The annexation of the Jordan Valley and the construction of two new settlements in Hebron and East Jerusalem are on the Israeli agenda for the near future. Explicit American support provides the Israeli government with the confidence in order to keep, consolidate, and fortify its occupation policies.
The recent statements made by US president Donald Trump's administration about the legalization of settlements around the West Bank, indicate a radical change on the Palestinian map. Following that announcement, Israeli confidence grew stronger and settler violence increased. This has also emboldened Benjamín Netanyahu, who announced the annexation of the Jordan Valley as well as the construction of two new settlements in Hebron and East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements are considered illegal under International Law. However, since 1967 and after The Six-Day War, around 250 settlements accommodating approximately 600.000 inhabitants have been built across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Last December, during a UN General Assembly (UNGA), a new resolution titled “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine” was adopted as an answer to the statement made by Mike Pompeo. The UNGA condemns all settlement activities and demands ceasure of all actions aimed at altering the demographic composition of the territory, it also considers those activities as an obstacle to achieving a just, lasting peace in the Middle East.
However, Israel’s government opposed the resolution. Israel considers international conventions are not legitimate in Palestinian territory since Palestine has never been formed as a proper State; before the Israeli occupation it used to be a British colony and before that, it was under Ottoman control.
The newly announced settlement in Jerusalem consists in expanding the Atarot settlement using the territory of the abandoned airport of Qalandiya and reaching the checkpoint known by the same name. Israel has planned to build around 11000 new unites for settlers in an area of approximately 60 hectares.
The Israeli Labour Party confiscated this land in the beginning of the 70s. The project includes a subterranean tunnel, which connects the new settlement with the west side of the Old City. This idea was developed a few years ago, however, it was suspended due to the international pressure against the Tel Aviv regime’s approach of building new settlements.
“Israelis are looking after their future, their intention is to become a majority inside the city. Some Palestinians will become refugee for the second time”, explains Ali Jeddha, inhabitant of the Old City of East Jerusalem, who has experienced his whole life the deterioration of Palestinians’ lives.
Ali Jeddha lives at the unregistered African quarter, which does not appear on the maps. His father was from Chad and his mother was Palestinian, however, he affirms to be “more catholic than the Pope and more Palestinian than the Palestinians”. When he was a child, he remembers, “there were not settlers, I only remember seeing a few Jews in Jerusalem and we used to live together in peace until I was 17 years old and the colonization started, back to 1967”. It was at this moment that Ali started to understand the meaning of occupation, “I used to listen to how they sang arrogant songs, they humiliated and harassed us, not only the settlers but also the soldiers”. In fact, most Palestinians denounce that, “the soldiers act under the settlers’ orders”, even offering their help to those armed civilians when attacking Palestinian citizens.
In Ali’s words, the announcement of the largest settlement construction across the West Bank in Jerusalem will not be the only change due to the recent statements supporting Israeli occupation policies made by the American government. The closing of the Damascus Gate -current entrance to the Old City- could take place in the near future as well. This would cause the closing down of many Palestinian shops and lead to increasing unemployment and the economic collapse of the community. “Their intention is to decrease the Palestinian population to 12%. Once they are the majority, they will be able to reaffirm that the city of Jerusalem belongs to them. The entrance to the Old City will be Jaffa Gate instead of Damascus Gate, turning the Jewish quarter into the new entrance to East Jerusalem”.
The different control policies implemented by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), created in 1948, and the brutal force used by the settlers are the two main means of oppression used against Palestinians. Some examples of these oppressive policies are the checkpoints which complicate the access to public services such as education and health care, as well as the well-known wall built by Israel as an integral part of its strategy of dominance. The wall was declared illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice as well as the United Nations.
The role of the Israeli army is based on subduing the Palestinian population to their occupation policies with the aim of annexing new territories. Netanyahu, who was recently accused of corruption, is trying to remain inside the government six more months with the only purpose of annexing the Jordan Valley to Israeli territory, counting once again on the unconditional support of Donald Trump.
The Jordan Valley is inhabited by several communities -most of them Bedouins- who face the Israeli occupation policies on a daily basis. Their mere existence has become resistance. These policies include the construction of checkpoints, land confiscation with the purpose of military use, pasture animals confiscation forcing them to pay for the rescue, Israeli monopolization of the water and natural resources, as well as violence perpetuated by settlers.
