off large areas of land from three Palestinian villages and maintaining the isolation of several Bedouin communities, according to the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (GPAAWC).

The plan also involves the construction of a new settler-only road. An older road will be allocated for Palestinian use.

Even tents have not been immune from Israeli attacks. A February 21 GPAAWC media release explained that Israeli forces had demolished tents belonging to five Arab Jahalin families.

Soldiers not only confiscated the remains of the tents, but also their water tank in an attempt to stop the families rebuilding. The same families had first had their homes destroyed by the Israeli military three weeks before.

The European Union and other nations internationally have come out against further settlement expansion by Israel. Even Abbas has spoken out against the growing land confiscations. But what is missing is any type of action. The European Union and the United States continue to exclude Hamas — the democratically elected government of Palestine — from any peace negotiations.

Other western nations profess to be in favour of peace in words, but still continue to give support to the wider project of ethnic cleansing carried out by Israel

For example, Italy will, in a plan to be unveiled at a G8 summit in July, propose that an airport be built in the West Bank to attract religious tourists to the West Bank's "holy sites", as well as hotels and industrial plants.

Prominent on Italy's list of hotspots for this development is Bethlehem. Today, the town believed to be the birthplace of Jesus is a Palestinian ghetto, mired in poverty and surrounded by armed Israeli settlements. Palestinians will not share in the proceeds from tourism to the area.

The British government, meanwhile, has declared that it too supports the rebuilding of the Palestinian economy and has lauded moves to import limited quantities of fair trade olive oil from the Palestinian villages in the West Bank. At the same time, Britain has failed to take even diplomatic action in response to Israeli's repeated confiscations of Palestinian olive groves.

The British government has rejected calls for an arms embargo and the cessation of military ties with the brutal Israeli Defense Force.

Even Israel itself has joined in on this sick PR campaign, by allowing limited quantities of roses grown in Palestine to be distributed around the world in the lead-up to Valentines Day.


In the current atmosphere, resistance by local residents, with the support of international solidarity activists, is a vital, but dangerous endeavour.

Military raids are a common means to silence Palestinian dissent.

For example, on February 18, the Israeli military attacked the West Bank town of Jayyous, near Qalqiliya, rounding up residents in a school and raiding dozens of houses, according to the AIC.

Twenty-five jeeps and 75 soldiers were involved in the attack. Sixty-five residents, including members of the youth committee of the Stop the Wall Campaign, were imprisoned in a local school for more than 15 hours.

After severe interrogation, 17 residents were later arrested. Israeli forces were involved in property destruction and looting, beating down those who tried to resist the wanton destruction.

Swedish International Solidarity Movement activist, Ulrika Lundquist told the AIC,"Israel is clearly attempting to crush, through force, any form of popular resistance to the illegal Apartheid Wall.

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