Obama should demand an immediate halt to all Israeli destruction of Palestinian property in the West Bank.Much was made of what many in the media described as a “confrontation” between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama over the building of illegal Israeli settlements (or colonies) in Occupied Palestinian Territory. From the very beginning of the Obama administration, the pursuit of a freeze on Israeli settlement activity was a stated goal – one that was never really accomplished and never adequately pursued.
The idea of a settlement freeze, which was wrongly attributed to the now-resigned special envoy George Mitchell, was actually stipulated in the Bush administration’s Road Map and accepted by the parties in 2003. A freeze on all settlement activity was a first-phase Israeli obligation – not to mention an obligation under international law. It should go without saying that the Israelis failed to fulfill this obligation, and instead the Israeli government, then led by Ariel Sharon, presided over the single largest and most aggressive period of settlement activity in the West Bank since the Menachem Begin government in 1977-83.
Still, Israeli settlement construction is not the only belligerent behaviour conducted by the occupation regime in Palestinian Territory. To paraphrase the now-former US Congressman Brian Baird, if the law is “thou shall not build on territory which does not belong to you”, an equally important corollary of this law is “thou shall not destroy what belongs to others in territory which does not belong to you”. Of course, apart from the regular construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there is also the regular destruction of Palestinian buildings and infrastructure in the same territory.
Both the construction of illegal settlements and the destruction of the homes and property of the native Palestinians stem from the same origin: Israel’s unbridled assertion of power over the native Palestinians in the context of total impunity.
Much destruction occurs in Area C of the West Bank. This territory comprises roughly 60 per cent of the West Bank, and Israel maintains full control over security, planning and zoning.
The United Nations Organisation for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories (UNOCHA) noted in a recent report:
“In the first six months of 2011, OCHA recorded the Israeli authorities’ demolition of 342 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, including 125 residential structures, displacing a total of 656 Palestinians, including 351 children. This is almost five times as many structures demolished and people displaced as during the equivalent period in 2010.”
Take, for example, the time when 30 Israeli vehicles and 100 soldiers entered the village of Ein al-Duyuk and demolished the homes of four different Palestinian families deep in the West Bank. Or the dawn raid of Jaba’a near Hebron which led to the demolition of another family’s home. Or the demolition of five homes in Khan al-Ahmar, near Jerusalem, which left 71 people, including 60 children, homeless. Or when a mosque, two homes and a barn housing children’s pet rabbits were demolished in the village of Um Fagareh. Or the demolition of wells near Idhna, which debilitated Palestinian farmers. Or Khirbet Susa’s rural primary school, which currently educates 36 Palestinian children and has recently received demolition orders after it was last demolished a year ago. Or the solar panel complex, built by a Spanish NGO for €300,000 ($401,310) in 2009 to provide much-needed sustainable electricity to the isolated Palestinian village of Imneizel, which also has demolition orders pending.
Or, perhaps most disturbing of all, is that all of the above-mentioned Area C demolitions and demolition orders were executed or handed down only in the past 90 days.
Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes and buildings, like the construction of illegal settlements, is part of a matrix of control aimed at limiting Palestinians to an existence on only a fraction of a fraction of their land. No objective observer can take the argument that the destruction of Palestinian village schools, water wells, solar panels and homes provides anyone with security. Likewise, Palestinian villagers left homeless at the hands of an Israeli bulldozer will rightly find claims that Israeli politicians want peace to be farcical.
Yet this destruction persists today at accelerated levels, with little objection from an Obama administration that races to show its support for Israel as we enter an election year.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration should demand an immediate halt to all Israeli settlement construction because it is illegal, and an immediate halt to all Israeli destruction in the West Bank because it is simply inhumane.
* Yousef Munayyer is a writer and political analyst based in Washington, DC. He is currently the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development.