Thursday, December 23, 2010

Breaking the Silence in the South Hebron Hills (Part 2 of 3)

Boring But Necessary Political and Legal Background

A little background on the situation in the West Bank...  before World War I, the Ottoman Empire administered the area now known as West Bank as part of the province of Syria.  After the war, the Brits got the land and allocated it to the British Mandate of Palestine.  In 1948, during Israel's War of Independence, the land was taken by Trans-Jordan/ Jordan, though many states (including Arab states) did not see this annexation as legitimate.  Israel then took control of the land during the Six-Day War in 1967.  The West Bank was never annexed by Israel, though Israel has established martial law there.

Head spinning yet?  And remember, this is a gross oversimplification of the history of the land.  People write doctoral theses on this topic.

The important thing to remember is that the West Bank is under martial law.  This means:
  • Israeli civil law does not apply there;
  • Laws in place before martial law cannot be changed;
  • The military calls the shots, not the police force;
  • The military is present to protect Israeli citizens.
Enter the settlements.

Some Jews believe that they have a religious claim to the land in the West Bank.  Other Israelis see strategic political, economic, and security reasons for Jewish settlements there.  Others simply see it as their historical right to the land.

Remember how laws in place before martial law cannot be changed?  Under Ottoman law, if a man doesn't work his land for a certain period of time, the land becomes "no man's land" and reverts back to the Sultan.  Back in the 1980s, Jews looking to settle in the West Bank (and Gaza, etc.) identified parcels of land that hadn't been worked (often these parcels of land are on the tops of hills, where the soil is poorest; hence many Jewish settlements are on the tops of hills), and claimed that they were "no man's land."  Also under Ottoman law, if a man works "no man's land" for 10 years, it becomes his.  Basically, the strategy of establishing a settlement is to squat on the land for 10 years, then claim it as your own.

settlement building
The problems arise when the land actually still "belongs" to someone else.  I need to put "belongs" in quotation marks, because many poor and/or nomadic people do not hold a paper title to their land, only the claim that they have lived there since their grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's time.  Now, the West Bank is criss-crossed with razor wire and Israeli military check posts and is constantly subjected to curfews.  Everyday life is constantly disrupted in the West Bank.  It may be impossible to work the land, and someone (a settler) may move in before the next opportunity.

Settlements are expanded and legitimized in clever ways.  Around each settlement, a "security buffer" is informally established by the Israeli military and a local Arab security contact.  Arabs are not allowed into the security buffer--even if it is their land.  Settlers plant trees in barrels in the security buffer, then after 10 years, claim that they have been "working" the land and that it's their own.

barrel: eventually this will be a land claim. "working" the land for 10 years..
Settlers may also establish an outpost, maybe just one or two houses.  In order to adequately protect Israeli citizens, the military must make patrols.  As another few buildings go up, the military must provide constant security.  To provide for the soldiers, the military extends water and electric lines to the outpost, and consequently provides services to the settlers.  With the new utility services, more settlers move to the outpost, and eventually it becomes a settlement.

International law (Fourth Geneva Convention) states that an occupying power may not transfer its own population into an occupied territory.  Basically, you can't push a people out of their land by moving in your own people.  For this reason, most of the international community considers the Jewish settlements in disputed territories flat-out illegal.

Remember how martial law means that Israeli civil law does not apply in disputed territories?  There are two sets of laws:  one set for Israeli citizens (settlers), one set for Arabs (non-citizens).  If a 12-year old settler boy throws a stone at an old Arab man's face, the most the Israeli military can do is to call the police and ask them to talk to the minor's parents.  If a 12-year old Arab boy throws a stone at an old Jewish man's face, the military can detain and treat the boy as a terrorist.  The Israeli military is unable, or unwilling depending on who you ask, to mediate conflict between settlers and Arabs.

All of this leads to trememdous conflict between Jewish settlers and Arabs.

Whew!  I think that's enough political and legal background for now.  Most of this information was presented by our BTS guide, and obviously he has an opinion on the situation, but I've done my best to present the facts neutrally.  I'm neither historian nor lawyer; yell at me if I've got anything horribly wrong.

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