Peace Not Walls
Articles, stories, photos and video about keeping faith in the Holy Land and creating a peaceful, just environment where all humans can flourish.
EU and other diplomats call on Israel to prevent slated village demolitions in the South Hebron Hills
European Union and other diplomats from around the world recently toured some of the 8 villages slated for destruction by the Israelis to make room for a firing zone and called on Israel to halt the scheduled demolitions. Ecumenical Accompaniers and other advocates from Rabbis for Human Rights and other groups have been following this situation and advocating for a halt to the demolitions for months. See background on the villages.
A recent OCHA report summarizes the negative effects of the Israeli designation of large sections of the West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills, for firing and military zones. Acording to OCHA, approximately 18% of the West Bank has been designated as a closed military zone for training, or “firing zone”; this is roughly the same amount of the West Bank under full Palestinian authority (Area A, 17.7%).
The diplomats visited the village of Jinba days after a night raid by masked Israelis to take photographs of structures and count residents frightened the residents.
JustVision has compiled 4 eight minute vignettes of those involved in the home evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. There has been a recent concerted effort to evict Palestinians from their homes to make room for the expansion of the Israeli settlement presence there, despite homeowners having paperwork proving their ownership. “Homefront” is ideal for adult education sessions to highlight the slow and steady displacement of Palestinians for the purpose of expanding the Israeli settler presence in the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. Read more about Homefront and other Just Vision resources.
A new report by the Ma’an Development Center describes the vast difference in treatment and development of Palestinian villages and illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. From the report:
“The Jordan Valley is approximately 15-20 kilometers wide and, at 1,700 square kilometers, covers around 28.5% of the West Bank. The rich agricultural land, temperate climate, and abundant water resources offer enormous agricultural, economic and political potential for the Palestinian people.
However, this potential has been denied to the Palestinian citizens of the Jordan Valley by the policies of the Israeli military occupation and the continuing illegal expansion of Israel’s civilian settlements. In fact, the first civilian settlements in the West Bank were built in the Jordan Valley. Throughout the years of occupation, the Israeli government began actively promoting the settlement enterprise by offering a number of far-reaching economic and social benefits to those Israelis that emigrated to the illegal settlements.
Consequently, Jordan Valley settlements have grown at a steady rate, aided by governmental aid that expanded important settlement infrastructure and enriched many individual settlers. In 1993, the implementation of the Oslo Accords allowed Israel to strengthen its means of oppression in the region; the Oslo Accords designated 95% of the Jordan Valley as Area C, temporarily legitimizing full Israeli military and civil control for the inhabitants of the region.
Although there are currently 56,000 Palestinians and only 9,400 Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley, the living standards of the latter group are vastly superior. While the Israeli settlers benefit from generous aid from the Israeli government, Palestinians are nearly completely prevented from any sort of development in 95% of the Jordan Valley. Consequently, neighboring Palestinian and Israeli settler communities provide a stark and telling juxtaposition that demonstrates the racial discrimination that guides Israeli policy in the Jordan Valley. By directly subsidizing settlements’ growth, expansion, and development while completely prohibiting even the most basic of services to Palestinians, Israel has ensured that the Palestinians cannot overcome the discriminatory gap in the quality of life between the two populations.”
The report compares Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements and describes the legal procedures governing both. It highlights the unequal treatment given to Palestinians compared with the Israeli settlers and concludes:
“The shocking differences between the quality of life in Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley are obvious manifestations of the decades-old Israeli policy to remove Palestinians from their own land. By refusing to care for the Palestinians under military rule while also refusing to allow the PNA access to these vulnerable communities, Israel is forcing Palestinians to depopulate an important piece of land that is essential to the viability of a future Palestinian state.
At the same time, the Israeli government has ensured the viability and sustainability of the settlements in the Jordan Valley by directly subsidizing their infrastructure, employment, and social services. All of this brings one to the conclusion that the State of Israel, through its settlement enterprise, is actively protecting the extravagant lifestyle of Israeli Jews in the occupied territories at the expense of the basic human rights of Palestinians. Only a complete reversal of policy with appropriate reparations for lost economic activity and community services will begin to adequately address the gross injustice that has continued for over forty years.”
Synopsis – Advocacy for a just peace for Israel and Palestine has focused largely on long-term solutions, even while daily life for Palestinians has deteriorated and inequalities have multiplied. While not ignoring the need for a permanent solution, including an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the cessation of violence by all parties, much could be accomplished by addressing current inequities even if political progress on long-term solutions remains limited or virtually non-existent.
