Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearly troubled by the establishment of Bab Al Shams, a Palestinian protest village erected on privately-owned Palestinian land, the planned route of what Israel calls the “E-1” corridor in the occupied West Bank.
The E-1 area was to be capstone of Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise, a long segment of housing units expanding east from the Jews-only mega-settlement of Maale Adumim, permanently severing East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and virtually slicing the West Bank in half. And now, 400 Palestinians and their supporters stood directly in the way of the plan.
“We will not allow anyone to touch the corridor between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim,” Netanyahu declared (“Israeli security forces evacuate activists from Palestinian tent outpost in E-1 area,” Haaretz, 13 January).
On 12 January, Netanyahu dispatched a lawyer from the justice ministry to the high court to argue for the immediate eviction of Bab Al Shams. Despite the government’s vehement objections to the presence of the Palestinian village, the high court issued a temporary injunction preventing its eviction for six days pending further deliberations.
As the clock struck midnight on Saturday night, Netanyahu summoned his lawyers to author a statement overriding the high court. Treating the court’s ruling as a mere suggestion, the Israeli justice ministry concocted a justification that was as ludicrous as it was predictable: “There is an urgent security need to evacuate the area of the people and tents,” it claimed, suggesting without evidence that a few hundred unarmed activists presented a grave threat to public safety.
I arrived at the site of Bab Al Shams about two hours before Netanyahu ordered its eviction. The main entrances to the tent encampment were sealed off by squads of Israeli police. A police commander told me and other journalists that no reporters were allowed inside the area. Though he claimed to hold a formal order from the military, he failed to produce any kind of documentation.
An Israeli journalist told me he had been told earlier in the evening by Israeli army GOC Central Commander Nitzan Alon that he was free to travel anywhere in the West Bank, but that “this [Bab Al Shams] was something different.”
In order to enter Bab Al Shams, me and three colleagues had to first navigate the narrow, pothole-scarred roads of al-Zaim, an impoverished Palestinian town severed from the rest of the Jerusalem municipality by Israel’s separation wall and a checkpoint. Though al-Zaim is already an overcrowded, under-serviced ghetto prevented from expanding to meet the needs of a growing population, the construction of the E-1 corridor would enclose it on all sides, consolidating its isolation and forced immiseration.
At a muddy field strewn with trash at the outskirts of al-Zaim, we climbed out of a small car and hiked towards Bab Al Shams, walking for 3 kilometers along a craggy path in the bone-chilling cold. There were no signs of any army presence on our way, only vehicle caravans heading out of the village to gather more supplies for the next day.
When we arrived at the base of the tent encampment, we found Palestinian National Initiative Chairman Mustafa Barghouti giving an interview to one of many international news outlets embedded in the village. Barghouti had helped provide Bab Al Shams with medical supplies, supplementing a growing infrastructure that included an Internet hotspot and a kitchen.
At the entrance of the village, I found about a dozen residents of Bilin village huddled around a campfire, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. “Forget about the food,” Billin popular committee leader Abdallah Abu Rahme joked. “If we don’t have cigarettes and coffee we won’t survive a night here.”
For almost eight years, the popular struggle had been focused in rural villages near the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line marking the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank. Residents in these areas have waged a relentless unarmed struggle against the separation wall.
In the past year, activists began to take their tactics beyond the weekly ritual of village-based protests, organizing creative direct actions like the blocking of settler access roads and a raucous protest in the Rami Levy settlement supermaket. Bab Al Shams was evidence of the new era of protest in Palestine, attracting Palestinian activists from inside Israel and from northern West Bank cities like Nablus and Jenin not normally associated with the popular struggle.
I spoke to Hamde Abu Rahme, a videographer from Bilin, about the progression of protest tactics from the embryonic phase of the popular struggle to the birth of Bab Al Shams.
“The people here have so much practice with resistance over the years, and that explains our success,” Abu Rahme told me. “We have a strong system of organization and of deciding what we all want, how to best handle the army, and how to make sure everyone’s needs are looked after. With all the roads closed, it wasn’t easy to make this village happen, but people still came through the mountains and were willing to stay here for three days without enough food, without shower, in the freezing cold. You can see that people really want to be here, that they are not acting because they have to be here.”
Abir Kopty, a Palestinian feminist and human rights activist serving as spokesperson for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, challenged the widely reported notion that Bab Al Shams was simply a Palestinian version of an Israeli “settlement” or “outpost.”
“There is a huge difference here,” she told me. “We are building on our own land unlike the settlers who are occupying and grabbing land that isn’t theirs.”
At the same time, Kopty conceded that organizers of the protest village were reacting directly to Israel’s colonial tactics.
“I do admit that we want to change the rules of the game,” she said. “Israel has been imposing facts on the ground and we are doing exactly the same. We want to impose facts on our land. So, yes, it might seem that we have taken a model from them but the difference is that we are building on our land and we are not taking others’ land and building on it.”
At around 12:30am, I rode out of Bab Al Shams in the back of a pickup truck loaded to the gills with journalists and activists. We had no idea whether the army was set to raid tonight, or if it might wait another day. With the news that the high court had issued a temporary injunction against the eviction, we assumed the government would wait to secure formal permission. We were wrong.
Towards the end of the rocky path leading into Bab Al Shams, and just outside al-Zaim, we barreled by a detachment of Israeli border police officers milling around a group of jeeps. It was clear now that the raid was imminent, and that even if we wanted to re-enter Bab Al Shams, there was no way back inside.
