On 21 March ICAHD UK executive member David Turner took part in a panel discussion on Forced Displacement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The meeting took place in House of Commons committee room 15 with Alastair Carmichael MP (LibDem) and Tracy Brabin MP (Lab) as joint hosts and was moderated Pietro Stefanini of the Palestinian Return Centre.
Alistair Carmichael MP, Tracy Brabin MP (joint hosts)
Professor David Turner (ICAHD-UK), Majed Alzeer (Chairman, PRC)
Moderator Pietro Stefanini of the Palestinian Return Centre
Wednesday 21st March 2018 at 6pm in Committee Room 15, Houses of Parliament
David Turner:- I am grateful to the organisers of this meeting for inviting me to speak on behalf of ICAHD UK. We are the British chapter of an Israeli human rights organisation dedicated to ending Israel’s Occupation over the Palestinians and advocating for a just peace between the two peoples. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) was founded in Jerusalem in 1997 by Israeli activists including Jeff Halper, Rabbi Arik Ascherman & Meir Margolit. ICAHD takes as its main focus Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes and evicting Palestinians from their land.
It seeks to resist these by non-violent direct action. Initially this involved people lying down in front of bulldozers but for the last 15 years has taken the form of rebuilding camps in which Israelis, Palestinians and internationals together reconstruct Palestinian buildings that the IDF (Israeli military) has demolished. Since 2002 ICAHD has rebuilt 189 Palestinian homes. In about 30 cases the IDF returned to redemolish them but 150 still stand. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of Israel’s demolitions but it is done as an act of symbolic resistance.
ICAHD supports BDS since 2005 and was the first Israeli organisation to do so. In 2015 the Israeli authorities closed ICAHD down as a registered NGO in Israel but it is still able to function because key individuals including Jeff Halper are still there and the foreign chapters, in particular ICAHD UK, are able to continue.
ICAHD organises half day and one day study tours in Jerusalem showing people the layout of the settlements, the apartheid wall and the matrix of control by which Israel rules over 3M Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There are also extended study tours of ten or eleven days. Details of study tours, of our UK conference in London in May and of the October rebuilding camp can be found on our website icahd.org or icahduk.org
Turning now to the subject of the meeting, the demolition of Palestinian houses and other structures is one of the key mechanisms in a policy of forced displacement. The Oslo accords signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993 and 1995 divided the West Bank into three zones. Area A (18%) is the main Palestinian towns, Area B (20%) is the villages immediately around the towns – the administrative powers of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are limited to areas A and B while area C (62% of WB) is completely controlled by Israel. Area B is mixed control, PA has admin, Israel security. In practice IDF has overriding security powers everywhere including area A.
To introduce some terminology, the green lines are the borders within which Israel achieved independence, so called because they are marked in green on the maps attached to the 1949 Armistice agreements. The OPT – Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem are areas beyond the green line which Israel captured in 1967. [+Golan, Syrian]
The house demolitions are mainly in area C, and East Jerusalem (which Israel has formally annexed, contrary to intl law) and these are the main areas in which Israel seeks to establish and expand its settlements. There are also some demolitions in area B, mainly for military reasons.
Demolitions are of three main types. Punishment but these only 1%, Administrative, huge numbers in WB and EJ, mainly for lack of building permits or because alteration or extension carried out without permit. But Israel issues permits and the overwhelming majority of P planning applications are refused. Israel is also quite ingenious at discovering reasons why buildings which have stood for years are in fact illegal. The third type are military demolitions – these can be to clear an area of land which Israel requires for military use, or because the house is too close to a military base or a settlement, or because the house is sheltering a wanted person who Israel seeks to kill in its policy of extrajudicial executions.
Monthly summaries of Israeli demolition activity can be found on the ICAHD website, information primarily from OCHA (see also Bimkom). Just to give a flavour – in December 2017, 9 structures were demolished in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, affecting 58 people of whom 33 are children. In January 2018 , 32 homes were demolished displacing 37 people of whom 11 children. In February 2018, 37 structures demolished, displacing 44 (24 children). You can also read the details about the families involved, some of which are deeply distressing. For example a house demolished on the morning of a wedding with the wedding gifts left under the rubble.
The structures which Israel demolishes include not only family homes, but also farm buildings, schools, commercial properties, water towers, and in a recent example an array of solar panels supplied to a Palestinian village by the EU. In another example a Palestinian primary school for the Bedouin community of Al Muntar in area C, built with EU funding, has been served with a demolition order active from 1 February 2018.
Demolition orders may not be acted on for years. In East Jerusalem there are currently 20,000 Palestinian homes with demolition orders outstanding. The families have to live not knowing if the bulldozers will arrive tomorrow, next month or in five years time. In a cruel twist, if a home is demolished for lack of planning permission the family are required to pay Israel for the cost of the demolition. To avoid this families sometimes demolish their own home.
The monthly numbers sound modest but you have to remember that this has been going on for fifty years. According to a report issued by OCHA in December 2017, since 1967 Israel has destroyed a total of 48,743 houses and other buildings in the OPT. [Note this includes 20,000 houses destroyed in Gaza during Israeli military operations.] This corresponds to the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
The policy of forced evictions of Palestinians from EJ and area C of WB has been accompanied by a massive expansion of Israeli settlements. In 1993, when the Oslo agreement was signed there were 160,00 Israeli settlers in OPT. Today there are almost 700,000 that is 230,00 in East Jerusalem and over 450,000 in the West Bank. In area C which is 2/3 of WB, Israeli settlers now outnumber Palestinians by 2:1.