Sulayman, inhabitant of the Badu al-Ka’abneh community, which is surrounded by settlements, was shot in his leg by a group of settlers while he was grazing his sheep. Following that, he had to sell his flock of sheep in order to pay for the medical costs of his injury. However, Sulayman proved to be one of many examples of Palestinian resilience and he decided to undertake his own business selling coffee and sweets in his van.
The Bedouin communities located across the Jordan Valley are a clear example of the Palestinian struggle. Many Palestinian families decide to stand up and rebuild their houses demolition after demolition, and attack after attack. The right to stay has become a pillar of the Palestinian struggle.
Unfortunately and according to Israeli organization called Yesh Din, less than 9% of the settlers’ attacks committed against Palestinians as well as their properties are punished. Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, a Palestinian activist of “Human Rights Defenders” in Hebron, recorded the soldier named Elor Azaria shooting the head of an injured and defenceless Palestinian at Tel Rumeida neighbourhood in March, 2016. This fact changed his life completely. Elor Azaria was sentenced to only 9 months in jail being considered a hero by most of the settlers whereas Imad’s life became hell until today. “They set our daughter’s hair on fire, our oldest son has been arrested on many occasions and forced to abandon Hebron and his family. They have tried to set our house on fire several times as well as to poison the water in our tanks”.
The last attack suffered by Imad’s family occurred during the “feast of Sarah”, when a group of settlers threw a stone at the head of his 18 months old niece. During this religious celebration, around 50.000 settlers were invited to spend the whole weekend in the Old City of Hebron. They were allowed to cross from the occupied area H2 to the Palestinian area H1, under complete protection of the Israeli army. There were many forms of humiliation and harassment and more than 15 Palestinians were injuredbetween that Friday night and the next afternoon.
Despite the repeated warnings that Imad received from the police, that his testimony could lead to revenge actions committed by the settlers, Imad is still convinced that what he did was the right thing. He explains, “the video I recorded shows a Palestinian that was murdered three times. First, when he was initially shot, second when the Israeli ambulance came to the scene but did not provide him with first aid, and third when he was executed while being defenceless on the floor”.
Cameras have become the essential and truthful companions of the Palestinian struggle. As the collective “Human Rights Defenders” states, “cameras are our weapons of life”. The whole situation has reached such an extreme point that recording and spreading the images is the only way to show and to raise awareness around the world about what living under the Israeli occupation means.
After the video was published, Imad received an anonymous call threatening him, “we will burn you as we did with Dawabsheh’s family”. The extremist group known as Hilltop Youth burnt this family alive, including their 18 months old baby Ali. Ahmed, who was 6 years old, was the only survivor with 90% of his body burnt. Once again, and following the occupation policies, the settlers who committed this terrorist crime were freed after a ridiculous sentence of 9 months in jail.
Most of the attacks perpetuated by settlers in Hebron are aimed at Palestinian families who are still resisting inside the occupied H2 area. After the well-known massacre that took place at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, where 19 Palestinians were murdered by a settler during their prayer, Hebron was divided in two areas: H2 area, under Israeli military control and H1 area, under Palestinian control. In the occupied H2 area and as a consequence of this massacre, Israel forbade the circulation of Palestinian pedestrians as well as vehicles while the army closed down most of their shops destroying the local economy in 1997.
It has been announced that a new settlement will be built in this same area replacing and destroying Hebron’s shuttered market and doubling the number of settlers inside the Old City of Hebron. According to the new Minister of Defence, Naftalí Bennett, the goal is “to create a territorial continuation from the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Avraham Avinu settlement”. In another area close to the market there are already settlers living on the upper floors of Palestinian shops, regularly throwing bleach, alcohol and urine among other things from their windows. Thus, Palestinian merchants have been forced to build metal fences above their stores in order to protect themselves as well as their customers and tourists.
The recent American government statements, Netanyahu’s settlement projects, and the mutual support between these two powerful forces, perpetuate and legitimate the occupation policies. However, popular resistance in Palestine continues today as it did before.
To resist is not an option for those who live under Israeli oppression. To be Palestinian means to be systematically accused; to be guilty until proven innocent, Palestinians are forced to face frisks and humiliation without any reasons by the Israeli army; they are subjected to night raid on their homes. To be Palestinian can even mean to face murder if they walk on the “wrong” street at the “wrong” moment.