Peace talks have resumed between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. This follows a Palestinian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, although that has not yet developed into a general ceasefire. Recent actions by the Israeli government aimed at carving out territory for Israel at the expense of the Palestinian territories will undermine the talks. But Sharon’s land-grabbing policies have been met by opposition from Israelis, as well as Palestinians. Reports compiled by Rosalind Robson.
Israeli bulldozers have resumed work on one of the most controversial sections of the “security wall”. This follows an eight-month halt ordered by the Israeli High Court. Construction has now restarted around the town of Salfit and neighbouring Iskaka, which lie south of the biggest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Ariel. The suffering caused by the construction of the wall has been well-documented, involving the taking of land, cutting off towns and villages and blocking established travel routes.
Jerusalem land grab
An even more serious assault on Palestinian rights comes with a new effort by the Israeli government to confiscate land belonging to Palestinians in east Jerusalem. Invoking a 55-year-old law, which was first used to expropriate Palestinian land after the 1948–49 war, the Israeli government plans to take hundreds of acres of property in east Jerusalem belonging to West Bank Palestinians.
The Absentee Property Law was suspended for West Bank owners of land in east Jerusalem after that part of the city was annexed by Israel in 1980. The suspension was upheld in 1993, but now the government wants to apply the law again.
The property is worth hundreds of millions of dollars but there will be no compensation. According to some estimates, confiscated property could add up to half of all east Jerusalem property. Plans have already been drawn up to expand Jewish settlements onto some of the stolen territory.
In many cases, the rightful owners live only yards away from the property that the Israeli government is about to confiscate. However, in the last two years the Jerusalem boundary has been marked by a wall built of concrete and steel. Arab owners living nearby — mostly farmers — have been unable to get to their land. Now the government is taking the land.
The Jerusalem land-grab will be challenged in the courts. As Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer who is fighting the case for the Palestinians, said, “It is a move to assert aggressive Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem.”
Ramallah sealed off
Meanwhile the Israeli government has been implementing another obscure law — one that prevents anyone with a Jerusalem ID card entering into Ramallah. Starting in July 2005 this ban on movement will be implemented completely. Many people will lose their jobs and livelihoods.
What is going on here? Is the Israeli government trying to force internal migration to Ramallah, part of their plan to “change the face” of Jerusalem, to get Arab inhabitants out of the city? Are they also trying to close the borders into the West Bank and thus further to exclude Jerusalem from any “final” Palestinian territory?
Palestinians thrown out of Israel
This month the Israeli government applied for an extension to a ‘temporary law’, already in force for over 18 months, which forces Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to leave the country — if they wish to stay with their families — when they are married to “Arabs from the region”.
The law is an attempt to expel legally resident Palestinians who do not possess Israeli citizenship. Even couples that lived in Israel before the introduction of the law, even if they have children, must leave the country.
After international protests, the government introduced “exceptions” for men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 25 already married to an Israeli. They will now be able to get permits to stay in the country. But only for six months at a time.
No settlers here!
Finally a news story about good people. Residents of an Israeli community called Nirit were surprised to discover that an extra neighbourhood called “Nof Hasharon” was to be added to their area. Particularly so because whereas Nirit is within the pre-1967, internationally recognised Israeli border, Nof Hasharon is a new settlement being built over the line on occupied Palestinian land.
But the people of Nirit are saying no! They have put up an internet petition to ask for support.
“We, the undersigned, support the struggle by the residents of Nirit for the immediate cessation of the construction of the new West Bank settlement, Nof Hasharon.
“Nof Hasharon is really a part of the West-Bank settlement of Alfei-Menashe, a settlement beyond the Green Line. However, Nof Hasharon is to be attached, de facto, to our community, Nirit.
“We reject this attempt to coerce a small community in Israel, established within the Green Line, into becoming a settlement. We find it inconceivable that while the Israeli government is promoting disengagement in other places, the authorities are approving a hurried procedure for the annexation of a new settlement, in occupied territory, to an existing, long established Israeli village We demand an immediate halt to the ill-considered construction of this new settlement.”
After accusing Sharon and Netanyahu of a policy of “brutal capitalism”, the Labor party has joined the new coalition in power in Israel and is now going along with privatisation.
Matthew Bronfman has agreed to pay 1.3 billion shekels for the state’s 26 percent stake in Israel Discount Bank.
The buyers will also receive the option for a further similar stake in Discount Bank within three years. The deal reflects a price equal to 80 percent of the bank’s shareholders’ equity (some 5.2 billion shekels).
Bronfman-Schron will be getting a 1.52 billion stake for 1.3 billion, meaning the investors can register a profit, on paper at least, straight away. The Bronfman consortium will be paying the state in installments, and that the state will be extending 250 million shekels in credit to help finance the deal!
Workers at Discount Bank have opposed the privatisation.