Creeping dispossession destroys Palestinian agrarian communities

12:00 Apr 28 2013 West Bank

Creeping dispossession destroys Palestinian agrarian communities
An Israeli soldier holds a Palestinian farmer’s tools [illustrative photo] (Anne Paq / Activestills)

The existence of the illegal Adei Ad settlement outpost harms Palestinians not just physically but also financially, and leads to the abandonment of Palestinian villages.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
published by 972Mag

The Israeli media stopped, in recent years, paying attention to assaults of Palestinians by settlers, unless it is a particularly severe case, such as an assault on an 80-year old farmer. One of the issues which isn’t even touched upon as far as the media is concerned – and hence, the majority of Israelis – is the fact that the outposts’ very existence often constitutes theft, quite literally.

The outpost Adei Ad, which is the case study of our new report, “The Road to Dispossession,” sits on the lands of four Palestinian villages: Al Mughayer, Qaryut, Jaloud and Turmusaya. The clearest case is that of Al Mughayer.

As we’ve seen, the creation of an outpost creates several rings of damage around it. The first ring is the territory of the outpost itself, which often grows quickly. The second ring is the outpost’s perimeter, and the third is the land which Palestinian farmers may enter just twice a year, subject to military approval and coordination. The farmers of Al Mughayer are not allowed access to their own lands, and someone found a way to take advantage of that fact: on several occasions, Israelis made their way to Al Mughayer’s olive groves and pillaged them just days before the owners received permission to work the lands. The founder of Adei Ad, Boaz Melet, was convicted of trespassing in such a case, and two other settlers are still on trial for such charges.

Enraging as these thefts may be, the major financial damage is not caused by theft but by the destruction of property and preventing access to it. The residents of the four villages complain time and again about their trees being cut down, burned, and in a few rare cases poisoned. The police’s reaction – well, there’s not much to say about it, except one fantastic sentence worth quoting: “The complaints are often general, and do not point out specific suspects.” Did you get that? The Keystone Cops are not all that good at investigating crimes, unless you point out the suspects to them.

Aside from damage to trees and land, the main offense is the result of the outpost’s very existence: a prohibition on entering substantial parts of the villages’ land. In Qaryut, they estimate yearly damage at about NIS 2 million (roughly $500,000), assuming each dunam (1/4 of an acre) generates revenues of about NIS 800 (roughly $200) per year. This calculation does not take into account the value of the land itself.

Since Adei Ad and other outposts were built on its lands, the IDF has forbidden residents of the village of Jaloud from accessing 9,937 dunams (2,455 acres); the villagers have abandoned 319 more dunams (79 acres) due to fear of violence by Israeli citizens – violence which the army is supposed to prevent but fails to (bringing to mind the old military adage that, “‘I can’t’ is just another way of saying ‘I don’t want to’”). The villagers have only about 5,965 dunams (1,474 acres) left – the worse parts of the land, hardly arable and mostly rocky. In short, most of the village’s lands were practically nationalized for the benefit of a small number of outpost dwellers. The residents of Jaloud estimate the damage they suffer to be the equivalent of NIS 6.4 million (roughly, $1.6 million), assuming each dunam generates revenues of about NIS 800 per year.

Al Mughayer used to mainly be an agricultural town; it no longer is. Whereas 500 of its residents used to make their living from agriculture, now they number about 30. Its pastures used to feed about 15,000 sheep; now fewer than 4,000 are left. The residents of Al Mughayer go out to work their lands in large groups of 15 to 20 people, so as to deter the Israeli marauders; in many cases this tactic proves inefficient. Some of the village’s land was abandoned, simply because there is no point in tilling it: Israeli citizens will destroy the crops or steal them.

All this has several more implications. As soon as it occupied the territories in 1967, Israel ceased the process of registering lands there, a process started by the British and the Jordanians. The villagers’ lands are considered to be in their possession, but not registered to them. A plot of unregistered land, which is also uncultivated because Israeli citizens (supported by the IDF) terrorize its owners, is liable to be confiscated at some point by the state and declared “public lands,” or as they are often called, “state lands.” Once they are confiscated, they are very likely to be allocated to the settlers. This, after all, is the reasonable explanation for the acts of terror: an attempt to make farmers abandon their land so that with time, it can become the property of those who dispossessed its owners.

Another reason is that an agricultural community cannot sustain itself when it is robbed of its lands. Three of the four villages – the exception being Al Mughayer – report a significant abandonment of their villages. Subsequently, in the future this will allow the official annexation of these territories to Israel – a plan openly promoted by recently elected Economy and Commerce Minister Naftali Bennet.

These acts of terrorism, carried out with the silent approval of all the Israeli authorities, are not isolated incidents and are not a coincidence. It’s a system. And when the Israel media ignores it, it tacitly collaborates with it.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.
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