Today there are
approximately 3 million or so Palestinians living in the West Bank and 300,000
Jewish people; 500,000 if we include East Jerusalem. These 500,000 Jewish
individuals live in tents, bungalows, most of them in well-built homes with
well-built roads and well-built gates to keep the bad things out. Even more of
them have running water and electricity, and almost all of them live their
lives under military protections. They also enjoy the unique privilege of being
"facts on the ground" and each one of them is a “fact on the ground”
in violation of International Law.
In the run-up to the recent elections, there was a confrontation with another type of fact on the ground laid bare: the Netanyahu government's advocacy for more Israeli settlements. The creation of more Facts in the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem, a hilly area that would not be a particularly extravagant place for a Jewish home, but has become so, it seems, by political circumstance. Jerusalem of Gold's conversion from the majesty of religious sacrality to the uncomfortable currency of political real estate means that the threat of construction in the E-1 area can be used as political leverage when the United Nations voted to associate Palestine with the word State.
The public, deliberately inflammatory initiative to create more Facts on the Ground was beaten to the punch in an old tactic taken up by Other people. It appeared in the form of tents, an atmosphere of celebration, and 250 Other Facts on the Ground calling themselves inhabitants of a new village, "Bab al Shams". The name, drawn from Elias Khoury’s novel is no coincidence: the (now only semi-) fictional Bab Al-Shams is the cave which was a home, a village, a country for two lovers, “the only liberated part of Palestine” as the character Nahilah said.
The settlement of Bab al
Shams was not the first time Palestinian activists occupied their own land
(another fact on the ground is this: the land that became Bab al Shams was
owned (whatever that means), by a Bedouin family who had given their blessings
to the activists). Earlier Palestinian occupations took place in E-1 as early
as 2007 in protest of Ma'ale Adumim's expansion, but this time the urgency
seems more compelling. The spirit of Bab al Shams reappeared last week as a
neighbourhood outside of Burin called al Manatir, near Jenin as Al Asra, and
near Beit Iqsa as Bab Al-Karame. Occupation, strangely enough, is quickly
becoming a tactic for Palestinian liberation.
That's not to say much else has changed. A few days before al Manatir went up, another Israeli outpost has quietly been established, this one outside of the Palestinian village of Jayyous. Its two bungalows have been up since January 28, and are now receiving both water and power from the nearby settlement Zufin (source). New construction has been reported by residents of Jayyous, speculation abounds as to whether it has to do with the ever-contested path of the Separation Barrier changing yet again through the creation of new Facts, or perhaps it means roads and more houses with well-built gates to keep the bad things out. Regardless, this outpost has so far been enjoying complicity by the government, compared to the swift removal of each of the four new 'villages' raised so far by Palestinian activists. The de facto sacredness of one posed against the belligerent treatment of another is a fact on the ground that seems to go transparent when other Facts form the basis of policy and decision making.
The Palestinians’ occupations haven't yet been successful in creating lasting facts on the ground like roads and houses with gates, or even residents for more than a few days, but their brief convergences are beginning to ignite the imaginations of the masses, sparking new villages every few days, even a council in the PA. If it takes a village to raise a ruckus, then so be it
Two weeks ago, I requested a book on inter-library loan, Doreen Massey's For Space. It is a work concerning epistemologies of space, ownership, citizenship, narrative and political participation. The book arrived this past Monday from the library in Ariel, one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.