[News] Israel’s Relentless Land Grabs: How Palestinians Resist

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 9 13:30:27 EDT 2018


  Israel’s Relentless Land Grabs: How Palestinians Resist

by Yara Hawari <https://al-shabaka.org/en/author/yara-hawari/> on April 
9, 2018

It has been 42 years since the Israeli police shot and killed six 
Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the expropriation of 
thousands of dunums of Palestinian land by the government. The protests 
were a result of mass collective action across the part of Mandate 
Palestine that became Israel in 1948. This saw Palestinian communities 
resisting not only Israel’s seizure of land but also its overall 
policies of erasing the very presence of Palestinians. This day – March 
30, 1976 – has since been known as Yom el-Ard (Land Day), and is a major 
event on the Palestinian political calendar and in the collective 
narrative. The fact that 2018 also marks 70 years since the Nakba – the 
loss of the Palestinian homeland and the creation of the state of Israel 
– adds to the significance of Land Day this year. Indeed, “The Great 
March of Return” organized in Gaza last month was to commemorate this 
date but also to link it with the right of return of the Palestinian 
refugees. The fact that triple the number of those killed on the 
original Land Day, were killed this year also highlights how Palestinian 
resistance is deemed just as much as a threat as it was over four 
decades ago.

Throughout this history, Palestinians have challenged Israel’s land 
theft – theft that, despite the fact that it is a flagrant violation of 
international law, continues unabated and is even accelerating. Indeed, 
with US President Donald Trump and his administration signaling to 
Israel that it can annex more land and build more settlements, 
particularly through its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s 
capital, Palestinians are increasing their resistance.

This policy brief examines how the domination of space is integral to 
settler colonialism through an examination of Israel’s historic and 
present-day appropriation of land, and explores the methods of 
Palestinian resistance to these practices. It concludes with 
recommendations for how Palestinians can collaborate across the borders 
that divide them, as well as with third parties, to resist the theft of 
their land and further the quest for Palestinian self-determination and 

    *Israel’s Land Acquisition Methods*

The main outcome of settler colonial projects is a rearrangement of 
physical spaces and indigenous people – a rearrangement that is neither 
peaceful nor passive, but constitutes a violent restructuring to make 
way for a new society with new social and spatial organization. The 
Zionist settler colonial project that established the state of Israel in 
the place of Palestine in 1948 is no different. Zionists expelled 
750,000 Palestinians in order to make room for the settler colonialists. 
^1 <#note-8052-1>

One hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians remained on the land, 
creating a demographic dilemma for the Israeli state. These Palestinians 
had to be incorporated as citizens but would remain excluded on the 
basis that they were not Jewish 
In 1967, the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip saw the 
absorption of more Palestinians, yet rather than annex the territories 
and grant them citizenship, Israel placed them under military control.

In the early years after 1948, the Israeli state utilized various 
mechanisms to appropriate land, including legislative measures. Most 
notable was the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 
<https://www.adalah.org/en/law/view/538>, followed by the Land 
Acquisition Law of 1953 <https://www.adalah.org/en/law/view/533>. These 
laws allowed the state to appropriate land and title deeds from refugees 
on the basis of being absent from the country after November 29, 1947. 
The legislation was also applied to those who were displaced within the 
borders of the new state: Rather than recognize these Palestinians as 
internally displaced persons, Israel referred to them as “present 
<http://www.badil.org/en/component/k2/item/1873-art6.html>Israel’s main 
justifications – then and now – for seizing the land are the acquisition 
of it for public use and the preservation of the Jewish character of the 

Settler colonial projects (are) a rearrangement of physical spaces and 
indigenous people that is neither peaceful nor passive 
To Tweet 

This justification was used at the beginning of March 1976, when the 
Israeli government announced plans to confiscate 20,000 dunums of land 
under the Developing the Galilee Program for the building of Jewish 
settlements and military training camps. The Palestinian mass strike and 
protests on March 30 mainly took place in six villages in the Galilee 
that had been placed under curfew – Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur'an, 
Tamra,and Kabul– though they also occurred in the Naqab (Negev) and Wadi 
Ara. ^2 <#note-8052-2> Israeli police met the demonstrations with 
serious violence, shooting to death the six protestors and injuring 
hundreds more.