This position paper is intended to inform ELCA members and congregations of possible approaches to current realities in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Inequities lead to lack of resources and denial of freedom for Palestinians
Inequities throughout the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel proper deprive many Palestinians of basic resources and fundamental freedoms.
In the occupied territories, Palestinian homes and other buildings have been demolished at an alarming rate to make room for Israeli settlers. West Bank residential demolitions in 2011 caused 1,100 Palestinians to be forcibly displaced from their homes, an increase of over 80% from the number of people displaced in 2010. In addition, over 4,200 people were affected by the demolition of “livelihood structures.” Elaborating on these statistics, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes, “These demolitions occur in the context of an inadequate and discriminatory planning regime that restricts Palestinian development, while providing preferential treatment to Israeli settlements” (1). Meanwhile, Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to expand. Peace Now reported a 20% rise in settlement construction starts for 2011 with East Jerusalem seeing a 10-year high for settlement plans (2).
In the West Bank, separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians, check points and roadblocks that impede Palestinian travel while facilitating that of Israelis (3), and separate legal systems – civil law for Israelis and military law for Palestinians – make normal life for Palestinians impossible.
East Jerusalem is home to about 270,000 Palestinians. In addition, around 200,000 Israelis live in ever-expanding East Jerusalem settlements. Palestinian homes are demolished, residents are evicted to make room for Jewish settlers, and land is threatened with confiscation for projects such as public parks. A permit regime keeps Palestinians from moving freely in and out of the city. The separation barrier erected by the State of Israel mostly in Palestinian territory restricts entry to Jerusalem for West Bank Palestinians while Israeli settlers can come and go freely.
Land inequities lead to unequal distribution of other natural resources, water in particular. About 80% of the water from the West Bank mountain aquifer, which Israel controls, goes to Israelis – including settlers – leaving only 20% for Palestinians (4). Israelis consume four times more water than Palestinians in the occupied territories, 300 liters/day compared to 70 liters/day, according to a report by Amnesty International (5).
Palestinians in the West Bank suffer these and other daily indignities and deprivations. At the same time, Palestinians elsewhere face additional discriminatory policies. In Gaza, Palestinians live with inadequate infrastructure, high unemployment, and impediments to movement and access due to the Israeli blockade which imposes restrictions beyond those needed for Israeli security. Palestinian refugees throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank are not allowed to return to their homes while Jews from anywhere in the world are free to immigrate to Israel. And within Israel, Palestinian citizens struggle under an unequal system which, for example, can prevent a spouse from the West Bank from joining his or her partner living in Israel.
Addressing current inequities through advocacy focused on equality
Advocacy for a just peace has focused largely on long-term solutions, while daily life for Palestinians has deteriorated and inequalities have multiplied. While not ignoring the need for a permanent solution, including an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the cessation of violence by all parties, much could be accomplished by addressing current inequities even if political progress remains limited or virtually non-existent.
Even without a freeze on construction, the harm caused to Palestinians by Israeli settlements could be significantly decreased by a halt to demolitions of Palestinian homes and other buildings. A fair distribution system for water can be implemented prior to a final status agreement. And laws governing East Jerusalem and Israel proper can be configured to treat all persons equally, regardless of ethnicity or religion, without waiting for boundaries and other outstanding issues to be resolved.
Shifting advocacy priorities to address inequalities will create opportunities to make real changes in the short term that will significantly improve daily life.
Areas for immediate attention
While many areas of inequality exist, suggested areas for immediate attention include calling for a halt to demolitions and insisting on equal access to Jerusalem, including equal access to religious sites. The former is particularly urgent given the recent escalation in home demolitions; the latter is of key importance to the economic, political, social and religious life of Palestinians.
Consequences for inaction
Equality can only be instituted by the more powerful party, in this case the Government of Israel. Church-based calls for equality will be strengthened by insistence on consequences for the occupying power if it continues to choose inaction. Specifically, advocates in the United States can employ their citizenship and consumer choices in the service of a just peace. The ELCA’s 2005 Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine points out that U.S. foreign aid “helps frame the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians,” and affirms that the ELCA “will seek to expend God-given economic resources in ways that support the quest for a just peace in the Holy Land.” Calls for equality should be accompanied by the message to elected officials that U.S. aid will be contingent on respect for U.S. and international law, both of which support equality. And individuals can vote with their personal expenditures by, for example, exploring ways to avoid purchasing products grown or made in Israeli settlements.
