Israeli Settlements and the suffocation of a Palestinian Community (part I)

There are currently 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the WestBank (EAPPI, Unjust Settlement). Theyare all illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), which, in Article49 (6) of the Geneva Convention states that the occupying force may nottransfer any of its population (voluntarily or forced) into occupied land(Diakonia). The settlements can be broadly considered under two main types –economic and ideological. In the former the main motivation of the residents isassumed to be the economic benefits that go along with living on a settlement.In the latter, the primary impetus is religious ideology, either a belief in agod-given land for the Jewish people or a hope for a return to ancient Rabbiniclaw (International Crisis Group, 2009, p.i ). Both kinds are illegal underinternational humanitarian law. Most of the settlements come under the bannerof “National Priority Area A”, and are part of the creation of “facts on theground”, i.e. ensuring Israeli control in the West Bank. These settlementsenjoy protection and subsidies including free education, farming subsidies,higher government wages and lower taxes (EAPPI, An Unjust Settlement, p.11; Human Rights Watch, 2010).

In the last week, the Knesset passed a controversial billoutlawing the public boycotting of goods from Israeli settlements in the WestBank. Across the spectrum of Israeli media from right to left, this has beenconsidered either a championing of democracy or a crushing blow to Israel’sreputation as a democracy. Out here in the rural West Bank, in the small farmingcommunities of Yanoun, Burin, Madama and numerous other villages and smalltowns, boycott laws and Knesset debates seem a world away, but the reality ofliving with the settlements is right on their doorstep.

In 1996 the Itamar settlement came to the hills aroundYanoun. Itamar was first established in 1985 by fundamentalist religious Zionistson the hills 10km west of the village. Rashed, this small community’s mayor,remembers that when the settlers came first it was just tents. Later came caravansand vans and then the settlers start to work the land. It was around this timein 1996 that the settlers carried out their first violent attack, on an old man,Ahmed Sobih, who was beaten in the fields by a settler(Mandal, 2011, p.22). Afterthis, attacks became part of the village life with olive trees destroyed, livestockattacked, stolen and killed and the men of the village beaten and threatened byarmed settlers (Human Rights Watch, 2010). The second intifada in 2000 broughtan escalation of attacks during which the electricity generator donated by theUN was burnt down by settlers, cutting off the village’s electricity supply.Soon after the settlement was attacked by a Palestinian militant killing fivesettlers, after which attacks on the village got worse until the villagers werewarned one Saturday (the Jewish Shabbat, and preferred day to attack andintimidate the villagers) that they should be gone the following weekend. Terrified,almost all the villagers fled to nearby Aqroba, only returning when mediaattention was raised by the event bringing an international presence, whichgave them the confidence to come back to their homes little by little.(this blog continues here

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