Josh Newmark is a History and Politics graduate from Durham University and an incoming History MSc at the University of Edinburgh, currently teaching in Salamanca. He is part of the youth-led #DontSettleForThis campaign with Yachad, the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement in the UK.
The security of a roof over one’s head, a space for personal and familial privacy… Having “a place to call home” is widely recognised as an essential prerequisite for human wellbeing. This is acknowledged across the political spectrum – from the phrase “property-owning democracy” shared by both Thatcherites and American liberal philosopher John Rawls, to left-wing movements for affordable housing. In Judaism, too, the value of having a home is recognised. A key aspect of Judaism’s story is learning from the experience of being a people in exile, yearning for a home – “love the stranger, for we were once strangers in Egypt” is a frequent refrain in the Torah. Moreover, the Jewish household is of central importance to Jewish life – with its important physical features, like the mezuzah (boxed prayer scroll attached to each door frame), and key practical functions, such as hosting the traditional Friday night family meal to welcome the Sabbath. Undoubtedly, this is one of the motivating factors for young British Jews’ repugnance towards the Israeli’s government continuing policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.
Yachad is a British Jewish NGO which promotes support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Jewish community through education, debate, and advocacy. Under the hashtag #DontSettleForThis, young Yachad activists are raising awareness within the Jewish community of the demolitions of Palestinian homes, and pushing the UK government to help prevent these demolitions.
According to Israeli humans rights NGO B’Tselem, Israel has demolished at least 1,323 Palestinian residential units in the occupied West Bank, plus over 600 just in East Jerusalem, since 2006. This policy has taken homes from over 8,000 people in that time period, more than 50% of them minors. These figures exclude the demolitions which Israel controversially carries out upon the family homes of convicted or deceased terrorists. Rather, these are homes which are being demolished because they have been built without permits. While demolishing such structures might seem to be the right, even obligation, of a governing authority, only a little detail is necessary to make clear that this policy is an inflammatory and unjust policy which compounds the wider injustice of the occupation itself. The dual policy of allowing and stoking a Palestinian housing shortage whilst allocating land for well-planned, well-connected illegal Israeli settlements, often with illegal (even under Israeli law) structures tolerated on them, highlights the deep inequality inherent in the occupation.
Here are the details. The Oslo Accords, the failed peace process initiated in the mid-1990s, divided the West Bank into three categories of land. The more densely-populated urban Palestinian areas such as Ramallah were designated Areas A and B and placed under de jure Palestinian Authority control. The remaining 61% was designated Area C, remaining under full Israeli control, but intended to pass gradually into Palestinian control apart from those areas whose fate would be decided by the “permanent status negotiations” on key sticking points (Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, etc). Palestinians are completely barred from construction in roughly 70% of Area C (over two-fifths of the total land of the West Bank) due to moves by Israeli authorities such as designating areas as “state land”, closed military zones (20% of the West Bank), and nature reserves or national parks. In the remaining 30% of Area C, the Israeli authorities (elected only by Israeli citizens) very rarely grant permits for building or infrastructure to their 180-300,000 Palestinians residents, even on private land. Only 1.5% of such applications between 2010 and 2014 were approved.
As B’Tselem notes:
From 2010 to 2015, the Palestinian Authority prepared 108 outline plans for 116 communities in Area C, 77 of which were submitted to the planning authorities in the Civil Administration [Israeli military authorities governing Area C] for approval. However, these efforts were to no avail. By the end of 2015, only three had been approved, covering a total area of 57 hectares (0.02% of Area C).
Against this backdrop of a suppression of Palestinian development in Area C, the Palestinian population has almost doubled since the Oslo Accords saw the West Bank divided in 1995, leaving the remaining land reserves in the Palestinian-governed parts of the West Bank insufficient. Of that land that does remain in Areas A and B, even land better suited for agriculture has been used up for new housing, a symptom of the growing shortage. In East Jerusalem, the existence of a Palestinian housing crisis is abundantly clear, with an annual deficit of 1500 residential units for Palestinians resulting in constant illegal construction works. With last year having the second-highest number of demolitions in East Jerusalem since 2000, it is a very real threat hanging over Palestinian families. And whereas when the authorities do occasionally demolish the homes of Israeli settlers for lack of permits, those illegal settlers are often compensated handsomely, as with the Amona and Netiv Ha’avot outposts, while Palestinians can expect nothing.
These statistics attest to an abject policy failure at best, and at worst, when regarded besides the evidence (Netanyahu: “we are building and we will continue to build”) that the Israeli administration is keen to grant new planning permission for Israeli settlements, they point to a grave injustice. Attempts to justify the policy have become more untenable, with one right-wing Israeli Member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) labelling unauthorised Palestinian attempts to build as “construction terror”. Such a tactic is increasingly familiar, with nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activism labelled “terrorism” and Palestinian attempts to challenge the Israeli State through international litigation as “lawfare”. The designation of all nonviolent forms of Palestinian protest or opposition as “terrorism” is creating a hopeless situation in which actual terrorism will thrive. In fact, unlawful construction only ‘terrorises’ those seeking total Jewish settlement of Area C. Take the example of Umm Al-Khair, a tiny Bedouin village, on privately-owned Bedouin land, in which almost every building is under threat of demolition. Who are the residents terrorising, by clinging on to their own land there and surviving in “ramshackle” and, yes, illegal structures? Metres away stands the illegal Israeli settlement of Carmel, which resembles “ city”, and where the chickens on the poultry farm receive more water and electricity than the Bedouins. Consider then, what is really meant by “construction terror”.
To return to the young Yachad activists. We are largely drawn from positions of leadership in various Jewish community youth groups, and our aim, through the various campaigns we have organised, is to campaign and raise support for human rights, an end to the occupation of Palestinian land and people, and the coexistence of a just, pluralistic Israel and a just, independent Palestine. The demolition issue is only one component of this complex conflict, but it is one which seems particularly malicious, dehumanising, and destabilising in the quest for peace. To create the minimal good faith that is needed to build solutions to the conflict and rectify the dire situation of many of its actors, people should say #DontSettleForThis and take action to end the demolitions.
Map of Area C from December 2011 (Wikipedia)