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Israel’s land theft is 70 years old

Feb 14,2017 - Last updated at Feb 14,2017

The Israeli parliament’s adoption of a new settlement law that effectively legalises the theft of Palestinian land for building additional Jewish settlements has, as usual, angered the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Europeans and others.

The new law was promulgated with retroactive effect, meaning that settlements that had been built on occupied Palestinian land would also become legal.

For those unfamiliar with the Palestinian-Israeli situation, this may appear as an unprecedented move by Israel, but the reality is that the colonisation of Palestinian land has been taking place for the past 70 years.

So why this sudden outburst of outrage and anger?

The new law legalises Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land, retroactively and from today onwards.

The large number of Jewish settlements that were regularly constructed by consecutive Israeli governments in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967 were all built illegally on confiscated occupied land, in full violation of the international law.

At a later stage, Israeli settlers, apparently not fully content with the size of the official colonisation scheme, started to build additional settlements on Palestinian land, in locations of their choice, seemingly without their government’s permission, although the government conveniently turned a blind eye and, in fact, tacitly endorsed them by providing protection and services.

This set of settlements was defined by Israel as “unauthorised outposts”. 

The so-called international community referred to them as illegal settlements, unmindful of the adverse implication that the other larger settlements would, by default in this case, be recognised as “legal”.

The new law recently passed in the Knesset is intended not only to legalise those “unauthorised outposts”, but to also encourage settlers to build more on privately owned Palestinian land.

It is essentially an official licence to the extremist settler movement for continued land grab and displacement.

This measure is a flagrant legalisation of land theft, a blatant violation of international law, and a further aggression and blow to Palestinians under occupation for several decades now.

Consequently, any widespread outrage, anger, rejection and condemnation of this law is fully justified.

But what is the point of verbal condemnation while action on the ground continues unabated?

What is the point of protesting confiscation of parts of the occupied land when most of the land has been under occupation for decades?

Let me recall some “forgotten” facts.

During the first Jewish-Arab war, in 1947/1948, which started before Israel was created, 78 per cent of the historic land of Palestine was lost to the Jews. That included hundreds of towns and villages from which Arab inhabitants were ethnically cleansed by brute and terrifying force. Most of the land that was then occupied was privately owned.

The rest of the land of Palestine, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the narrow Gaza Strip, was occupied by Israeli forces in 1967.

Except for the Gaza Strip, which was evacuated, though kept under tight siege, since 2005, all of Palestine is still occupied.

This is the essential issue that should permanently remain the focal point of any discussion.

Much as the shift from the settlements to the “unauthorised outposts” was a dangerous distraction; the emphasis now on privately owned Palestinian land already seized by extremist settlers, or yet to be taken from now on, is a dangerous distraction from the larger issue of the occupation and the other privately owned Palestinian land that has been seized from its rightful owners since 1948.

During the last few weeks, Israel announced projects for building thousands of housing units on occupied Palestinian land.

The announcements were met with the usual protests from the same parties.

But as has been the case countless times in the past, the protests quickly fade while the construction proceeds as planned.

This laughable pattern makes a mockery of international law and is also, without doubt, very convenient for Israel, which has seen its net outcome rise to more than 600,000 settlers in dozens of large and small settlements in and around Jerusalem, as well as scattered all over the West Bank.

Until the passing of last week’s Knesset law, all the settlements built, and all the land confiscated to build the settlements on, so far, were not covered by the new Israeli law.

Does a new law therefore, made by the same illegal occupying authority, make any difference?

Irrespective of distractions and ambiguous formulations, under international law the occupation is illegal, all the settlements as well as any changes made on the occupied Palestinian land by the occupier are illegal and all the ongoing occupation practices against the Palestinians are illegal.

Consequently, any laws passed by the occupying power to legitimise such actions are illegal.

Any condemnation of Israel’s continued violations is fully justified as long as it implies accountability; it is even required as long as it remains focused on the issue in its entirety, rather than on the latest atrocity.

We must stop focusing attention on the tree while conveniently choosing not to recognise the existence of the ever-expanding forest.

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