Land Day has become a date in which Palestinians throughout Mandate 
Palestine as well as in the diaspora organize land-based activities and 
reiterate their existential relationship with the land. The date also 
emphasizes the concept of /sumud/(steadfastness) as an important part of 
resistance to Israeli settler colonization.

Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, various “legal” 
mechanisms and military orders have similarly facilitated the 
colonization of Palestinian land. These include the expropriation of 
land in the name of security, in which Israel effectively subverts the 
Geneva Convention, which allows occupying states to temporarily 
confiscate land for security reasons. In this way Israel has seized land 
for at least 42 settlements, including the bypass roads that connect 
them to settlements across the Green Line 
An equally devious mechanism is the use of an Ottoman and British 
Mandate law that allows the state to confiscate land for a “public 
the fact that the areas seized have habitually been used by Palestinians 
for centuries for grazing purposes.

The implementation of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, which divided 
the West Bank into Areas A, B and C, furthered the expropriation of 
Palestinian land. Area C, which makes up 61% of the West Bank, is under 
full Israeli military control, including control over security and civil 
affairs. Israeli policy in Area C is particularly aggressive 
<https://www.btselem.org/planning_and_building>, serving the needs of 
325,000 Israeli settlers while simultaneously disrupting and restricting 
Palestinian communities.

In the Jordan Valley, which falls under Area C, communities are 
particularly vulnerable to displacement and theft of ancestral lands. 
The valley is a strategically important area for Israel, predominantly 
because it acts as both a buffer zone to Jordan and the Occupied Syrian 
Golan Heights, but also because of its agricultural richness thanks to 
its abundant water supply and fertile land.

The construction of the Separation Wall in 2002 also enabled Israel to 
acquire more West Bank land. Built to separate the West Bank from Israel 
proper under the guise of Israeli “security,” the wall has laid the 
foundation for the annexation of many settlements. By placing the route 
inside the West Bank and not along the Green Line, Israel has de facto 
appropriated territory. The wall has separated Palestinians and cut off 
many agricultural communities from their land, and breaks the geographic 
contiguity of the West Bank.

    *Accelerating Land Theft*

Today, the expropriation of Palestinian land is accelerating at an 
astonishing speed. Political maneuverings in Jerusalem have recently 
highlighted this crisis as the Israeli government capitalizes on the US 
administration’s brazen disregard for international law and the 
consensus with regard to Jerusalem. Its decision to move its embassy 
from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a de facto and de jure recognition of the 
city as Israel’s capital. This move has emboldened Israel to cement its 
complete control over the city.

The postponed Greater Jerusalem bill (which is still on the table) 
revealed plans to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to 
include four major and many smaller illegal settlements. The major 
settlements – Ma'ale Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Betar Illit, and Efrat – are 
part of a bloc that stretches from Jerusalem to Hebron. At the same 
time, the bill would exclude certain Palestinian neighborhoods from the 
city’s jurisdiction, including that of Kufr Aqab. This gerrymandering of 
borders attempts to gain more land while at the same time squeezing 
as little space as possible. In addition to the physical conquering of 
space, these maneuvers attempt to control the narrative on Jerusalem so 
that the entire city becomes unquestionably part of Israel in mainstream 
international discourse.

Meanwhile, in the Naqab, the Israeli government is implementing the 
Prawer Plan, developed in 2011, to destroy 35 Palestinian Bedouin 
villages and to appropriate the land to build new Jewish Israeli 
settlements as part of its Development of the Negev Program. The Negev 
Program is the brainchild of the Ministry for the Development of the 
Negev and the Galilee, a successor to the aforementioned Developing the 
Galilee Program, whose land confiscation led to the Land Day protests in 
1976. The ministry was founded in 2005 to bring 
<http://www.galil.gov.il/EN/?p=1633>“growth and prosperity…as it is 
quite clear that the future of Israel lies in the development of these 

The expropriation of Palestinian land is accelerating at an astonishing 
To Tweet 

The Naqab and the Galilee are particular areas of concern for the 
Israeli government because of their relatively high concentration of 
Palestinians. According to some estimates, the Galilee has a majority 
Palestinian population. ^3 <#note-8052-3> The ministry thus aims to 
consolidate a contiguous Jewish presence while minimizing the 
Palestinian Arab presence; this is demonstrated by the demolition of 
Bedouin villages on the basis that they are “unrecognized” by the state.

