Massive expropriation of Palestinian land. Since 1967, as part of its campaign to confine Palestinians to enclaves while expanding its settlements and judaizing” the West Bank, Israel has expropriated some 24% of the West Bank for settlements, highways, “by-pass roads,” military installations, nature reserves and infrastructure . Expropriation, coupled with severely restrictive policies of zoning, has removed 89% of Arab East Jerusalem from residential or commercial use by its Palestinian residents. Because Israel does not recognize Ottoman or British-era deeds, 72% of the West Bank is considered Israeli “state lands” and so is easily expropriated.
House Demolitions. Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have demolished 27,000 Palestinian homes and other structures in the Occupied Territories. Palestinian homes are demolished for various and sundry reasons: the land they own has been declared by Israel “agricultural land” or “open green space;” they have no building permit (which the Israeli authorities refuse to grant Palestinians); the slope of their land is adjudged as “too steep;” their houses are too near settlements or Israeli-only highways (although the houses were there first); out of collective punishment for some action the people being punished had nothing to do with; the “clearing” of vast tracts of land for military/security purposes; destruction for the sake of expanding roads, settlements and the “Separation Barrier;” houses “cleared” to make passage safe for settlers or for other security purposes; homes representing “collateral damage” in military incursions; and more.
The policy of house demolitions uses administration, planning, zoning and the law for overtly political purposes: either to quietly transfer Palestinians out of the country or, alternatively, to confine them to small enclaves, thereby leaving the land (their land) free for Israeli settlement and annexation. Because of Israeli propaganda, most people think that Palestinian homes are demolished because their inhabitants committed some terrorist acts. This is not the case. In fully 95% of the cases, the residents had absolutely nothing to do with security offences: they neither committed illegal acts nor were even accused of doing so. (Having said that, ICAHD opposes the demolishing of homes even if one of the family members did commit a security offence. Demolishing the home of innocent people, i.e., the other family members, itself constitutes a war crime.)
The actual demolition of homes is only part of the story, of course. We must also take into account the tens of thousands of Palestinian families who own land and possess the financial resources to build modest homes who do not do so because they cannot obtain permits and do not want to risk demolition. In the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem alone there are 25,000 “missing” housing units – a completely artificial and induced housing shortage that condemns thousands of families to crowded and inadequate living conditions. Again, this is part of what Israel calls “the quiet transfer,” making life so difficult for the Palestinians that they will leave the country altogether.
Imposing a total “closure.” Since the start of the Oslo peace process, a permanent “closure” has been laid over the West Bank and Gaza, severely restricting the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel and impoverishing Palestinians whose own infrastructure Israel has kept under-developed. The closure has many physical forms: permanent checkpoints and terminals, as well as hundreds of semi-permanent and “spontaneous” checkpoints – some 650 obstacles to movement both between Israel and the Occupied Territories and among and within the seventy enclaves. The closure may be more porous one day (a “breathing closure”) and the next, without any warning or explanation, prevent any movement (a “strangling closure”). Whatever form it takes, closure prevents the development of a coherent Palestinian economy, wreaks havoc on family and community life, creates constant points of friction and harassment, and precludes the rational planning of one’s individual life.
Economic warfare. Just as the Oslo peace process preserved Israeli control over the Occupied Territories without constraining settlement or military activities, so, too, did the Paris Economic Protocol, signed in 1995 as an annex to the Oslo II agreement, carefully preserve complete Israeli control over the Palestinian economy. Israel’s insistence on the right to stop all shipment of goods for security reasons and to hold and check those goods for as long as it wanted all but destroyed Palestinian commerce, as did its sole right to impose closures. The economic closure, deriving its supposed legality from the Paris Protocol, is today virtually total. It prevents Palestinian goods from moving quickly, thus ruining agricultural exports, while undermining the reliability of Palestinian business people to guarantee supply to their customers. It also gives Israel control over the licensing of both industrial and commercial Palestinian enterprises, plus the authority to issue import/export permits, and stipulate which Israeli import agents, clearing/shipping agents and insurance agents must be used, thus creating high transportation, storage, insurance and clearance costs for Palestinian traders. As a result, manufacturing has been reduced to only 10% of the Palestinian economy. Nearly 90 percent of industrial enterprises in the Occupied Territories employ less than five workers each, and 70% of Palestinian firms have either closed or have severely reduced production (UNCTAD 2006).
The economic situation of the Occupied Territories has reached emergency proportions. Unemployment runs to 67% in Gaza, 48% in the West Bank. Seventy-five percent of Palestinians, including two-thirds of the children, live in poverty, on less than $2 a day, defined by the UN as “deep poverty.” More than 100,000 Palestinians out of the 125,000 who used to work in Israel, in Israeli settlements, or in joint industrial zones have lost their jobs (UNCTAD 2006). Half the Palestinian population requires external food assistance to meet their minimal daily food needs, with 30% of Palestinian children under five years of age suffering from malnutrition (Christian Aid 2003; UNCTAD 2006). In the meantime, welfare payments, dependent on tax monies illegally withheld by Israel under the Paris Protocol, have fallen by $180 million.
Israel also maintains control over utilities (such as water, electricity and phone services) in the Occupied Territories, even though Israel charges exorbitant prices for these utilities, despite the low income of the Palestinians. In fact, they actually pay more for electricity than Israelis. And so, in 2004, Israel confiscated $15.8 million from humanitarian aid sent to the Palestinians for utility bills owed by Palestinian municipalities (Hever 2005a:7).
The upshot of all this is profound structural imbalances in the Palestinian economy and a high degree of artificial dependence upon Israel. Projected back over the past 40 years, the picture that emerges is one of deliberate de-development. Thus, today, 90% of Palestinian imports are from Israel and 88% of its exports go to Israel. Not only is the Palestinian economy prevented from developing, but it is unprotected from an Israeli economy 60 times its size. By the end of the Oslo “peace process,” the per capita Palestinian GNP had fallen to about one-eighth of what it had been at the beginning, only seven years before. Today, compounded by the siege declared by Israel and the international community in the wake of the election of a Hamas-led government in 2006, the Occupied Territories occupies third place on a list of the thirteen most urgent targets of international aid, all the rest being in Africa.