Two hours later some 500 border police troops in full riot gear marched into Bab Al Shams and carried its inhabitants away by force. According to reports from some of the 150 or activists inside, the police attacked journalists, pushing them to the periphery of the encampment so they could not record the brutality. Photos of those injured during the raid suggest that the police severely assaulted those who refused to leave quietly. Six Palestinians, including the artist and activist Hafez Omar (a photograph of injured Omar is circulating on Facebook), were so badly wounded they required treatment at the Ramallah Hospital.
Under pressure from right-wing upstarts amidst a heated election contest, Netanyahu ordered the eviction of Bab Al Shams in flagrant contempt of the country’s high court. And not one of the judges issued a word of protest. In a state guided not by the democratic rule of law, but by the colonial imperatives of the occupation, Netanyahu’s roguery was business as usual.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.
Palestinian ghettos were always the plan
Right-wing politician Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank is just the logical next step in Israel’s historic effort to ghettoize the Palestinians.
By Amira Hass | Jan.20, 2013 | 7:23 PM | 81
When Habayit Hayehudi party leader and rising political star Naftali Bennett calls for annexing Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli security and civil control, he is following the logic of every single Israeli government: maximize the territory, minimize the Arabs.
Some may even interpret this as elections propaganda in favor of Habayit Hayehudi and endorse it warmly.
Bennett can propose annexation because every governing coalition since the Six-Day War - whether it was led by the Likud or Labor (or its precursor, Alignment) party, and whether its partners were Mafdal, Shas or Meretz - laid the spiritual and policy groundwork for him.
According to Bennett, about 60 percent of the West Bank - a.k.a. Area C - is annexable. What's important about Area C is not whether 50,000 Palestinians live there, as democratic, benevolent Bennett claims, while suggesting to naturalize them and grant them Israeli citizenship, or whether the number is around 150,000 (as my colleague Chaim Levinson reminded us earlier this week).
Don’t worry. Even if there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C and all of them agree to become citizens, the Israeli bureaucracy will find ways to embitter their lives (the way it does the lives of the Bedouin in the Negev), revoke their citizenship (the way it does the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and leave them without the little share of their land they still have (the way it did to the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the 1948 borders). This is why Bennett can allow himself to be munificent.
The true story behind area C is that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living there today; the villages have not expanded in accordance with their natural population growth; the number of residents has not grown; the herders can no longer graze their flocks freely; many of the inhabitants lack access to water, electricity, school and medical clinics; Israel has not been taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for destroying the cisterns; there are no paved roads in and between villages.
Many of the people have been living in tents and caves for 30 to 40 years - against their will and contrary to their hopes - and the Palestinian towns cannot expand properly and remove old industrial zones a reasonable distance from residential neighborhoods.
As I have said a million times and will say another million times: Area C is a tremendous success of Israeli policy and its implementers, the army and the Civil Administration. It is part of a farsighted, well-executed, perfectly thought-out policy that has succeeded precisely in that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living in the area. Bennett is probably decent/honest enough to acknowledge the debt he owes to the previous generations of Israeli politicians and military officials who warmed the country up for his annexation plan, ensuring its acceptance would be as effortless as a knife cutting butter in the sun.
Area C existed even before the Oslo negotiators invented the supposedly temporary division in 1995, distinguishing it from Area B, with full Israeli security control and partial policing authority and full civil authority for the Palestinians; and Area A, with full Palestinian civil and policing authority – albeit, as is often unappreciated, within an envelope of full Israeli security control.
When this division was being implemented, the media emphasized the difference between Area A, where armed members of the various Palestinian security forces could operate openly with license from Israel, and the rest of the Palestinian territories, where Palestinians would not be allowed to carry rifles. But in reality, the importance of Palestinian Authority policing powers is dwarfed in comparison with its lack of civilian authority over most of the land.
Area C, then, is shorthand for all the prohibitions that Israel imposes on Palestinian dignity of life, and it has existed before its invention. Live fire zones, military maneuver zones, security belts, fences, state lands, survey lands (where the state is in the process of declaring them as state lands, i.e. only for Jews), re-surveyed lands and post-surveyed lands and nature reserves. All these were aimed at concentrating them within narrow and meager Pales of Settlement (copyrights reserved for Imperial Russia and its confinement of the Jews). Unlike us, Arabs do not need space, land, resources, water, industrial zones, landscapes or recreational trips.
The Palestinian enclaves are the other side of Area C. Area C, then, is a metaphor for the Israeli ghetto mentality flipped. I usually take care not to use terms like “ghetto” or “concentration camp” to describe the enclaves where Israel has gathered the Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line, or 1948 armistice line, including the Gaza Strip and the slums of East Jerusalem. The 12 years of the Third Reich cemented these terms as links/stations in the conveyor leading to the final goal - a systematic genocide.
In our case, in contrast, ghettoization is itself the aim, having been implemented for the past 65 years. In other words, the aim - unfolded with the advent of time -has been to concentrate the Palestinians in reserves, after most of their land had been robbed of them. And if they desert and move abroad, it's of their own free will. A direct planning and ideological line stretches between the enclaves in which the Palestinian citizens of Israel live and those of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This is the real Israeli historical compromise. It is not with the Palestinians, but with the dictates of reality and among the various Zionist ideological currents. The crowded, offensive reservations - the creation of which is violence, pure and simple - are a compromise between the craving to eject the Palestinians from their land and the recognition that regional and international conditions do not permit it.
All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2012).