The moral bankruptcy of the Israeli occupation

By: Jacob Høigilt, Fafo.

I am in the occupied West Bank do to fieldwork for a project on Palestinian youth, but it is impossible to ignore the political realities of the occupation. This post is not objective analysis, but an angry personal observation.

April 19, 2013: “There are bulldozers in Makhrur, and I need to go there at once to see what’s happening.” Akram, my friend and colleague at Fafo’s Bethlehem office, was already on his way out of the door. He owns land in Makhrur and was clearly concerned that it was threatened. I asked if I could join him, and ten minutes later we stood among the olive groves in Makhrur, watching two bulldozers and two excavators getting ready for action.

Makhrur is a lush green valley between the West Bank towns of al-Khadir and Bayt Jala, strewn with olive trees, vegetable fields and small country houses and farmers’ sheds. It is a perfect example of West Bank rural beauty. Unfortunately, it is situated in a so-called C area, which means that it is still under the occupation and complete control of the Israeli state. Of the many beauty spots surrounding Bethlehem and its environs, Makhrur is the last green lung still accessible to Palestinians. The rest have been occupied by Israeli settlers and are off-limits to the rightful owners of the land; from Bethlehem’s rooftops you see big and small settlements in every direction.

Israel wants Makhrur, too. Therefore, the Israeli military enters the valley from time to time, demolishing houses, sheds and destroying the roads built by the Palestinian landowners. Sometimes they offer “security reasons” as a pretext; at other times, they don’t bother to give any explanation. For the people who own agricultural land there, the motive is clear enough: The Israeli authorities are trying to exhaust them so that they give up and stop visiting and using the land. Then it will be much easier for Israel to claim that the land is not in use, make it into a temporary military zone, and later give it to settlers, so that Bethlehem is completely hemmed in by settlements.

Makhrur is a small place, insignificant in the big picture. But it is an example of what is happening all over the West Bank, every day, in and around small towns and villages. The myriad attacks on Palestinian land ownership by settlers, helped by the Israeli army, are severely underreported because the incidents do not have enough news value. But those who care to read local news or visit places other than Ramallah when in the West Bank get to see how often and in how many ways Israel makes life intolerable for ordinary Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

And for the locals, Makhrur is significant enough. As we arrived, the Israeli army had just blocked the road that crosses the valley (it was now a “military area,” they informed us), and the bulldozers and excavators had gathered on the opposite side of the valley, close to a country restaurant. The middle-aged couple who built it some years ago sold a lot of their property in Bethlehem to raise enough money to start the restaurant, which soon became very popular. But one day, the Israeli military arrived and informed them that the restaurant was an illegal structure (remember that this is Palestinian land and that the restaurant owners also own the property on which the restaurant is built). Then they set about demolishing it. The owners rebuilt it soon later, and after a time, it was demolished again. Recently, some European NGOs had helped them rebuild yet again, and signs were it was soon to be opened again.

Photo by Trine B. Egebakken
Photo by Trine B. Egebakken

Makhrur without bulldozers and excavators.

Photo by Trine B. Egebakken
Photo by Trine B. Egebakken

The restaurant is being demolished by excavators. Picture by Maan News Agency.

Together with some handfuls of middle-aged and older men and a local news crew, Akram and I could only stand and watch passively as the bulldozers started their work. It was too depressing to stay and there was nothing anybody could do, so we soon left. The next day I drove past the valley and saw the crushed roof of the restaurant, beams and other construction materials sticking out from the debris.

One inevitably starts to reflect about the evilness of this systematic destruction. The people who own land in Makhrur and use it as a recreational area are well past any involvement in militant activism. They are peaceful parents and grandparents who spend a lot of their cultivating and maintaining the area as a silent resistance against Israeli land grabs. Their activity represents no conceivable security risk for Israel or the nearby settlement of Har Gilo, and neither does the area in itself. The actions of the Israeli forces simply illustrate the Israeli occupier’s desire to steal as much Palestinian land as possible, having no qualms about destroying ordinary people’s lives in the process. Seeing this sort of thing, it seems ludicrous to even doubt that Israel is a settler colonialist state. Witnessing the anger and sorrow of the people whose lives are affected by this immoral policy, it is depressing to note that neither the Israeli public nor European governments react in any meaningful way against the institutionalized trampling on an occupied people’s rights and entire lives. The demolished restaurant in Makhrur is a small, but clear reminder of just how unequal the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is, and of how morally corrupted Israeli authorities are.