Israel issues demolition orders for eight Palestinian villages

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on July 22 ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages in the hills south of Hebron because the Israeli military needs the land for training exercises. A total of 1,500 residents will be evicted from their homes and have their lands confiscated in the villages of Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba and Kharuba. Evacuation orders were first issued in 1999, but were frozen by an injunction from the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli military nonetheless views the land as part of its "Firing Zone 918," and the Palestinians living there as illegal squatters. All of the villages in question have existed since at least the 1830s. However, all are in Area C, which is under complete Israeli control.

The IDF says the residents of the targeted villages will be moved to the town of Yatta and its environs. The Israeli government claims, based on local informers, that most of these people have permanent homes in that area. The government says it will allow the residents to work their lands and graze their flocks there when the IDF is not training—on weekends and Jewish holidays

While the evacuation is pending, villages are barred from building on or improving their properties in any way, as this has been determined "illegal construction" and evidence that inhabitants are not longtime residents but new migrants to the area. In practice, this means that residents do not have any way to provide for a naturally expanding population through adding cisterns, plumbing, or rooms to existing properties, or the addition of schools or other new buildings.

The Israeli military intends to use the land to train soldiers and conduct live fire exercises which it cannot do with residents so nearby. State attorneys say this cannot be done with residents in the area, because they may spy on the exercises or steal weapons to use for "terror purposes." (Ha'aretzIMEMC, July 23)

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Settlers seize more land across West Bank

Israeli settlers on July 23 seized over 50 dunams of land across the West Bank, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. In the Tubas area of the Jordan Valley, settlers seized nearly 50 dunams of land and began preparing to farm it, village council head Aref Daraghmeh said. The land, which belongs to villagers, was previously used by the Israeli army as a tank yard. Settlers apparently took it over with no interference from the IDF as they abandoned it.

In Hebron, settlers from Susiya settlement seized five dunams of private Palestinian land near the town of Yatta, popular committee coordinator Rateb al-Jabour said. Settlers, under the protection of Israeli soldiers, invaded the land and set up a power generator as part of plans to use the land for settlement expansion.

The dunam, a measurement unit dating back to the Ottoman era, is equivalent to 1,000 square meters. (Ma'an News Agency, July 24)

West Bank non-aligned conference cancelled

An international conference of non-aligned countries scheduled to take place in Ramallah Aug. 5 was canceled after Israel barred the entrance of four delegations from Jordan to the Palestinian territories.

The foreign ministers of Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh requested to enter the West Bank through the Allenby crossing, but were refused entry because their countries do not recognize Israel. (YNet, Aug. 5)

More price tag attacks

Unknown vandals sprayed the words "Migron Price Tag" on a mosque in the village of Imrish near Hebron. IDF forces patrolling the area discovered the graffiti Sept. 12, which was likely sprayed two days earlier.

Last week, unknown assailants burned the door of the Latrun Monastery and sprayed hate messages on the scene including "Jesus is a monkey" and "Ramat Migron." Police and Shin Bet launched an investigation. (YNet, Sept. 12)


Israel fights in court to expand 40 West Bank settlements

The Israeli government is fighting in court to clear construction of  more than 40 West Bank settlements on private Palestinian land expropriated for military purposes. The case brought by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din challenges the non-enforcement of demolition orders for structures built in Beit El settlement.

In a submission to the court, the State Prosecution acknowledged that some 40 settlements were erected totally or partially based on such military expropriation orders—a practice ostensibly barred after the Elon Moreh ruling of 1979, which stipulated that the army had power to confiscate land only for pure military purposes, and not for civilian settlements. The state is now arguing that ruling "does not prevent exploiting the potential of these communities." (Haaretz, Sept. 13)

Israeli settlers fete convicted child-torturer

Electronic Intifada makes notes of an Oct. 7 Haaretz story:

Prominent rabbis, public officials and a Knesset member, on Saturday, held a send off for a criminal about to enter prison after being convicted of abusing a Palestinian youth.

The event was held in the West Bank Shilo settlement in honor of Zvi Struck, who was convicted of abusing a Palestinian youth in July 2007, together with another man whose identity remains unknown. The two beat the youth up, bound him, fired their guns close to him, undressed him and threw him naked at the roadside. Three months earlier the two men had beaten up the same youth and killed a day-old kid.

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Struck to 18th months in prison, which the Supreme Court extended after an appeal to 30 months.


According to Haaretz, "The send off was led by Bnei Akiva yeshivas head Rabbi Haim Drukman and Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior, Binyamin Council head Avi Ro’eh, his deputy Motti Yogev and MK [Knesset member] Arye Eldad."

The settler website, Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) posted video and a report of the party which featured live music, many children and families, and Struck himself warmly greeting people. In the video, supporters of Struck claim that "the judicial system believes the Arabs first." Itzak Shadmi, a settler leader, said that he was fundraising to support Struck's family.