Focusing on present inequalities will help many who are suffering even as a permanent peace remains elusive. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By the same token, justice in one area can be a catalyst for justice elsewhere. The steps suggested here will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians, along with supporting peace for all in the region. Organized advocacy efforts, calling for equality and creating consequences for continuing inequality, are what is needed to make a real difference now.
1) “The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor,” UN OCHA oPt, December, 2011.
2) Torpedoing the Two State Solution: Summary of 2011 in the Settlements,” Peace Now, January, 2012.
3) “More than 500 internal checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical obstacles impede Palestinian movement inside the West Bank, including access of children to schools; they exist primarily to protect settlers and facilitate their movement, including to and from Israel.” “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies,” UN OCHA oPt, January 2012.
4) “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Water,” Martin Asser, BBC, September 2, 2010.
5) “Troubled Waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water,” Amnesty International, 2009.
Prepared by the staff team of the ELCA Peace Not Walls campaign
UN Rapporteur Says Demolitions, Evictions and Poor Planning by Israel “Violate Palestinian Right to Adequate Housing”
Bedouin one example of the elimination of adequate Palestinian housing
On January 3rd the Government of Israel published the memorandum of a bill named “Regulation of the Bedouin settlement in the Negev“, in which in states the steps to be implemented in order to relocate the overwhelming majority of the residents of the unrecognized villages and confiscate about 2/3s of the land remaining in their possession. Within the bill are what some consider violent measures to ensure its implementation. This bill is currently going through the legislative process in the Knesset, and soon may become law.
UN Special Rapporteur says some Israeli policies create “new frontiers of dispossession of the traditional inhabitants, and the implementation of a strategy of Judaisation and control of the territory”
Read full version of her initial findings or the conclusions below:
Israel has been ruling the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean for more than 40 years. After the Oslo agreements, Israel retained official temporary control over the vast majority of the occupied West Bank (Area C). At present, more than half a million Israeli-Jews, have settled in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. Throughout my visit, I was able to witness a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities in Israel which is being replicated in the occupied territory, affecting Palestinian communities. The Bedouins in the Negev – inside Israel – as well as the new Jewish settlements in area C of the West Bank and inside Palestinian Neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – are the new frontiers of dispossession of the traditional inhabitants, and the implementation of a strategy of Judaisation and control of the territory.
In different legal and geographical contexts, from the Galilee and the Negev to the West Bank, I received repeated complaints regarding lack of housing, threats of demolition and eviction, overcrowding, lack of community development, the disproportional number of demolitions affecting Palestinian communities and the accelerated development of predominantly Jewish settlements. The Barrier makes visible what the territorial planning regime has silently implemented for decades, and the blockade is the most extreme expression of separation as a restriction to survive and expand.
In all my interviews with Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as my visits to Palestinian communities, I was impressed by the collective sense of frustration and extreme insecurity with regard to their housing and property rights. I also observed a complete lack of faith that the Israeli military, political or judicial authorities would take effective action to protect their rights, which are enshrined in international instruments to which Israel is party.
It is important to note that Israel’s spatial strategy has been heavily shaped by security concerns, given the belligerent, conflictive nature of Israel-Palestine relations, with waves of violence and terror. But certainly the non-democratic elements in Israeli spatial planning and urban development strategies appear to contribute to the deepening of the conflict, instead of promoting peace.
Additionally, within Israel, privatization, deregulation and commercialization of public assets has undermined the declared goal of the Jewish foundation of the State of Israel – to provide a safe and adequate home for all Ishuv regardless of nationality or income level.
It would appear therefore, that the Israeli planning, development and land system now violates the right to adequate housing not only of Palestinians under Israeli control, but also of low income persons of all identities, who find it increasingly difficult to obtain housing under existing policies. Both aspects of this discriminatory system should be changed to allow all people under the Israeli regime to attain the most basic human right for adequate housing, within the framework of dignity and equality.
While the peace process remains stymied, and all focus is on whether parties will return to talks or not, suffering does not stand still in the Holy Land, especially for those in the occupied Palestinian territories dealing with discrimination and inequities.
A recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinians territory (UNOCHA) makes this conclusion:
Israeli civil law is de facto applied to all settlers and settlements across the occupied West Bank, while Israeli military law is applied to Palestinians, except in East Jerusalem, which was officially annexed to Israel (which hasn’t been recognized under international law). As a result, two separate legal systems and sets of rights are applied by the same authority in the same area, depending on the national origin of the persons, discriminating against Palestinians.
