“Some force is always making refugees. There is not a moment for Palestinians to reflect in a calm situation without being attacked and displaced; Israel annexes and displaces.” -- Amjad Alqasis, Badil Resource Centre.
It is often and rightly noted that the “conflict” between Palestinians and Israelis is not a static situation or a stalemate between leaders. Indeed, for Palestinians, the very opposite is horrifyingly true: change is constant, with terrifying speed and dire, profound consequences. The loss of Palestinian land and resources to a colonial settler movement with the inevitable generation of refugees continues.
Two complementary processes have marked Zionist settler colonialism in historic Palestine: the continuous creation of refugees and the appropriation of Palestinians’ resources. One feeds into the other in a cycle of colonization driven by the aims of an ethnocratic state.
The most dramatic example of the symbiosis between control of resources and the creation of Palestinian refugees is the Nakbah, when Zionists increased the land they controlled by ten-fold and expelled 750,000 Palestinians through a carefully designed and implemented military operation that took place from late 1947 to 1949.
The Nakbah created the largest number of homeless and stateless Palestinians in the history of Zionist settler colonialism. However, both before and after the Nakbah, Palestinians have been continuously displaced, albeit at a slower but steady and currently quickening pace.
After the 1967 military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the last pieces of historic Palestine were availed forZionist colonization. The war created another 200-250,000 displaced persons and only a small fraction of these people was permitted to return.
The next phase would be characterized by what Saree Makdisi has labeled “slow-motion” dispossession. This plodding but no less excruciating dispossession has been officiated by a military buttressed by a convoluted body of legal memoranda, laws and opinions, providing the whole business with a veneer of legitimacy.
Historian Patrick Wolfe describes Israel’s model of settler colonialism as an “Unparalleled example of deliberate, explicit planning. No campaign of territorial dispossession was ever waged more thoughtfully.”
Israel came of age in an era when most colonial enterprises were in remission; the understanding of this context may help to explain Israel’s methodical use of legal and official means to pursue its expropriation of Palestine- in contravention of international legal standards.
Israel vigorously endeavors to maintain its appearance as a western democracy that is respectful of international law. Amjad Alqasis, a legal researcher at Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Refugees, describes Israel as “smarter and more eloquent” than other colonizers. “Israel is keen on having excuses for what they are doing,” Alqasis proffers.
The dispossession and displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank has largely been at the hands of tactics that Alqasis calls “silent transfer”.
“Under international law, forcible displacement can occur not just at gunpoint but also if you create an unbearable situation. Silent transfer describes this very kind of expulsion,” Alqasis says.
Thus Israel’s take-over of Palestinians resources has proven to be a key instrument to silently transfer Palestinian populations. By cutting off access to necessities including water, agricultural lands, homes, schools and jobs, those affected are forced to simply leave. The legal justifications for these expropriations are—and would seem explicitly intended to be—lethal to Palestinian rights to their land which, in turn, creates endless instability as well as a constantly renewed population of refugees—and, notably, keeps these refugees from ever returning.
While refugees may not be directly alluded to, they are implicit targets of Israeli policies that assume control over Palestinian resources.
Israeli mining in the West Bank
The recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court which affirms Israel’s right to mine Palestinian quarries in the West Bank flouts international law while codifying Israeli prerogatives to settle and control the occupied land.
In the decision, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch argues that the international laws that govern a belligerent occupation should yield to the exceptional circumstances of Israel’s prolonged occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In this case, the occupier’s activity in question is mining: eight Israeli quarries operate in the West Bank today, extracting stone that is sold on the Israeli market at a rate that will see the resources depleted in the next thirty-eight years.
Israeli mining activity in the West Bank is, in the eyes of legal scholars and activists, a conspicuous violation of the law of the “usufruct rule” enshrined in Article 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations that prohibits an Occupying Power from exploiting the natural resources of the occupied territory for its own benefit.
Yesh Din, an Israeli legal rights organization, initially petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of the quarries that sell up to 94 percent of stone and gravel inside the state of Israel, and thereby not in service of the “local population” as international law requires. However, Yesh Din’s concern about pillage and economic exploitation was swept away by Chief Justice Beinisch’s conclusion that the “unique characteristics” of Israel’s occupation require an “adjustment of the law.”
Writing on behalf of the Court’s decision, Beinisch says:
As has been held in many occasions under our rulings, the belligerent occupation of Israel in the Area has some unique characteristics, primarily the duration of the occupation period that requires the adjustment of the law to the reality on the ground, which imposes a duty upon Israel to ensure normal life for a period, which…is certainly long-term.
