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Persistence and Prayer: a Palestinian community’s fight for their hill

January 26, 2020

‘Whilst there are strict planning policies in Israel to ensure that industrial areas do not pollute or otherwise negatively impact local Israeli communities, such policies do not exist in the occupied West Bank.’

EA Billy

On the 6th December 2019, around 200 local Palestinians gathered by the side of road 574, running out of Tulkarm and southeast between the villages of Khirbet Jubara and Izbat Shufa. Local media were there, and so were many candidates for the upcoming local elections. It was a Friday, and many attending were taking the opportunity to catch up on the week’s events. At 11:30 in the morning, they began to pray.

The reason for this organised event relates to the large hill at the bottom of which the crowd was gathered. This hill and the area around it has recently been earmarked by Israeli authorities as the site for the construction of a new Industrial Zone. The site is approximately 3km inside the West Bank, and consists of land that has been illegally confiscated from local Palestinian farmers, many of whom were at the protest. The farmers do not receive compensation for the loss of their land.

Protesters rest at the top of the hill, with Izbat Shufa in the background

Raed Mahmoud, Palestinian farmer at the protest

‘They’re not just taking our land, they’re taking our clean air and clean water. They’re taking our quality of life’.

Raed Mahmoud

Raed Mahmoud is one farmer who was at the protest, and owns land on the affected site. He said that he was not informed about Israel’s plans and only found out by searching for them online. He also highlighted the negative effects that will come after construction, such as air and water pollution.

Another farmer told us that 11 different clans from Izbat Shufa own land in the affected area. This constitutes a huge portion of the population of the village, and the loss of land would have devastating effects on the economic wellbeing of Izbat Shufa. He also said that some of the affected land is common land owned by all of the community and that they plant almonds and olive trees there.

According to Who Profits, there are 19 such ‘Industrial Zones’ in the West Bank. These zones ‘house a wide spectrum of export-oriented Israeli manufacturers and a smaller number of international corporations’. They produce a wide variety of products, including carpets, alloy coatings, and security fences. They are built in Area C, over which Israel exercises full military and planning control. Area C makes up approximately 60% of the West Bank.

Blueprint for the planned Industrial Zone. Immediately to the North of the map is Izbat Shufa, and to the south is Khirbet Jubara

A similar construction, the Barkan Industrial Zone, has already been built along the area of Highway 5 near the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. Supporters of the zone claim that they are a net benefit to the West Bank as they provide employment opportunities to local Palestinians. Opponents say these zones are built on occupied land and pollute the local area, and do not pay adequate wages to Palestinian workers. They say that Israel is simply taking advantage of cheap labour and lower levels of environmental protection, and that the zones are serving to make the occupation more financially feasible.

‘Those under occupation cannot seek justice in the occupier’s courts.’

B’Tselem

After prayers, the crowd climbed to the top of the hill and planted new olive trees at its summit, a gesture of defiance against the new plans. Within days, word had filtered through that these trees had been cut down by the Israeli military. However, there are plans to continue coming to the site in the future, and local farmers are in touch with lawyers to continue their legal battle in Israeli courts. Unfortunately, Palestinians do not have a good history of success with legal appeals relating to the occupation, with all cases needing to go through the Israeli court system. According to Israeli Human rights organisation, B’Tselem, the Israeli High Court regards Israeli planning policy in the West Bank as ‘lawful and legitimate’ and ‘those under occupation cannot seek justice in the occupier’s courts’.

Instances of land confiscation and environmental damage are widespread in the West Bank. The Norweigan Refugee Council provided assistance to over 28,000 Palestinians in 2018 who requested legal assistance in relation to land issues. Palestinian NGO, Al Haq has also written several reports about the environmental problems that come with the occupation, such as confiscation of solar panels, environmental degradation and exploitation of resources, most recently; Adaptation under Occupation: Climate Change Vulnerability in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

What does international law say?

‘In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden... To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.’

Article 23g, The Hague Regulations, 1907

by EA Billy    –    December 14, 2018

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