Good evening. I've been following Israel's settlement and land management policies in the West Bank in the last 20 years, working for different Israeli NGOs. In the last six or seven years I've been working for a small platform called Keren Navot which is dedicated to investigating and exposing Israel's land policies mainly in the West Bank.
Obviously, land policy is something which Israel as a Zionist entity has dealt with from its very beginning and actually also in the years before the establishment of the country in 1948. But the 1967 West Bank occupation brought this issue to a new level, which I will try to describe very briefly, in the coming 20 minutes. I grew up in Jerusalem, an Israeli Jew, in an Israeli settlement, which was built in East Jerusalem after 1967. So in no way am I talking about something far away from my life. My very biography and where I grew up, where my parents basically chose to bring me up and to build their house, is part of the story which I will share with you in the coming couple of minutes. Things which I have witnessed, growing up here in this country. Before I go on I want to thank the participants and organisers of this event. I respect this initiative very much and don't take it for granted that people are dedicating an hour or two of their time and are interested to listen and be educated about something which is happening thousands of miles away from where they live. Obviously, your history is strongly bound up not only as Jews but also as British, with our story as well.
I think that we have to start this event by talking about the elephant in the room, which is obviously the results of the last election in Israel about a month ago, and the rise of the extreme right, in Israeli politics. First of all, I would like to tell you that most of my Palestinian friends were not shocked at all by the results of this election. From their point of view it seems more like an inner struggle within the extreme nationalist Zionist Israeli state over the question: how far you can press or repress the Palestinian population in the West Bank? Apparently the stronger hard right, have won this election, but from the ordinary Palestinian point of view (and I think Basel will be able to say more about it later) the reality on the ground for the last dozens of years hasn't been easy, hasn't been nice. So the results of the elections are not going to dramatically change the life of most Palestinians in the West Bank. And I think that it's realistic to expect that most of the energies of the coming Israeli Government will be dedicated to changing the internal Israeli political arena: taking control over the legal system, first of all; taking control over the media; shrinking the democratic space for Jews in Israel; oppressing the Palestinian population in Israel, in order to make sure that no major political shifts can take place in the future in Israeli politics. (I'm talking about the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Arab Palestinian, obviously, and who have the right to vote for the Israeli Knesset.)
Intensifying the Apartheid Regime
So I think that the coming government will be dedicating its efforts to internal Israeli politics and in the West Bank, we will see more of the same. The reality there is already bad enough. More aggression will go towards Israeli leftists, rather than Palestinians who are oppressed anyhow, in order to break any attempt by Israelis to change their political system, not only the West Bank, but also in Israel. When I'm talking about changing the Israeli system, I will go straight away use the word apartheid, because this is what we actually have, for many, many, many years in the country. It's becoming more and more obvious for more and more people. Also, because of the last election, I think that the fact that we have here around 70 participants is also reflecting the growing notion of people that what is going on here, is actually a local model of an apartheid system. And when I'm talking about an apartheid system, I'm talking basically about the situation in which about 5 million Palestinians are denied participation in the political game. They are denied being active participants, players, in the political arena. So while their lives are very, very much determined by Israeli politics, they have no way to shape it, to participate in the political give-and-take.