This appropriation of indigenous space for the purpose of the settler 
population through such mechanisms as settlements, de jure annexation, 
physical expulsion, and denial of land claims is found in settler 
colonial projects the world over. In Palestine, it is occurring on both 
sides of the Green Line, and is part and parcel of what is dubbed the 
continuous Nakba, or /al Nakba al mustimirrah/.

    *Spaces of Palestinian Resistance*

In the face of this continuous Nakba, Palestinians have long engaged in 
acts of what some writers have termed spatial resistance 
practices that affirm Palestinian presence and continuity on the land 
and challenge Israeli colonization. There are various initiatives of 
such resistance, both past and ongoing, that incorporate land 
re-appropriation and steadfastness:

      /Bab al Shams and Ein Hijleh/

Approximately 250 Palestinian activists from across historic Palestine 
established the Palestinian “village” of Bab al Shams, near the illegal 
Jewish Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in January 2013. The 
location of the village was on privately owned Palestinian land, for 
which the activists received permission from the owner. The village was 
also within the E1 corridor, the strip of land that effectively cuts the 
West Bank in half.

The activists erected some 25 tents to establish the “village,” and 
despite receiving an injunction from the High Court of Justice, which 
blocked the village’s eviction for six days, the Israeli army forcibly 
removed the activists after only two days. In spite of its short life, 
the village was a form of direct action that asserted Palestinian 
ownership of the land and challenged its ongoing confiscation. Bab al 
Shams also highlighted Palestinian presence in the Jerusalem area.

The following year, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination 
Committee established a protest village similar to Bab el Shams at the 
site of Ein Hijleh 
a destroyed Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley. During the week in 
which the activists managed to stay in the village, they installed solar 
panels, cleared the land, and held various political and cultural 
activities. After seven days, the Israeli army forcibly dismantled the 
encampment, arrested dozens of activists, and injured many more.

      /Iqrith and the March of Return/

Since 2012, young activists have maintained a continuous physical 
presence on their land at the site of Iqrith, a Palestinian village in 
the Galilee destroyed in 1948. The descendants of families from the 
village are internally displaced Palestinians (“present absentees”), 
meaning that while they hold Israeli citizenship and reside within 
Israel’s borders, they are forbidden from returning to their pre-1948 
villages and land. Iqrith is an unusual case because in 1948 Zionist 
forces told its residents that they could return after the fighting. 
While this promise was not fulfilled, in 1951 Iqrith’s residents won a 
High Court decision that allowed them to return. ^4 <#note-8052-4>

In Palestine (land theft occurs) on both sides of the Green Line…part 
and parcel of what is dubbed the continuous Nakba 
To Tweet 

However, the decision was blocked by the military court, which maintains 
that the residents’ return would be a risk to state security. The third 
and fourth generation activists in Iqrith keep a steadfast presence in 
the village and have set up an encampment in an annex of the village 
church. This presence is maintained despite the military ruling and 
attempts by the Israeli authorities to disrupt them by arresting 
activists, destroying structures, and uprooting plants. The activists’ 
presence asserts their Palestinian identity and challenges the notion 
that Palestinian land is limited to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Another initiative organizes Palestinians’ return to destroyed villages. 
The March of Return has mainly taken place in the Galilee, where most of 
the internally displaced Palestinians live. Two years ago, it was held 
in the Naqab, and this year it will take place at a destroyed village 
near Haifa. Since the Association for the Rights of the Internally 
Displaced and other groups organized the first march 1999, it has become 
a significant event inside historic Palestine. It coincides with Israeli 
Independence Day under the motto of “Your independence is our Nakba.” 
Similar to the Iqrith activism, the March of Return is a symbolic 
reversing of original displacement through the physical act of 
returning, albeit temporarily, to the site of destruction. The march 
also challenges the Zionist Independence Day narrative of “a land 
without a people for a people without a land” by reasserting Palestinian 
presence prior to 1948.

      /Al Araqib and Susiya/

Al Araqib is a Palestinian Bedouin village located in the Naqab that has 
existed for two centuries. Israeli forces first displaced its residents 
in 1951 for “security” purposes, and Israel appropriated the land under 
the Land Acquisition Law. In the late 1990s, 45 families returned to the 
land in an attempt to prevent the Jewish National Fund from planting a 
forest on top of it.

