Land Day 2017: Israel's relentless land grab continues

By Rachel Borrell, Amnesty International’s research and campaigns assistant on Israel/ Palestine

Today’s commemoration of Land Day is an emblematic reminder of the countless human rights violations that have characterised a half century of Palestinian land confiscation and dispossession.

During the first Land Day in 1976 Palestinian citizens of Israel protested against the Israeli government’s expropriation of 2,000 hectares of land surrounding Palestinian villages in the Galilee. Six Palestinians were killed and more than 100 were injured when Israeli forces crushed the protests.

Every year since, Palestinian communities in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have gathered on 30 March to commemorate these events, to highlight Israel’s ongoing seizure of Palestinian land, and to reaffirm their connection to the land.

This year’s Land Day will be marked with a march between Deir Hana and Sakhnin in northern Israel, as well as demonstrations and events across central Israel and the Negev/Naqab region, and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The protests are often met with brutal and excessive use of force by Israel.

In Umm al-Hiran, one of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab region, protesters are planning to plant trees and rehabilitate some of the structures that were demolished earlier this year by the Israeli authorities, after residents lost a long legal battle against eviction orders to enable government construction of a new community for Jewish residents. 

In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, concerts, marches and olive tree planting events are planned in acts of protest against Israel’s continuous occupation and aggressive land-grab policies. The first few months of 2017 alone have seen an alarming surge in illegal settlement activity and home demolitions in the occupied West Bank.

Since January the Israeli government, emboldened by President Donald Trump’s inauguration, has authorized the construction of more than 6,219 illegal settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, including 719 in East Jerusalem. These announcements not only mark a shift from the Israeli government’s more cautious approach under the Obama administration but also fly in the face of UN Security Council resolution 2334, passed in December last year, which calls on Israel to immediately cease all settlement activities in the OPT.

In recent weeks a number of Israeli Knesset members have proposed a law to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem, along with other settlements in close proximity to the city.

As long as the world continues to turn a blind eye to Israel’s relentless land grab and settlement expansion, both serious violations of international humanitarian law, the human rights of Palestinians will continue to be trampled on with impunity
Rachel Borrell

Although the bill has been temporarily blocked by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the proposal is alarming. In addition to flagrantly violating international law, such a move would have potentially catastrophic consequences. Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem are connected by the contentious E1 area, a 12km2 piece of land that provides a vital passage between the northern and southern West Bank. Should Israeli construction take place on this land, a continuous Israeli settler presence will be established from occupied East Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, effectively cutting the West Bank in half and severing East Jerusalem from the remainder of the occupied West Bank. 

Recent months have also seen a marked increase in demolitions of Palestinian homes. At least 24 Bedouin homes and other structures around the Ma’ale Adumim settlement were demolished in the first two months of 2017, compared to an average of 32 total demolitions per year between 2013 and 2015.

In another push to consolidate their land confiscation, on 6 February, the Israeli Knesset also passed a law that retroactively legalises the seizure of private Palestinian land on which settlements have already been established. The law prevents Palestinian land owners from laying claim to their land if Israeli settlers are living on it, despite the fact that the settlers’ presence in occupied territory is illegal under international law.

It has been estimated that the law will retroactively legalize 53 settlements and outposts - allowing for the expropriation of approximately 8,000 dunams (80 hectares) of private Palestinian land. The law also risks galvanising the confiscation of yet more private Palestinian land by providing a basis for further retroactive legalization of land grabs.

The recent acceleration in home demolitions, combined with the push to expand settlements and moves to legalise prior land grabs, gives a damning indication of the Israeli government’s intention to continue and accelerate its land-grab policies 50 years on from its initial capture and occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Fifty years of indifference from the international community has only served to spur the Israeli government on in its expropriation of Palestinian land and expansion of illegal settlements
Rachel Borrell

Fifty years of indifference from the international community has only served to spur the Israeli government on in its expropriation of Palestinian land and expansion of illegal settlements. In a speech last Friday UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov confirmed that no steps have yet been taken to cease settlement activities in the  OPT in order to comply with UN resolution 2334. The fact that Mladenov’s update was not delivered in a written report by the UN Secretary-General himself has been interpreted by some as a lack of commitment by the UN to implement the resolution.

As long as the world continues to turn a blind eye to Israel’s relentless land grab and settlement expansion, both serious violations of international humanitarian law, the human rights of Palestinians will continue to be trampled on with impunity and UN resolutions like resolution 2334 or theresolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council last week calling on states to regulate trade with illegal settlements, will remain little more than empty gestures. The international community must take a clear stand and show that it will no longer tolerate Israel’s illegal policies of annexation and settlement.

Otherwise, Palestinians will continue to have plenty to protest at annual Land Day demonstrations.

This OpEd was first published by Al Jazeera here