Reportage. Israeli settlers continue their seizure of Palestinian lands under the not-so-quiet assent of the military authorities. ‘Without the assistance of the army, they would not have gotten this far.’

Annexation of the West Bank is officially halted – but not really

On Monday, a great cloud of dust enveloped the area of Kisan, a Palestinian village of 800 inhabitants between Bethlehem and Hebron around which two Jewish settlements, Maale Amos and Avi Menahem, have been built. Among the dust, one could see the silhouettes of bulldozers with enormous wheels, their drivers intent on clearing the land of the village for the expansion of the colony of Ibei Ha Nahal, built in 1999.

This has been happening for seven days, and the Israeli settlers have been moving caravans and campers to the area. Meanwhile, last month the military authorities blocked the renovation of the Kisan primary school, forcing the inhabitants to use caravans as improvised classrooms. Other bulldozers will soon come into action, just a few kilometers from Kisan.

The Palestinians have revealed that the Israeli authorities announced the confiscation of 70 hectares of the land belonging to local families in Wahsh, Asaker and Masda, at the foot of the Jabal al-Fureidis (“Mountain of Paradise”), better known as the Herodion, a hill in the shape of a truncated cone on the top of which Herod the Great had a fortified palace built. The area has already been fenced in with barbed wire.

The plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of an initial 30% of the West Bank has been put on deep freeze, at least for now, by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is grappling with the worsening coronavirus emergency and is still waiting for the Trump administration’s final green light. However, that doesn’t mean that the meter-by-meter annexation of land, which has been going on since 1967, has stopped. On the contrary, the army, the government and especially the Israeli settlers are active during this period, and are starting or completing projects both old and new in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A few weeks ago, the settlers set up a new outpost above the village of Asira a-Shamaliya, north of Nablus. At first, this was just a couple of caravans and a makeshift barn, but this was enough to put down roots. And on July 7 came the inevitable bulldozer, which raised an embankment between the outpost and the village. Now, the settlers are trying to set up a stable presence, while the Israeli soldiers, present at a nearby military camp, are unwilling to do anything to clear out a colonial settlement that is illegal both under Israeli law and international law.

“First they occupied private land owned by the village families, and then they brought sheep and goats to raise them in the area around the outpost. And a few days ago, a generator and a large water tank arrived. For now, they haven’t made any moves, but their presence doesn’t allow the farmers to work the land in that area,” explains Hazem Yasin to journalists, the mayor of Asira a-Shamaliya, who is accusing the Israeli military authorities of helping the settlers. “Without the assistance of the army, they would not have gotten this far.”

There is no hard proof, but when the Palestinian protests began, the Israeli military came to defend the settlers’ outpost, firing stun grenades and tear gas at the villagers and some Palestinian activists. And they certainly didn’t ask the settlers to leave. The military spokesman spoke of a “tactical” decision, and promised that the embankment would be removed. However, according to the people of Asira a-Shamaliya, the military is actually helping the settlers to connect the outpost to the power grid and is providing them with water. Dror Etkes, an Israeli settlement policy expert, confirmed to us that the settlers rarely move without some kind of coordination with the army.

Meanwhile, in the nearby Kufr Qaddum, there are ongoing weekly demonstrations of the inhabitants because of the closure—almost 20 years ago—of the Nahlah, the main access road to the village, which prevents the transit of Palestinian cars next to the colony of Kedumim. Last Friday, hundreds of Palestinians demanded to be able to drive on the Nahlah so they wouldn’t have to use the small roads that lengthen their route to reach the village by several kilometers.

But the settlers won’t give in: they don’t want to allow the Palestinians to travel the two kilometers on the Nahlah, through the olive trees and the land—confiscated from the village—where Kedumim was founded 45 years ago. Even more, for several days now, in the area of Nablus, there have been reports of fires in Palestinian olive groves adjacent to the colonies, which, as the owners point out, did not not “spontaneously self-combust.”

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