East Jerusalem and de facto annexation
Before I go on to speak about Israeli policy, I would like to remind us all of few basic facts about the West Bank. I'm focusing right now on the West Bank, although some of the things which I'm saying are also true in the Gaza Strip. So let's concentrate on the West Bank because in the West Bank, there are Israeli settlers, and in the Gaza Strip since 2005, there aren't. So we're talking about an area of about 5.6 thousand square kilometres. The entire area besides 70 square kilometres, which you can see in the centre, delineated by the orange line. This area between the green line and the orange line is the only part of the West Bank which has been annexed unilaterally by Israel after 1967. This is what we call East Jerusalem. In East Jerusalem there are between 320,000 and 330,000 Palestinians, who have residents' rights. They're not citizens. Most of them are not Israeli citizens. It's made very complicated for them to become Israeli citizens, because, obviously, Israel is not interested in having Palestinian citizens. So this area is the only area that had been unilaterally annexed to the State of Israel after 1967. The rest of the West Bank until today, 55 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is under military control. The reason that the rest of the West Bank hasn't been annexed to Israel is very simple. The West Bank is inhabited by about 2.7 million, besides the 300,000 which are in East Jerusalem. It's inhabited by about 2.7 million Palestinians and if the West Bank was annexed Israel would have to deal with the question: what is the political status of those 2.7 million Palestinians today? Obviously, tomorrow, there will be more. That would have forced Israel to give one of two answers. Either Palestinians would become Israeli citizens, which means that Israel would no longer be what it describes itself as—a Jewish national state—or they would not become Israeli citizens, and that means that Israel wouldn't be a democracy. It would be official apartheid. What did Israel actually choose to do after 1967? Israel chose not to annexe the West Bank officially, but toannexe a huge part of it de facto without annexing it officially. This is exactly what brings us to the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Israelis don't understand the Occupation
The way that Israel had annexed huge parts of the West Bank since 67, is by building Israeli settlements, in an area which is outside of the official borders of the state of Israel. Now, listen to this sentence. This is something which I guess all of you know very well. But this is something which, for a very, very, very high percentage of the Israeli population—I think that we're looking at 90 something percent of the current Israeli population—would be totally beyond their understanding. For an Israeli, an average Israeli, who grew up in this country, who graduated from the Israeli education system, has never seen the green line, who doesn't understand that Ma'aleh Adumim, for example, or the North shore of the Dead Sea is not part of the State of Israel, this is something which for the vast majority of Israelis, after 55 years of continuous Israeli de facto annexation, this is a foreign language, it's something which most Israelis cannot understand. This is the point where we are right now in history. This is directly related also to the results of the election, which we have seen months ago. For the vast majority of the new-born Israeli generation the West Bank is part of the State of Israel! They don't understand because nobody ever bothered to explain to them. I would say it differently: people made sure that they don't understand what the reality is. If an entire educational system, if an entire state, is committed to promote the ignorance of its population, after dozens of years this is exactly what happens. So we shouldn't be surprised that the new Israeli generation sees the West Bank as part of the State of Israel and doesn't understand that Palestinians have been living in this country for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years: thousands of years. They don't understand that Palestinians are simply the native population of this country, because there's an entire education system, which tries to sell the idea that Palestinians are invaders and we, the Jews, are the real natives of the country.
The Land Grab Machine
So we have today in the West Bank about 100 official Israeli settlements, and another more or less 200 different types of Israeli outposts. What is the difference between Israeli outposts and Israeli settlements? Actually, there is no difference besides one main thing. An outpost is an unofficial Israeli settlement. But it is an unofficial Israeli settlement built, in most cases, with the support of the State of Israel government. In fact with the support of successive Israeli governments. We're talking about a system which has already been running for 25 years, since the Oslo Agreement, which I will speak about in a few minutes. The idea behind the outposts is basically to take over land without the need to establish a new settlement officially. The Israeli government realised that it's easier to establish a settlement unofficially without going through all the paperwork which is needed in order to establish a new settlement in the West Bank. That brings me to a very, very important principle, which I would like to share with you right now. The Israeli land grab machine in the West Bank works in parallel in two different channels: the official channel and the unofficial channel. This is true regarding Israeli settlements and outposts. This is very, very true regarding different slices of land which Israeli settlers, with the support of different Israeli organs, official organs, have taken from Palestinians in different parts of the West Bank. And this is something which Basel will be able to testify to from his own very personal life and experience. He lives in one of these communities, which is exposed to one of the most ferocious, violent campaigns of Israeli settlers against Palestinians, in order to accomplish exactly this unofficial land grab channel, which I mentioned. If we have some time, in the end, I will show you more specific details about the place where Basel lives on the map so you will be able to understand that.
