The quiet population transfer that dares not speak its name

A quiet phenomenon has been taking place over the last decade: the quiet dispossession of the Palestinians from their lands, which in turn increases their despair and leads them to abandon their villages. All this is done in our name and with our funds, but the government makes certain Israelis remain ignorant of the facts.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

The quiet population transfer that dares not speak its name
A new Yesh Din report reveals how despair causes Palestinians to abandon their villages, which settlers eventually turn into illegal outposts.

Yesh Din published one of most comprehensive reports, The Road to Dispossession (which has its own mini-site), dealing with the illegal outpost Adei Ad. The outpost sits between four Palestinian villages and robs them of their lands. The information we gathered shows a quiet phenomenon of the last decade: the dispossession of the Palestinians from their lands, which in turn increases their despair and leads them to abandon their villages. In other words, a quiet population transfer, paving the road to the annexation of Area C to Israel. The annexation is already in practice: Yesh Din recently received a letter saying the government intends to whitewash the outpost Derekh Avot, by declaring the Palestinian lands on which it sits to be public lands.

Yesh Din documented 96 criminal offenses carried out by Israeli civilians around Adei Ad, where 26 families reside. The number would look more impressive once one recalls that these are only the offenses the organization managed to record (Yesh Din was founded in 2005, Adei Ad in 1998 – Yesh Din’s ability to investigate events prior to 2005 is very limited). Thus, it should be stated that there are many undocumented offenses. Among these Yesh Din can track: 21 offenses deal with violence against Palestinians, 47 with property crimes, and 28 offenses of taking over land. The Israeli police closed almost all of the cases, and in 92% of the cases, the investigators failed to do their job and find the culprit.

As a result of several international obligations, the government has found it difficult to create new settlements since 1999. A government resolution from 1995 forbids the creation of new settlements. So the process of building new ones has, in effect, been privatized: a process which can be hardly considered as anything but a conspiracy between the government and the settlers. As the latter go off what would officially be considered illegal building of settlements, the government (which declared the action illegal) is swift to provide the outlaws with IDF protection, as well as all of the utilities the settlers need. The Sasson Report, which will celebrate its tenth birthday in a year, used a very harsh language:

It would appear, therefore, that violation of the law became a fixture, became institutionalized. We do not deal with a felon or a group of felons acting against the law. The picture is that of blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, local councils in the Judea and Samaria region, and the settlers – all while presenting a false image of an institutional system acting legally.

Almost all of the outposts were built – partially or fully – on private Palestinian lands, and each outpost has several rings of damage around it. The first ring is that of the outpost itself; entry to it is of course forbidden to Palestinians. As most of the outposts sit, at least partially, on private lands, forbidding access to them is a severe blow to the ability of the Palestinians to make a living. These rings tend to extend: when Adei Ad was created in 1998, it had five families which used 15,554 square meters of land. In 2002, the territory of the outpost was 140,902 sq. meters – almost ten times its original size. In 2003, it grew to 442,250 sq. meters (and contained 37 buildings, all built at large distance from one another), and in 2010, the lands of the outpost were enlarged to 465,321 sq. meers – about 30 times its original size. 26 families now live in the outpost.

The second ring is the outpost’s security perimeter, which is also closed to Palestinians. The third ring contains lands close to the security perimeters, which the Palestinians may enter only rarely, and only by permission of the authorities – the same authorities described by Sasson as allowing “ violation of the law to become a fixture, become institutionalized.” Often, such access is limited to several days or at most several weeks a year, with the IDF – which is for all practical matters the collaborator of the criminals here – using an unimaginable process. It informs the residents, orally and not in writing, that a certain portion of land is closed to them, but not to the settlers, of course. Everything goes according to the ill will of the local commander, without any practical way to appeal this decision. Try and tell the court “I was forbidden entry by Captain Danny”, without any documentation of the order. The IDF Spokesman was forced to admit no documentation of these orders was found.

The fourth ring is the most fiery: what is left of the agricultural lands of the Palestinian villages and towns that the Israeli authorities have yet to completely steal. Their residents suffer from regular attacks by settlers, particularly on the agricultural lands. These attacks include burning houses of residents, stealing of their property, assault on animals and men, and sometimes even poisoning of animals. Many of these attacks are carried out under the aegis of the IDF, with the soldiers preventing the Palestinians from defending themselves or actively participating in the assault on them, contrary to international law, which says the occupying power has to defend the occupied population. And then comes the law enforcement apparatus of the police and closes the circle: A Palestinian can expect nothing but injustice from the occupation forces.

The expected result was not long in coming. The villagers residing near Adei Ad – those of Jaloud, Al Mourayer, Kraiut and Thurmusia – understood that their livelihood is less stable than ever. The young people began abandoning them. Kraiut was mostly abandoned: six thousand have left, and only 2,800 residents remain. Out of the thousand residents of Jaloud, only 400 remain. The numbers from the other two villages are less clear, but reports from Thurmusia say a large number of residents left for foreign countries, and the money they send home is now the main source of income for the village.

All this is done in our name and with our funds, but the government and its operational arm, the outpost hoodlums, make certain Israelis remain ignorant of the facts. The lack of knowledge, partially a result of the decision by the media, is what makes dispossession possible, is what prevents a public outcry when each and every one of us is turned into a partner in stealing the fruits of the labor of people who are poor as it is.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. 

Report: How settlers turn Palestinian lands into illegal outposts