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Eating away at Palestinian land

Maha Akeel

Published: Updated:

Along the road to Hebron there are many grapevines, as this part of Palestine is known for the best-tasting grapes. In one of these vineyards there is a strange sight where one grapevine is fenced and there is a sign in Hebrew of the name of this tree’s owner. Behind this sight is a story that is bizarre and amusing in a painful way.

According to locals, some 20 years ago a Jewish settler came to the owner of this farm and asked about the price of the grapes. The Palestinian farmer said 50 shekels (equivalent to $15). The settler paid the money and ordered the Palestinian to leave the vineyard because he has now bought it and he has witnesses to this. Miscommunication? Misunderstanding? Lost in translation? No, because the settlers forcefully evicted the farmer from his land even though he wanted to return the money plus any further amount. Outraged and desperate at losing his source of income and livelihood, the farmer hired a Jewish lawyer knowing he would have a better chance with someone who understands the settlers. In court, the settler said I pointed to the vineyard and asked how much and paid the asked amount. The lawyer said the settler couldn’t have pointed at the whole vineyard because the farmer would have understood that he meant the whole vineyard. And so the court ruled that the settler was pointing to one tree and that’s what he paid for.

Land-grab policies

This is only one story of land-grab policies by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and this one ended with the farmer losing only one of his trees, whereas in other incidents Palestinians are not so lucky and they end up losing their homes, farms and businesses through illegal trickery.

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Along the streets around Jerusalem and Hebron, shacks can be seen and next to them is a police post. They are situated on Palestinian properties that are about to become Israeli settlements. The process is for individual settlers to build haphazard homes on Palestinian lands. Of course their presence and their infuriating actions disturb the Palestinians who would get into frictions with them, so then came Israeli police posts to “protect” the innocent settlers from the “violent” Palestinians. A few more months and years down the road, the temporary shacks have become permanent homes and a completely developed modern settlement community.

This is while thousands of Palestinians have lost or at risk of losing their homes in East Jerusalem under the pretext of development and excavation projects, as well as various confiscation and demolition procedures, ID revocations and restrictions on building permits.

This is all not to mention the Israeli military checkpoints that make moving around a daily humiliating ordeal for Palestinians. The apartheid wall that snakes around the city is in strategically planned line to continue redrawing the municipal borders of Jerusalem, a plan meant to isolate and detach the Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem from the historically known boundaries of the city. This is part of a process that began after 1967 with the aim of reducing the Arab population in Jerusalem thus altering the demographic composition of Jerusalem, which has dangerous ramifications.

Legal responsibilities shunned

Israel’s colonization (settlement) policies and practices have been consistently condemned by the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the European Union as a serious obstruction to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The practices have also been condemned as contrary to international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in time of War.

The apartheid wall that snakes around the city is in strategically planned line to continue redrawing the municipal borders of Jerusalem.

Maha Akeel

Israel remains in belligerent occupation of the territories it dominated since the June 1967 war. Consequently, the Fourth Geneva Convention and other provisions of International Humanitarian Law apply to these territories. This includes East Jerusalem which, despite Israeli attempts to annex the city as part of Israel, retains its status as occupied territory. The EU recently took a strong stance on Israeli settlements by formally having its member states differentiate between Israel and the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and to refrain from any official dealings with Israeli institutions in these occupied areas.

Furthermore, Israel’s colonization policy and practices breach Article 49, paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibit the occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. This provision is not concerned, as Israel argues, with forcible transfers but includes the case where the occupying power, through a combination of political and economic incentives, actively encourages its own population to establish and populate the occupied territory, thereby altering its geographic and demographic character.

Since peace negotiations resumed in recent months, Israel has escalated its settlement activities 1930% compared to the month of July during which no negotiations took place. In addition, between August 16-27, Israel has demolished 31 Palestinian homes. This is clearly not constructive to reaching a two-state solution.

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Maha Akeel is the Managing Editor of the quarterly magazine, OIC Journal, issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Before joining the OIC six years ago, Akeel worked as a journalist for five years. She participated in local and international workshops and forums on women’s rights and the role of the media. She also wrote opinion articles about Saudi women, and was interviewed by several regional and international newspapers and broadcast channels including the Wall Street Journal, BBC World and Sky News. Akeel received her university education in the U.S. and has an MBA and an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies.

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