These separate systems are the basis of many inequalities:
THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
ROADS AND PERMIT SYSTEMS:
In the West Bank, normal life for Palestinians is virtually impossible because of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians; check points and roadblocks that impede Palestinian travel while facilitating that of Israelis; and a bureaucratic permit system that allows Palestinians very limited movement even within the West Bank without a permit.
East Jerusalem is home to about 270,000 Palestinians. In addition, 200,000 Israelis live in ever-expanding East Jerusalem settlements. Palestinian homes are demolished, residents are evicted, and land is threatened with confiscation for projects such as public parks. A permit regime keeps Palestinians from moving freely in and out of the city. The barrier restricts entry to Jerusalem for West Bank Palestinians while Israeli settlers can come and go freely.
THE RIGHT TO SECURE HOUSING
Palestinian homes and other buildings have been demolished at an alarming rate to make room for settlers. West Bank residential demolitions were up 80% in 2011 over 2010, causing 1,100 Palestinians to be forcibly displaced from their homes with 4,200 more affected by the demolition of “livelihood structures.”
Elaborating on these statistics, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes, “These demolitions occur in the context of an inadequate and discriminatory planning regime that restricts Palestinian development, while providing preferential treatment to Israeli settlements.”
Meanwhile, Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to expand. Peace Now reported a 20% rise in settlement construction starts for 2011 with East Jerusalem seeing a 10-year high for settlement plans.
THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE ONE’S OWN FAMILY
In the West Bank and Israel, Israeli laws deny the right of people to choose their own spouse and live with him/her. Within the West Bank, family reunification permits have been frozen for years, which means a Palestinian with a Jerusalem ID cannot legally live with a West Bank spouse in Jerusalem without special dispensation. Within Israel, a law was recently upheld which disallows a spouse from the West Bank to live with his or her partner in Israel.
THE RIGHT TO CONTROL AND BENEFIT FROM ONE’S OWN RESOURCES
Land inequities lead to unequal distribution of other natural resources, water in particular. 80% of the water from the West Bank mountain aquifer, which Israel controls, goes to Israelis – including setters – leaving only 20% for Palestinians. Israelis consume four times more water than West Bank Palestinians, 300 liters/day compared to 70 liters/day, according to a report by Amnesty International..
The Palestinians are also denied the benefit of other resources that by law should be theirs to control, such as the quarries that Israel operates in theWest Bank that recently were allowed to continue.
THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION
In Gaza, high school students are often unable to leave the territory for university opportunities, while their Israeli counterparts in Sderot experience no such limitations.
The shortage of classrooms in Jerusalem for Palestinians is notorious, making for extremely crowded conditions. Many students are hindered or prohibited from entering their schools on a daily basis by the checkpoint system or the barrier. In Hebron, school children must be walked to school by international peaceworkers to protect them from settler violence.
THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE TO RETURN HOME
Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to their homes while Jews from anywhere in the world are free to immigrate to Israel. Many Palestinians who have passports from other countries have had their residency rights revoked and are being issued entry permits only for the West Bank and have trouble entering Jerusalem.
 “More than 500 internal checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical obstacles impede Palestinian movement inside the West Bank, including access of children to schools; they exist primarily to protect settlers and facilitate their movement, including to and fromIsrael.” “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies,” January 2012, UN OCHA oPt.
 “The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor,” December 2011. UN OCHA oPt.
 Torpedoing theTwoState Solution: Summary of 2011 in the Settlements, January 2012, Peace Now.
 “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Water,” September 2, 2010, Martin Asser, BBC.
 “Troubled Waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water,” 2009, Amnesty International.
While the world focuses on whether Palestinians and Israelis are or are not talking at the peace table, the realties on the ground continue unabated. Illegal settlements keep growing, while Palestinian homes continue to be demolished and populations endangered and forced off their land.
According to a new report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, the demolitions occuring in Area C, as well as other Israeli practices favoring expanding settlements, “have resulted in fragmentation of land and shrinking space for Palestinians, undermining their presence. Israeli authorities have also indicated that they intend to transfer several Palestinian communities out of strategic parts of Area C, raising further humanitarian and legal concerns.”
The report finds that “it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits (to build). The zoning and planning regime enforced by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem restricts Palestinian growth and development, while providing preferential treatment for unlawful Israeli settlements. They find that “70% of Area C is “off-limits” for Palestinian construction, allocated instead for Israeli settlements or the Israeli military; and additional 29% is heavily restricted.”
During the Oslo process, the occupied Palestinian territory was divided in Areas A, B and C. Area A was under Palestinian control (although Israeli incursions still occur there); Area B, which was under Israeli administrative control and Area C, which was under Israeli control. All areas, however, are part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and it is illegal under international law for Israel to transfer its population onto the territory or remove the local people living there.
