Thursday, February 25, 2021

How Israel manipulates “master plans” to seize Palestinian land

Juicebox Gallery

By Matt Matthews - October 05, 2016
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [agriculture] [Bedouins] [Area C] [Jordan Valley]

To villagers fending off armored bulldozers in the West Bank’s Area C, an Israeli-approved plan of construction is an impossible dream. Of around 100 master plans submitted to the Israeli Civil Administration from 2012 to 2016, only three have been approved. But residents in those few villages where a plan has been approved say the whole process is a sham.

Dangled in front of economically insecure villagers as a carrot, master plans are then used as a stick to beat Palestinians into line. Two-thirds of the West Bank is classed as Area C, occupied under Israeli military control. 150,000 Palestinians eke out a living in the Area, where construction without Israeli permission is de facto illegal. They share the land with half a million Israeli settlers, who are able to build with impunity.

The road south through the Jordan Valley bisects villages. On one side, Area B farmers live in respectable, concrete homes. On the other, the frail tents and mud-brick shelters of Area C are scattered across the sparse soil. Plumes of acrid smoke waft from trash fires, and Israeli military vehicles lumber around on the heights.

Fasayil is one such village, carved up by the Oslo Accords and hemmed in by illegal Israeli settlements. A single paved road weaves through mud-brick homes and white-washed concrete houses, before stopping abruptly as the village turns to desert.

I’m welcomed into one of the final homes before the wasteland by Musa, a broad-chested farmer with a skullcap, an impressive beard and a deafeningly loud voice. In one corner of his pristine front room, a television screen shows an aerial shot of pilgrims on Hajj. As we speak, the white-robed pilgrims swirling around the Ka'aba flicker and die, the power-cut prompting Musa to break off our conversation and bellow animatedly into a mobile phone.

Once the power is restored, Musa explains while Fasayil proper is in Area B, his home is in Fasayil al-Fauqa, an Area C village. Verdant settlements are clearly visible from al-Fauqa, across a kilometer of barren land which the villagers are forbidden to farm or develop. Date palms and deep wells suck up water, keeping the settlers’ swimming pools crystal-clear and their produce gleaming and ready for market.

Fifteen years after the 1994 signing of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli authorities finally presented the villagers with a master-plan. But only did the plan fail to provide any space for infrastructure such as a school or a medical clinic, it required residents from another village – Fasayil al-Wusta – to abandon their homes and move into al-Fauqa.

“This is why the Israelis gave us a plan,” Musa tells the Palestine Monitor. “To confiscate our land and put our people in a big jail.” Musa believes the plan was only issued to corral the indigenous villagers into one place, and make way for the neighboring settlements to expand their lucrative farming operations.

Further south in the Valley, meanwhile, master plans are part of an even more ambitious piece of geopolitical chicanery. Suliman Zayed is the head of a Bedouin community in 'Ein ad Duyuk al-Fauqa. He tells the Palestine Monitor that he and his family of 17 “live like soldiers in a barracks”, crowded into substandard housing “that’s like a freezer in the winter and an oven in the summer”.

The stifling heat below the corrugated-iron roof has driven Suliman and his sons to sleep outside below the stars, but this too has its dangers. Laughing, Suliman mimes the sudden appearance of a snake darting from the desert scrub, and his efforts to beat it back with his shoe. “But, really, it’s not safe,” he adds.

Again, Suliman’s family were offered the chance to build legally under Israeli law – if they abandoned their ancestral land, which fell outside the master plan for the area. “It’s an Israeli strategy to control [Bedouin] families,” he says. “Even when they give you the master plan they don’t give you enough space to build for your family or to graze your sheep.”

Suliman is right to be wary. The relocation of 150 Bedouin families to al Jabal village has “destroy[ed] their social fabric and economic base”, a United Nations report revealed. Plagued by “toxic gases… surface fires… rats, packs of dogs [and] cockroaches” from a neighbouring landfill site, the Bedouin in al Jabal also face severe health risks.

Under Israel’s E1 plan, the boundaries of Jerusalem will extend to join up with new and pre-existing settlements, creating a zone of total Israeli control stretching to the Dead Sea and the Jordanian border. As well as cutting the West Bank in two, the plan will displace thousands of Bedouin.

The master plan offered to Suliman was a part of this wider scheme, offered as an enticement to abandon his land and leave it ready and waiting for Israeli expansion.

Living in Area C without a plan is tough. According to Suliman, “If you build even a chicken coop, the Israelis come and destroy it.” His son uses my camera viewfinder to point out the buildings of friend and family on the surrounding hills, every one demolished or condemned by the Israelis.

But far from being rare acts of munificence on behalf of the Israeli courts, master plans are simply issued to restructure strategically important areas.

They place villagers like Suliman and Musa in a cruel Catch-22: give up your home to serve Israeli political interests, or accept your status an illegal interloper on your own land.

“Either way,” Suliman says, “it makes life difficult.”

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