Beinisch upholds the State’s defense of the quarries’ activity, arguing the issue falls under the jurisdiction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)-Israel Interim Agreements of 1993. Critically, the court decision affirms the authority of the Interim Agreements without noting the expiration of these agreements: the quarries were supposed to be transferred to Palestinian control after eighteen months. However, that never happened. Furthermore, as the name asserts, the Interim Agreements were meant to govern a transition period with a scheduled end date of 1999.
Nevertheless, in this December 2011 decision, the Israeli court affirmed the agreements’ otherwise expired authority, thereby also affirming the division of Palestinian land into its insidious and onerous hierarchy of autonomy that designates areas of the West Bank as A, B, or C.
The court’s preservation of the Interim Agreements legitimates Israel’s continued grip on Area C, which represents sixty percent of the West Bank. Significantly, Area C is currently the largest source of internally displaced Palestinians, and is a category created under the expired Interim Agreements. Moreover, Area C sees the infliction of the most devastating occupation policies and military orders. Rampant home demolitions, denial of access to water and electricity, and restrictions against building necessary infrastructure are the ‘legitimate” consequences of policies that all but directly expel Palestinians from the West Bank. Only the barrel of a gun could be a more emphatic tool of displacement.
Indeed, as a result of these policies, the number of displaced Palestinians continues apace. According to statistics compiled by the international aid agency Save the Children, in 1967 there were approximately 200,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, which is almost entirely labeled Area C. Today, there are only 56,000 remaining, the vast majority of whom live in Jericho, which is designated Area A.
Alqasis stresses: “As a Palestinian, you are either a refugee or on the edge of becoming one.”
The number of Palestinians in the Diaspora is estimated to be 4.8 million; those living in the West Bank is 2.5 million and in the Gaza Strip, 1.5 million. Those Palestinians living in Area A, the only population over which the Palestinian Authority has even nominal jurisdiction, is even smaller.
“The Palestinian Authority’s mandate is only Area A, a very miniscule and specific area,” explained Alqasis.
Thus, by asserting that the authority of the Palestinian Authority and the Interim Agreements—which notably fail to address Palestinian refugees—eclipses the authority of international law, the court willfully sacrifices the rights of the largest sectors of Palestinians.
Who is indigenous?
To achieve and justify its aims, Zionism has asserted historic Jewish entitlement to the land and resources and thus also challenged Palestinians as the indigenous population of the area. The state actively asserts the region’s Jewish history by a conscious harkening back to the Biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah-whether through its archaeological focus on King David’s home in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem, or by labeling the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. As much as Israel forges a continuum of Jewish belonging to the land, it denies Palestinians their place anywhere on the land. It is documented that Israel has undermined the indigenous rights of as well as destabilized and displaced the Bedouin populations inside the state of Israel. Now we see the court doing the same to Palestinians in the West Bank.
Within the same decision adjudicating on Israeli mining operations in the West Bank, the court finds that the activity of the quarries serves the benefit of the “local population”-which includes Israeli settlers living in the West Bank:
It was held, inter alia, that the operation of the quarry was not inconsistent with the rules of international law due to the fact that some of its products also were used for projects within the Judea and Samaria area, thus constituting an action for the benefit of the local population or local needs. According to the State, some of the quarrying products in the case under discussion also are being used for projects within the territory of the Palestinian Authority, including the Gaza Strip.
This rather more subtle argument is buried within the folds of the more prominently objectionable permission to pillage, but is no less poisonous to the Palestinian residents. By iterating that Jewish settlers in the West Bank are just part of the local population—rather than Israeli citizens transferred and kept there by the government—Beinisch contributes to a legal lexicon that obfuscates Israel’s colonizing role in the West Bank and continues to intentionally blur the state’s actual boundaries.
Duane Champagne, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles in the American Indian Studies department, writes “Nation-states often fear indigenous communities’ claims to self-government and cultural autonomy, which threaten the territorial and political stability of nation- states.”
Indeed, it appears that Beinisch has taken aim at this threat of competing nationalism in order to protect the future and stability of the state of Israel.
While it is endlessly galling, it can surprise no one that Israel argues within its own courts the legality of its continuing and cruel dispossession and pillage of Palestinian resources. But the ruling surely must confirm to the international community that it cannot wait for Israel to willingly halt its illegal, immoral and decades-long colonization of Palestine. Nor can it expect refugees—current and future—to be allotted justice.
Admonishing, Alqasis says, “70 percent of Palestinians are refugees. It won’t take another 60 years to displace the final 30 percent.”
Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies, Valume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2012