Palestinians excluded from bulk of occupied West Bank

IDNA, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Israel’s illegal occupation and continued expropriation of Palestinian land in the West Bank has left 2.5 million Palestinians living there with effectively less than 40 percent of the territory.

Muhammad al-Bedan, 55, a vegetable farmer with 14 children, struggles to support his family on just more than $600 dollars a month.

“We can only afford to eat chicken twice a month and red meat is out of the question. I can’t afford to buy my children new clothing. They rely on hand-me-downs. Three of my children have had to leave school without completing their education so that they can help to support the family,” al-Bedan told IPS.

Al-Bedan lives in the Palestinian village of Idna, population 22,000, in the Hebron governate in the southern West Bank. The village is situated near Israel’s wall in the West Bank.

However, the barrier, a combination of walls and fences, for the most part is not built on the internationally-recognized green line, the armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank, which should separate Israel from the occupied Palestinian territory but on Palestinian land, thereby separating villagers and farmers from their land and agricultural fields.

“My family used to own 104 dunams of land here, (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters), but the Israelis have expropriated 100 dunams of family land for the separation barrier. If I still had that land I would be earning sufficient to live very comfortably,” says al-Badan.

“Idna used to comprise 45,000 dunams of land in 1948 prior to the establishment of Israel. Following the 1948 and 1967 wars and occupation Israel expropriated 30,000 dunams of Idna’s land, 4,000 dunams for the separation barrier alone,” Abed Tumaizeh, Idna’s spokesman told IPS.

The land-grab for the barrier has affected 500 families or over 3,000 people in Idna. Olive, wheat and livestock farmers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. None have received compensation from the Israeli authorities.

“Prior to the building of the separation barrier on Idna land in 2004, 20 to 30 percent of the villagers relied on employment in Israel as day laborers. Now they can’t get security permits to work in Israel so unemployment in the village is very high,” says Tumaizeh.

Furthermore, Palestinians are forbidden from coming within 200 meters of the wall by the Israel military which regularly patrols the barrier. Those that do so risk being shot on the spot.

“My cousin Yasser Tumaizeh, 36, was arrested and then shot dead by Israeli soldiers as he tried to work his land last year near the fence,” Tumaizeh told IPS.

Following the Oslo accords in 1993 the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Area A falls under Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli and Palestinian control and Area C is controlled by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).

Idna is one of hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns which falls within Area C. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report last year called, “Restricting Space: The Planning Regime Applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank.”

According to the report Palestinian farming and construction is effectively prohibited in 70 percent of Area C, or approximately 44 percent of the occupied West Bank, which is reserved mainly for the benefit of Israeli settlements.

The restrictions in the remaining 30 percent of Area C make it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain the requisite permits to build there. Only about one percent of Area C is left for Palestinians to farm or build on and that area is already built up.

A further 18 percent of the West Bank has been declared a closed military zone by the Israeli military for military training. This does not include the closed military areas around Israeli settlements.

Another 10 percent of the West Bank, overlapping with closed military zones, has been declared nature reserves by the ICA.

The restrictions in Area C adversely affect Palestinians living in Areas B and C too. More than 400 Palestinian communities have land in Area C. The majority are mixed between Area C and either Area A or B, or both.

The building restrictions have prevented Palestinian communities from expanding and being able to build new homes, hospitals and schools in parts of the West Bank falling under Area C. Many have, therefore, built “illegally.”

As a result nearly 3,000 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C have been demolished by the ICA in the last 12 years with hundreds more under threat of demolition.

“Two-weeks ago Israeli soldiers stormed Idna and destroyed five wells and springs saying they were constructed illegally. The livelihoods of 40 farmers and their dependents have been effected,” Tumaizeh told IPS.

“Last year the ICA destroyed 10 dairy farms in our village affecting 30 families. A further 70 homeowners have been given demolition orders,” adds Tumaizeh.

The destruction of Palestinian buildings is part of a deliberate Israeli policy to establish facts on the ground and keep as much of the West Bank as possible under Israeli control.

OCHA states that since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, “the Government of Israel has implemented a range of measures that restrict Palestinians’ use of land and resources in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

“One of the primary ways Israel has done this has been through the application of restrictive planning and zoning regimes to Palestinian communities,” says OCHA.

ICA plans for Palestinian villages range from 24 to 70 housing units per gross hectare. For Israeli settlements the typical range is two to 13 housing units per hectare.

Many of the special plans approved by the ICA for Palestinian villages envision a residential density of approximately 11 times the level in rural communities in Israel and more than twice the level in Israeli cities.

All rights reserved, IPS — Inter Press Service (2010). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.