A century of land theft in Palestine
2017-04-01 17:01:26 -

Mohammed Samaana

It was a nice summer day in the mid 1990s as I arrived home for the weekend to be told by my mother that Israeli troops were in our village, confiscating land and uprooting olive trees to make bypass roads for the Israeli settlements — or colonies, as many Palestinians call them. 

My own family lost land that weekend that my mother had inherited from my grandfather. Unfortunately, I wasn’t home as she watched the olive trees she loved and cared for like her own children being torn from the earth, a trauma that many Palestinians continue to go through.

This happened not long after signing the Oslo Accord between the PLO and Israel in 1993. At the time, I couldn’t understand why the Israelis were still confiscating land, which according to the accord was supposed to be part of a future Palestinian state. Many Palestinians who lost land at the time, however, thought it was an acceptable sacrifice for peace.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised considering that it was the Israeli Labour government which signed the agreement, as it was also a Labour government that launched the settlement building programme immediately after occupying Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law, which prohibits an occupying power from making any demographic changes or transferring part of its population to any land it occupies. 

Yet according to Human Rights Watch, Israel even today maintains a two-tier system of laws, infrastructure, education and socio-economic policies in the West Bank that gives advantage to the Zionist settlers over the Palestinians, amounting to a forcible transfer of population.

Land confiscation did not stop that fateful weekend. The number of Jewish settlers who live in Israeli settlements has tripled since 1992 from 200,000 to 600,000, and there seems to be no end in sight for land theft. Entire Palestinian villages were demolished in the Jordan Valley and the Negev Desert, for ‘military purposes’ and for settlements. More than 40 per cent of West Bank land has been confiscated by Israel.

Meanwhile, emboldened by Donald Trump’s US presidency and his support, the Israeli parliament has legalised yet more land grabbing, with the current right-wing government authorising expansion of settlements, killing any hope for peace based on a two-states solution.
That’s why it was important that the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, condemned these latest expansions. 

However, such words need actions. As governments have a primary responsibility to promote and ensure respect for human rights, it is important that Ireland prohibits all forms of trade and relations with these settlements, including any relations with any institutions that operate or benefit from them, such as Israeli banks that provide financial services to these settlements.

This year marks the first centenary of the theft of Palestinian land, which started when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which unilaterally promised to deliver Palestine to Zionist leaders for the creation of the modern state of Israel. 

As a result, hundreds of Palestinian cities, towns and villages were destroyed and their inhabitants ethnically cleansed in the 1940s. Successive British governments continued to support Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians.

It is time for the British government to seize this opportunity to accept its responsibility and apologise to the Palestinians for the crime of the Balfour Declaration.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast

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