More settler attacks on Palestinian olive groves

A group of settlers attacked Palestinian farmers in the Ramallah town of Beitillu on Oct. 7, burning dozens of olive trees, witnesses said. Locals told official Palestinian news agency WAFA that settlers from nearby Nehaliel settlement attacked the farmers while they were picking olives and set fire to dozens of trees. Israeli forces finally intervened in the incident, locals said. Earlier that day, settlers uprooted around 40 olive trees in the nearby Ramallah village of Ras Karkar, village council head Riziq Nofel told Ma'an. (Ma'an News Agency, Oct. 7)

UN envoy decries attacks on Palestinian trees

UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry on Oct. 14 expressed his alarm at attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers and their olive trees. In a press statement, he said Israel must do more to protect Palestinians and their property in the West Bank. Israeli rights organization B'Tselem counts 450 Palestinian-owned trees either damaged or uprooted since the harvest season began on October 10. (AP, Oct. 14)

Abbas revives statehood bid at General Assembly

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a fiery speech at the opening of the General Assembly’s 67th session in New York, charging: “Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new Nakba."

Abbas began his speech by referring to the "catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine." He asserted that in recent months, "attacks by terrorist militias of Israeli settlers have become a daily reality."

The stalemate in the peace process had led to the conclusion "that the Israeli government rejects the two-state solution," he said, adding that Israel's official positions "reveal to us small enclaves surrounded by large Israeli settlement blocs and walls, checkpoints and vast security zones and roads devoted to settlers."

He did say that "despite our real feelings of anger and disappointment," the PA continues to be committed to negotiations with Israel, and “there is still a chance–maybe the last–to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace.”  He affirmed his rejection of terrorism in all its forms, "particularly state terrorism."

Abbas said his renewed statehood bid was not aimed at delegitimizing Israel, “but rather to assert that the state of Palestine must be realized.” (JP, Sept. 30)

PLO briefs Europe on UN upgrade plans

 The PLO began distributing a position paper to European governments this week, detailing plans to seek an upgrade of Palestine's status at the United Nations in November. In the document, obtained by Ma'an News Agency, the PLO emphasizes that membership in the UN is not a substitute for negotiations with Israel. But it asserts Palestine's right to self-determination does not require Israeli approval. 

"Palestine asks the world to reaffirm that the Palestinians are not the exception to the international rule; that they will not be punished for pursuing a peaceful, political and diplomatic initiative on the basis of international law," the document states. 

The message followed a private US memo sent to European diplomats in early October warning that any UN upgrade of Palestine's status "would be extremely counterproductive" for the Palestinians and threatening "significant negative consequences." (Ma'an News Agency, Oct. 25)

Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu merger: time for sanctions on Israel?

Ahead of the Israeli elections next January, a merger has been announced between the parties of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party, and the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu. They are to contest the elections on a joint list, intending to become the largest bloc in the Knesset.

This development is decried by Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka in The Guardian, in a Nov. 4 piece entitled "It's time for sanctions on Israel":

The alliance reflects a lunge to the right, at a time of greater extremism in Israeli politics. Previously, Lieberman was very much on the margins. When he became minister of transport, a minister in the Labour party resigned, refusing to sit at the same table with him.

After that, Lieberman became the foreign minister. Many thought this would provoke the ire of the international community. But he was warmly received in European capitals. If one had said 10 years ago that Lieberman would become foreign minister, one would have been accused of ignorance, if not of hostility and incitement against Israel.

Among the obvious outcomes of this new coalition is the fact that Likud has become more extremist, and Lieberman more influential and more dangerous. A few months ago Lieberman called for the toppling of President Mahmoud Abbas, despite the fact that the Palestinian leader has maintained the peace in the shadow of the occupation, and continues to pursue negotiations – even in the absence of an Israeli partner. Lieberman also called for economic, political and security sanctions on the Palestinian Authority after it began diplomatic moves to gain UN recognition for a Palestinian state.

Zahalka states that Lieberman espouses policies hostile to Arab citizens of Israel, who constitute 17% of the population. His party slogan is "No citizenship without loyalty"; he seeks to oblige Arabs citizens to declare loyalty to the Zionist state as a condition for citizenship, including the right to vote and become members of the Knesset. Central to Lieberman's program is official recognition for the annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements, in exchange for the "transfer" of major Arab population centers in Israel to Palestine.

Zahalka notes:

When Jörg Haider and his extreme right party entered the Austrian government, several European countries imposed sanctions.  Lieberman is far more dangerous than Haider. His stature is proof that extremism has come to dominate in Israel. Should the kind of politics that are rejected in Europe be accommodated in the Holy Land?

Good question.