- Read the full report.
For an Ecumenical Accompanier’s perspective on seeing some of these demolitions, see Chris Cowan’s blog. Chris served in the Southern Hebron Hills last year for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel.
A new report by the European Union leaked to journalists says that the possibility of a two-state solution is getting more and more remote as Israeli policies of population transfer and demolition of homes continue. An article by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz says that ”the report stated that Israeli policy in Area C ‘results in forced transfer of the native population,’” which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions and other international laws.
Area C is part of a division of the West Bank stipulated by the Oslo Accords: Area A, where the Palestinian Authority has full civilian and security control, although Israeli incursions and closures are still controlled by Israel; Area B, which is those parts of the West Bank that come under Israeli security control and Palestinian civilian control; and Area C, which is territories under full Israeli civilian and security control. All of areas A, B and C are considered Palestinian territory under international law.
In another article on the report in the UK Independent, it claims “the 16-page document is the EU’s starkest critique yet of how a combination of house and farm building demolitions; a prohibitive planning regime; relentless settlement expansion; the military’s separation barrier; obstacles to free movement; and denial of access to vital natural resources, including land and water, is eroding Palestinian tenure of the large tract of the West Bank on which hopes of a contiguous Palestinian state depend.”
The article describes what’s in the report:
“It says the EU needs “at a political” level to persuade Israel to redesignate Area C, but in the meantime it should “support Palestinian presence in, and development of the area”. The report says the destruction of homes, public buildings and workplaces result in “forced transfer of the native population” and that construction is effectively prohibited in 70 per cent of the land – and then in zones largely allocated to settlements of the Israeli military.
In practice, it says Palestinian construction is permitted in just 1 per cent of Area C, “most of which is already built up”. The EU report’s short- and medium-term recommendations include calling on Israel to halt demolitions of houses and structures built without permits – of which there have been 4,800 (in Area C alone) since 2000. But there is also a call for the EU to support a building programme that includes schools, clinics, water and other infrastructure projects.
The EU should also be more vocal in raising objections to “involuntary population movements, displacements, evictions and internal migration”.
For more information about Area C, click here.
For more information about Palestinian home demolitions, see the website of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions.
For the United Nations agency UNWRA’s call to stop home demolitions, click here.
For stories on the ground, see the blogs of recent and current US Ecumenical Accompaniers Chris Cowan and Tammie Danielsen. Chris served in Hebron and the Southern Hebron Hills area last year and Tammie is serving there now through the US Program of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel, a peace program begun by the World Council of Churches.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) and many other groups are working to keep the Palestinian Sumarin family of 12, including 5 children, in their home of 30 years. They have received notice that they will be forcibly evicted on or after November 28 if they do not vacate the property.
The home is in the controversial neighborhood of Silwan, right next to where the settler group Elad – which is also involved in this affair – is expanding the archeological site of the City of David. Elad built the visitor’s center of the “City of David” tourism site next to the Sumarin family’s house. Therefore, the house is a strategic site for settlers, as it would give them a large contiguous area at the entrance of Silwan.
The Custodian of Absentee Property took control of the property, following the passing of the house owner Musa Sumarin in 1983. At the time, his sons resided in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and according to the Abandoned Property Law (established to expropriate property from Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, following the 1948 war and 1967 occupation of the West Bank), the house was confiscated by the Custodian that ultimately transferred possession to Himnuta, a subsidiary company of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). A 2006 Jerusalem Magistrate Court decision, in the absence of the family, granted the JNF appeal to forcefully evict the family, and levy a 2 million ILS (roughly 500,000 USD) fine. Some two months ago the family was served with an order by the State Bailiff’s Office to vacate their home by November 28th, 2011, or face forcible eviction.
Ahmed Sumarin doesn’t know what to do.
“I don’t know what to do if they come with force. This is our home. My grandfather still lives here. Where will we go? If they take your home away, you can only go onto the street.”
As the occupier, Israel is responsible for providing for the care and shelter of the occupied population, and is forbidden by international law from moving its own population into occupied territory. Israel claims this is not occupied terrritory because they annexed this part of East Jerusalem in 1967, a move that hasn’t been recognized by an other country.
For more information about home demolitions, see No Place Like Home from ICAHD. For more information about the most recent practices in East Jerusalem, see this presentation by ICAHD or this summary about a new publication ”No Home, No Homeland: A New Normative Framework for Examining the Practice of Administrative Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem.”