Taking Over Area C
It's important to understand and to remember that since 1995, for the last 27 years, the West Bank is divided to three parts. Area A, which supposedly is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Area C is an area which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority but only for civic services, mainly in Palestinian villages in the West Bank. Area A is mainly the towns there. Areas like Jericho, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Nablus. Area A is about 18%, another 21% is Area B and the rest, 61%, is Area C. Now this concept of ABC was supposed to last five years, and during these five years between 1995 to 2000. By the year 2000 the Palestinians and the Israelis were supposed to settle all the disputes between them. Something which obviously never happened. The Oslo accord exploded. Then there was the Second Intifada, and here we are, 22 years after the eruption of the second Intifada, and the number of Israeli settlers has jumped and more than doubled in these last 22 years. The number of Israeli outposts has grown by 150 or so in the last 20 years. The system which Israel established before 1995, rather than being withdrawn, rather than being shrunk, has been dramatically, dramatically grown in the last years. And I would say even more dramatically, in the last four or five years. Once again, we see a very, very well planned, very, very, very heavily budgeted campaign of enforcing Israeli control and presence over parts of Area C, and even area B and A in some cases. This is in order to make sure that what started once as a small settlement enterprise, which would also be good for the Palestinians. This white man's burden—the Israeli version of the white man's burden in 1967 today had been replaced by a very brutal, very violent, zero sum game, which Israel is carrying out in Area C, and in some cases also in areas A and B.
Breaking the Fabric of Palestinian Society
Before I go on to describe it in a few more words, I would like first of all to explain the problem which Israel is dealing with, from Israel's point of view. The vast majority of the population in the West Bank is Palestinian: 83% today, of the entire population in the West Bank is still Palestinian, so the question is, how do you marginalise this 83%? How do you make sure that this 83% the Palestinian part of the entire population is marginalised and pressed into certain parts, pockets, enclaves, Bantustans if you want? In order to keep the land for Israeli Jewish expansion. This is the goal, and this has been done by a few methods. First of all, the most important principle is segregation. I'm talking about physical segregation: Palestinians and Israelis do not live together, except in Hebron which is a unique case. Palestinians are not allowed to go into Israeli settlements. There's a military order, which bans Palestinians from entering Israeli settlements without special permits. So we're talking about physical segregation. We're talking about legal segregation, different legal systems, which are applied to Palestinians and Israelis. And we're talking about, obviously, political segregation, which I mentioned before: Palestinians are banned, or are denied from being able to vote, and from the Israeli Knesset. In other words, they live under Israeli control, but they do not participate in the political process which defines that control.
The ultimate goal above all is to break the Palestinian contiguity; to break the Palestinian political, social and traditional fabric in the West Bank, in order to allow Israel to divide and rule, or rule and divide. It works as a cycle: in order to rule you need to divide and in order to divide, you need to rule. This is what Israel is doing, and Israel is doing it but using different means and I will count only the main means here, which are applied to the land regime, which Israel invented and enforces in the West bank. This is by no means a seminar about Israel's land regime. This is very much a summary of a summary to demystify how Israel is running land policy.
Closed Military Zones
First step is to close as much land as possible to Palestinian access. Right after 1967, Israel started a campaign of announcing or declaring using military orders, signed by an Israeli officer. We're talking about military dictatorship. This is the framework. Every order in the West Bank, every law on the West Bank, is applied by the military. The West Bank is not part of the State of Israel. So if the Israeli police want to enforce speed limits in the West Bank, they need to have a special order which the military grants to give the police the right to arrest speeding drivers on highways in the West Bank. Otherwise, Israeli police cannot work and not act in the West Bank, just as they cannot act in London. This is very clear. We're talking about a huge area, which has been declared by the Israeli military, between 1967 and 1971 as closed military zones, so called firing areas, which have been allocated to the Israeli military for so-called training. I'm talking mainly about this area here on the fringes of the West Bank, the area between the villages here, I hope you can see it on the map, the areas which are between the Palestinian villages, on the Hill Country, the upper part of the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley, and the border between the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which is on the right. Most of this area, and we're talking about more or less 20% of the West Bank, was declared in the first three or four years after the Israeli occupation, as closed military zones. That means this area had become a buffer to divide the Palestinian population of the West Bank from other Palestinians, not only but mainly the Palestinian population on the other side of the Jordan River which is in in the state of Jordan, in the Hashemite Kingdom. In this area, Israel started to build settlements in the late 60s and early 70s. This was all as part of the buffer designed to divide between the Arab population of the Hashemite Kingdom and the West Bank.