Israel’s policies of forced displacement in the OPT violate at least three principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL): the prohibition on forcible transfers of civilian population in a territory under occupation, the prohibition against collective punishment, and the prohibition on the destruction of civilian property without a compelling military reason. These are principles of customary IHL and are binding on all parties to an armed conflict.
Israel is also a signatory of the 4th Geneva convention (of 1948), article 49 of which states that “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”. In a landmark opinion in July 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s settlements in OPT are illegal because they violate this provision, and that Israel’s apartheid wall is unlawful because it is an expression in loco of an illegal policy.
Israel uses the term Judaisation to describe the policy of evicting Palestinians from areas designated for settlement by Israeli Jews. Israel’s Judaisation project is not confined to the OPT . It is also happening inside the green line – in the Negev Israel is destroying Bedouin villages to make room for the expansion of Jewish towns and in the Gallilee, which has an Arab majority, there is a policy, called Judaisation, of encouraging Jews to move there while preventing the natural growth of Arab towns by denying building permits.
Israel’s Judaisation of Palestine did not begin in 1967, its most intense phase was in the period 1947-1951, before, during, and after the War of Independence. During this period 750,000 P civilians were expelled or fled, and none were allowed to return, their villages destroyed and their towns repopulated with Jewish refugees from Europe and the Middle East. 93% of the land area within the green line is “absentee property”, that is confiscated Palestinian land. The right of return of the 1948 refugees and to restoration or compensation for their land is arguably still the central issue of the I/P conflict.
What Israel is doing in the territory captured in 1967 is a continuation in modified form of the ethnic cleansing which took place within the green line when Israel was created. The Palestinians are being compressed into areas A and B, leaving area C, the main bulk of West Bank, including the Jordan valley, free for Jewish settlement. The so called Palestinian State, if and when it comes into existence, is likely to consist mainly of areas A and B plus Gaza, which amounts to about 11% of historic Palestine.
A few final remarks. The green line within which Israel achieved independence is not a legal border, it is a cease fire line. Israel was admitted to UN in May 1949 without any definition of its borders and it remains the case, 70 years later, that Israel’s legal borders have yet to be determined. Israel’s position within the green line is that of victor in a war, not undisputed legal sovereign. In particular, notwithstanding recent pronouncements by Donald Trump, Israel has no legal sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, neither West nor East.
The legal significance of the green line arises from the fact that Israel became a party to 1948 Geneva Convention on 6 July 1951. Therefore territory which Israel acquired by force before July 1951 is not covered by the Convention whereas the territories conquered later, in 1967, are. This is clear in the reasoning of the ICJ in its 2004 opinion. At no point does the ICJ assume or imply that the green line is a legal border.
The green line served as Israel’s de facto border from 1949 to 1967. Since 1967 Israel’s de facto (eastern) border has been on the Jordan river. The OPT are legally occupied and that is important but in reality Israel has annexed them. For Israelis, who can drive from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea without encountering a check point, the green line does not exist. It is a barrier only for Palestinians, who cannot cross into Israel without a permit (which does not allow them to stay overnight) and encounter checkpoints even when moving between towns in WB. Internal borders which are invisible to one ethnic group but constrict the movement of another are characteristic of an apartheid state.
The land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean is de facto a single state. Within this territory there is one central government, the Israeli government in Jerusalem, a single market and currency (the Israeli shekel), and one army, the Israeli army. The PA has no army, only a police force. That is not set to change, it is agreed by all parties that the Palestinian entity whether called a state or not, will remain demilitarised. What is on offer to the Palestinians is, at best, a Palestinian self-rule area within Israel’s defence and foreign policy perimeter.
Within the de facto state of Greater Israel there are 6.5 million Israeli Jews and 6.7 million Palestinian Arabs (as of March 2017). Israeli Jews are citizens with a vote and the same rights regardless of whether they live inside the Green Line or in the Occupied Territory. But Palestinians have different rights depending on where they live. Only those inside the Green Line (1.7 million) are citizens and have a vote – they are second class citizens in a Jewish state. The Palestinians in East Jerusalem (300k) have civil rights but no vote in Israeli national elections, those in the West Bank (2.8 million) have no vote in Israeli elections but live under Israeli military law and those in Gaza (1.9 million) have no vote and live under siege in an open air prison guarded by Israel.
In addition there are several million stateless Palestinian refugees living in nearby countries who have a right of return to what is now Israel under international law, but are unable to exercise it.
This situation is unjust and in the long run unsustainable. Creating a Palestinian mini-state alongside Israel will not end the conflict because it does not address the cause of the conflict. The fundamental claim of the Palestinians, which is a just claim, is that they are rightfully the joint owners of the whole of what is now Israel, because they are its indigenous people and were its majority before being unlawfully expelled.
The two state solution is based on a false analysis. The Israel/Palestine conflict is not a dispute between two neighbouring peoples, one of whom is occupying the territory of the other. It is a conflict about rights between two peoples who inhabit the same land. A just solution requires Israel to change from being a Jewish state ruling over millions of non-Jews to a binational state in which Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights – equal individual rights and equal national rights. These would include a right of return to what is now Israel for those Palestinian refugees who wish to return. This would be a political entity of perhaps an entirely new type. There would have to be constitutional provisions to ensure representation of both groups in all important institutions of the state and “parity of esteem” between the two national cultures. This will not be easy to bring about, starting from the current situation, but the first step is to recognise that continued pursuit of the failed “two state solution” is not merely futile but actively harmful, as it provides Israel with cover to continue policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in the whole of historic Palestine.