Using the claim that the village is “unrecognized” and built on Israeli 
state land, attempts to displace the people of Al Araqib have 
intensified in recent years. Since 2010, Israeli authorities have 
destroyed the village 120 times, usually using bulldozers to raze 
structures and riot police to remove residents who try to protect their 
homes with their bodies. As an “unrecognized” village, it is also denied 
the most basic of services. Many of the residents have moved to 
neighboring towns, yet there are some who remain and rebuild their 
houses, often using material salvaged from the rubble. They frequently 
hold rallies and protests to highlight their struggle against 
displacement and land theft.

Just across the Green Line a similar struggle is taking place in the 
village of Susiya, located in Area C south of Hebron. Shortly after 
establishing an illegal settlement in 1983 on Susiya’s land, the Israeli 
government demolished the homes of 60 families. The residents rebuilt 
nearby, but in 2001 Israeli demolished the entire village. Since 2011 
Susiya has faced a series of mass demolitions by the authorities in an 
attempt to establish Israel’s total control over Area C.

As the Oslo Accords placed Area C under Israeli military control, Israel 
is able to deny Palestinian planning and building requests 
<https://www.btselem.org/download/201306_area_c_report_eng.pdf>on the 
grounds of security. As such, each time Susiya’s residents rebuild their 
homes, they are served once again with demolition orders. Yet Susiya’s 
residents have thus far stayed on their land, living in the most basic 
conditions to do so. They have also established a campaign that has 
attracted the support of international activists. Both Al Araqib and 
Susiya are demonstrating steadfastness 
<https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/8121>, yet their durability 
remains uncertain in the context of accelerating Israeli colonization 
and annexation.

    *Shoring up Palestinian Rights to the Land*

As discussed above, Palestinians have used many ways to resist Israel’s 
land theft. To stop further incursions on Palestinian land and support 
and build upon Palestinian spatial resistance, efforts in three areas 
deserve focus:

      /Promote grassroots spatial resistance/

With popular support, initiatives that physically re-assert Palestinian 
presence on land could challenge Israeli domination of space. Yet 
Palestinians face challenges of sustainability. To tackle this, 
Palestinians engaged in grassroots activities should continue to link 
local struggles and call for coordination across the Green Line. This 
would not only highlight the greater Israeli colonization project, but 
would also challenge Israel’s definition of what is considered Palestine 
and who is considered Palestinian.

(Three areas are key) to stop further incursions on Palestinian land and 
support and build upon Palestinian spatial resistance 
To Tweet 

Palestinians should also demand international and third party support 
and protection for these activities, such as funding anti-bulldozer 
barriers in vulnerable Palestinian communities. International actors who 
have invested in infrastructure in Palestinian communities that Israel 
has destroyed should also demand financial compensation. Their 
investment in communities and projects must be coupled with such a 
condition to make demolitions and displacement financially taxing for 

      /Prevent further theft of Palestinian land /

Third states are bound by international humanitarian law to use all 
possible measures to suppress violations. The law is clear that the 
displacement of an occupied population and settlement building by the 
occupier are violations. Thus, all international mechanisms that can be 
used to prevent further appropriation and annexation must be mobilized. 
These include but are not limited to:

  * Support submissions of reported war crimes to the International
    Criminal Court, such as the one submitted in 2017 by Palestinian
    civil society organizations

  * Demand an extensive and formal probe into Israeli violations, such
    as the one called for by Human Rights Watch in 2016
  * Institute and enforce sanctions – a mechanism used against Russia
    for its annexation of Crimea

      /Build cases for property and land restitution/

Property and land restitution and compensation are an essential part of 
any future reconciliation process, as seen in South Africa following the 
dismantlement of the apartheid regime 
Efforts must be made to retroactively challenge Israeli property and 
land theft that has occurred since 1948. Palestinians should organize a 
mass effort to research and formulate their claims; a wealth of 
documentation already exists 
would support them, including the UNCCP files, UNRWA records, official 
Israeli state records, and oral testimonies.

With such targeted and organized efforts, Palestinians and their allies 
could obstruct Israel’s relentless seizure of Palestinian land and 
secure policies in line with Palestinian rights as enshrined in 
international law.

          Yara Hawari <https://al-shabaka.org/en/author/yara-hawari/>

Yara Hawari is the Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The 
Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD in Middle East 
Politics at the University of Exeter. Her research focused on oral 
history projects and memory politics, framed more widely within 
Indigenous Studies. Yara taught various undergraduate courses at the 
University of Exeter and continues to work as a freelance journalist, 
publishing for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, 
Middle East Eye and the Independent.

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