The next step is taking over land: dispossession. I don't have enough time here to describe the details of all the methods which Israel used in order to dispossess Palestinian individuals and more importantly, I want you to remember this, Palestinian communities. Note, it's a double dispossession. In some cases, we're talking about individual dispossession and in some cases, we're talking about public lands, which belonged historically to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinian communities were dispossessed from their public land. This was land which had been used for herding and used for agriculture. Hundreds of thousands, actually millions of dunums if I'm to be more accurate, had been taken from Palestinians, individuals and communities, and had been de facto expropriated, using different means. I don't have time, as I said, to go into the details, maybe later if we have more time.
The next step is allocation. This is a very, very important word. Once you take the land, you want to make sure that the land is allocated to the right party, which you want to support. Now, who is the right party in the West Bank? The legitimate collective. What is the legitimate collective between the Jordan and the sea? There's only one legitimate collective, according to the Israeli apartheid regime: the Israeli Jewish collective. This is exactly what makes Israel an apartheid regime. The fact that there is only one legitimate collective while they are two nations living here. So you want to take the land, and to allocate it to the "right" party, which happened to be always or just about always, Israeli Jewish settlers living in the West Bank. The next step, also very, very important, is strangling any Palestinian developments in Area C. You don't want personal development. You don't want construction. You don't want roads. You don't want Palestinian agriculture, for God's sake. You don't want anything which will support the Palestinians holding the land or support their ability to use their land. So you invent sets of regulations. Again, everything military. We're talking about military units which are imposing these rules. We're talking about military units who are inventing these rules. Military units are writing these rules. The entire system is set to make sure that, as much as possible, Palestinians won't be able to use land, because eventually every square metre which a Palestinian is cultivating is a square metre which you might have difficulties in the future to allocate to an Israeli settler. So you want to do as much as possible in order to avoid Palestinian use of the land. Then once the land is taken, you're on to allocating the land to settlers, deciding which segments are for building which settlements and industrial zones. Which are for outposts and which for huge Israeli agricultural areas. By the way, the West Bank Israeli agricultural areas are twice as big as the built-up area of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
It makes sense, because it's much faster to cultivate an area, to convert an area to a date orchard for example, compared to converting it to a settlement. it's much faster, it's much cheaper, a much more effective way or method to take land, and to convert it fast, rapidly, to Israeli used land in the West Bank.
All these means together close the cycle. Palestinian dispossession and Israeli settlements are absolutely two sides of the same coin. Your building is ready to sell because you want to dispossess Palestinians. You dispossess Palestinians because you want to encourage and reinforce the Israeli settlement enterprise. These two things are related to each other. It's a zero sum game. What started as the white man's burden: to bring modernity to the West Bank, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, that old discourse has been replaced in the last years with a brutal campaign, which Israeli authorities are calling today the campaign for Area C. This is 61% of the areas of the West Bank, I want to remind you. This is the campaign for Area C—its official name and title—which many Israeli official State organs are using to dispossess Palestinians, brutally if needs be. If they're willing to go by themselves, good. But people don't volunteer to leave their land in most cases. We are talking about brutal, violent dispossession, which includes eviction orders, demolition orders. Today near Hebron houses have been demolished. This is a daily thing which happens daily, daily, on a daily basis and Basel can tell you much more about it, because this is his community, which is suffering. So we're looking at, as I said before, and really my lessons are two sides of the same coin. They cannot exist without each other in the system, which Israel has invented in the West Bank. Thank you.