Despite knowing that settlements have broken the peace process, Israel is forging ahead with plans to build new Jew-only colonies on Arab land, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem
|Click to view caption|
| Palestinians use sling-shots to hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest against the expansion of the Jewish settlement of Halamish near Ramallah |
Taking advantage of the ongoing turbulence in the Arab world, the proximity of the US presidential elections, and the international community's manifest powerlessness to check aggressive Israeli unilateralism, the Israeli government has been stepping up hostile measures against the largely unprotected Palestinian community.
The measures, which include the seizure of a large swathe of Palestinian-owned land for settlement expansion, wanton home demolition as well as unrelenting attacks and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and their property, are aimed at rendering unrealistic and impossible the goal of establishing a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank.
The latest colonialist Israeli scheme would confiscate thousands of acres of mostly privately owned Arab land south of Bethlehem. This week, the Israeli occupation army approved the establishment of a new permanent settlement south of the Biblical city. The new settlement would include a large farm as well other infrastructure. It would also cut off the southern West Bank -- the Hebron region -- from the Bethlehem and Ramallah regions, putting an end to Palestinian demographic continuity in the vicinity.
Virtually powerless Palestinian Authority (PA) officials described Israel's plans to build a new settlement as "outrageous". One PA official labelled the new expansion scheme as an "act of rape".
PA spokespersons appealed to Egypt and the European Union to condemn and actively oppose Israeli plans, rightly described as "effective decapitation of the last hopes for a dignified peace in the region".
Israel has already seized numerous square kilometres of land throughout the West Bank, especially in the Jerusalem region and Jordan Valley. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem, the Israeli government built as many as 2500 settler units in 2011 on land occupied in 1967.
Israel has established as many as 270 settlements of various sizes in the West Bank, which many cartographers, demographers and political experts contend has killed any realistic prospect for the implementation of the two-state solution.
Israel, observers opine, feels safe and nearly immune from American pressure in light of the approaching election season in the United States where criticism of Israel, even if justified, could mean political suicide for the Obama administration as well as other presidential hopefuls.
One Republican presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, has told a Jewish American audience that the Palestinians were an "invented people". The obscene canard was apparently meant to procure votes and especially money from the powerful Jewish community.
Israel seems also convinced that the EU, thoroughly preoccupied with its own financial and economic woes, is not in a position to exert meaningful pressure on Israel. Some EU member states, such as Germany, are considered among the closest allies of Tel Aviv.
In addition to stealing more Palestinian territory in broad daylight for settlement expansion, Israel has also been demolishing more Arab homes in various parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
One of the homes demolished in Beit Hanina, a Jerusalem neighbourhood on Sunday, 11 December, belonged to the sister of one of the Palestinian prisoners recently freed as part of the Gilad Shalit swap deal between Israel and Hamas.
The homeowners, the Al-Razem family, accused the Israeli government of punishing the former prisoner by "destroying our home".
"There can be no justice for non-Jews in Israel. I think the Jews have learned the worst thing possible for their former oppressors. Justice for non-Jews doesn't exist in the Jewish lexicon," said Umm Nidal Al-Razem, the sister of the freed prisoner Fouad Al Razem. "They just want to expel us from our land; they want an Arab-free Israel."
According to reliable Jerusalem sources, Israel expelled as many as 800 Palestinian families from East Jerusalem in the past two years. The expulsions, says Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Ahmed Qurei are tantamount to silent ethnic cleansing.
Meanwhile, Nazi-like Jewish settlers attacked and vandalised several Palestinian villages and hamlets in the northern West Bank, including Aseera Al-Qibleya near Nablus. Locals and eyewitnesses reported that as many as a hundred heavily armed settlers, dressed in black uniforms, attacked village homes, smashing windows and car windshields. The attackers also fired heavily into the air.
The settlers who had arrived from the nearby Yetzhar settlement went on terrorising Palestinians and vandalising their property for more than 30 minutes before withdrawing to Yetzhar. The Israeli army did very little to restrain the settlers. Palestinians often accused the Israeli army of using the settlers as a paramilitary force to attack and persecute the Palestinian population.
The settlers espouse an extremist doctrine that stipulates that non-Jews livin
g under Jewish religious law, or halacha, ought to be enslaved as water carriers or wood hewers, expelled or physically exterminated.
In another twist of events involving Jewish settlers, scores of settlers, known as hilltop youths, crossed over the River Jordan and seized an old building before returning to the western bank of the river. An Israeli spokesman said the setters were protesting Jordanian pressure on Israel to reconsider plans to destroy a bridge in East Jerusalem, near Al-Aqsa Mosque, known as the Maghariba Bridge, which the Palestinians and Arab states consider a serious alteration of the status quo in the city.
Israel is claiming the wooden ramp leading from the Buraq Wall, known in Jewish phraseology as the Wailing Wall or Western Wall, may collapse and will have to be replaced. However, Muslim officials have condemned Israeli plans as part of Israeli efforts to obliterate the Islamic identity of East Jerusalem, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, along with its large court and esplanade, is considered the third holiest shrine in Islam.
"This is a violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy place," said one Hamas official in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government has asked the municipality of Jerusalem, which is controlled by Talmudic and right-wing Jewish groups, to postpone work on the wooden bridge, apparently due to Jordanian and Egyptian pressure.