Israeli forces destroy the village of Gate of the Sun, detaining dozens of its residents. (Photo: Felesteen.ps)
Israeli special forces have detained Palestinian villagers in the protest encampment of Bab al-Shams, in the E1 area of the West Bank, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the eviction Saturday night. The Israeli Supreme Court had issued a stay of eviction Friday (responding to a petition filed in anticipation of the raid).
Update: There remains confusion about what exactly unfolded Saturday night. Al Jazeera reported: Netanyahu’s office “was petitioning the Supreme Court to rescind an earlier injunction blocking the evacuation. In the meantime, he ordered the area declared a closed military zone and shut off access.” While the New York Times says that, “The court overturned the injunction [Saturday night], allowing the people to be removed from the site.”
Around 3 a.m. on Sunday approximately 500 Special Forces soldiers from the Yasam unit surrounded the campers, detaining all 150 overnight residents according to Palestinian activist and media producer Irene Nasser. When the raid began Nasser told me she was in the medical tent and was informed, “‘they’re here.” She exited to find “hundreds and hundreds [of soldiers] just a few feet from us.” Nasser explained that due to the hills and absence of lights in E1, Bab al-Shams’s villagers were unable to identify when the raid would begin until it was in progress.
Residents of the newly erected protest village of Bab al-Shams in E1, during the Israeli border police raid early Sunday morning, 13 January 2013. (Photo: French/Al Jazeera Arabic)
Once in custody, the two-day residents of the first new village in E1 in 60 years from Bab al-Shams to Jerusalem were carried off in buses, finally deposited at Qalandia checkpoint. “Some detained have either not been to Jerusalem in 10+ yrs or some… never seeing it now for the 1st time on an arrest vehicle,” tweeted Irene Nasser from the back of the third police bus.
At this time, I am told that all of the detained villagers have been released and no charges were filed against them.
Nasser also reported via Twitter that six Palestinians were beaten severely by the Israeli military after being detained and were later taken to a hospital in Ramallah. Four sustained facial injuries.
In footage filmed by Al Jazeera Arabic during the raid, soldiers are seen carrying Bab al-Shams residents off of the property. After the area was cleared the authorities closed off access to media, according to the report filed by Jane Ferguson. It is unknown at this time if the 25 tents erected two days ago are still standing.
Below is video of the villagers released at Qalandiya (h/t Annie Robbins).
And another video of the evictions at Bab Al-Shams
Not a settlement
Several news outlets including Al Jazeera English, the BBC and the New York Times have claimed a tactical similarity between the organizers’ approach in establishing Bab al-Shams and Israeli settlers. Reporting on this morning’s eviction Al Jazeera said, “The activists were borrowing a phrase and a tactic, usually associated with Jewish settlers, who believe establishing communities means the territory will remain Israeli.” And the BBC echoed, “Their actions mirror those of Israeli settlers who stake their claim to parts of the West Bank by pitching mobile homes on hilltops, known as outposts. Such home are not officially sanctioned, but the aim is to establish ‘facts on the ground’.”
The analogy is not correct. Unlike settlers, the Palestinians who created Bab al-Shams built their village on land where no one–even the Israelis–have contested their rightful ownership.
Israeli authorities issued a closed military zone order, which forbids people from being present in the village, but not structures. So under Israeli law no persons are allowed on the land, but the village in it of itself is not illegal. Under Israeli military code that governs Area C of the West Bank, closed military zones can be declared at the discretion of the civil administration. However this closed military zone was declared by Prime Minister Netanyahu personally. This same process of placing a military zone on a piece of land and ostensibly kicking out the residents is used in increased frequency in the Jordan Valley, also in area C of the West Bank. Since last fall over 1,000 Palestinians in that region have been evicted from their villages under a military order. So those villages are much more analogous to Bab al-Shams than Israeli outposts unrecognized by the state.
There are also glaring practical differences between outpost-settlers and the Palestinians of Bab al-Shams. Sometimes called the “hilltop youth,” these settlers construct on land either officially recognized as privately owned by a Palestinian, or under the stewardship of the Israeli government. The Jewish state claims ownership to large amounts of property in the West Bank, including four national parks outside of the country’s borders. In a completely bizarre system, Israel employs old Ottoman codes still on the books to “nationalize” un-tilled agricultural lands in the occupied Palestinian territories. Often there is first a military order to close the zone, then if the land remains “unused” for five years by virture of the military order, it is declared “dead land.” The state can then assume ownership.
Because Israeli Basic Law, a set of amendments that is the closest thing Israel has to a constitution, bars state land from being transferred to a private owner, once an expropriation has taken place in the West Bank the law does not allow for it to ever be returned to or purchased back by its original owner. This is why farmers in Area C who face settler harassment find it essential to harvest annually. If they don’t work their land, Palestinians can lose their fields to occupation laws. Once that occurs, settlers have a formal process to file for permits from the Ministry of Planning and Housing to legally build, although they are clearly outside of Israel’s 1967 borders.
Of course, Jewish outpost setters do not bother with the permit process and set-up anywhere they please. Generally their purpose is ideological, claiming spiritual fulfillment in residing on the land, regardless of violations to state and international laws—let alone moral rules barring theft. They build caravans or informal structures using materials that are far more durable than the tents of Bab al-Shams. Settlers also have access to roads and highways and do not have to reach their encampments on foot, walking for over an hour. Additionally their locations often are immediately adjacent to a settlement that is officially recognized by the state and therefore are a one-minute jaunt from electricity, water, and sewage and bus service.
Setting up next door to permanent structures provides a tremendous amount of comfort for even the most unpleasant outpost living. Bab al-Shams never had this option. Although the Palestinian village did have a number of Bedouin neighbors living off the grid, there was no escape from the overnight drop in temperature to 30 degrees.
Some 50 meters northwest of Bab al-Shams is a Bedouin village where Palestinians live in informal houses not connected to electricity, water or sewage. The neighboring encampment is part of a series of satellite Jahalin Bedouin townships that are not officially recognized by Israel and are under pressure to relocate. Before Prime Minister Netanyahu announced last fall that Israel intended to construct 4,000 new units inside of E1, Jahalin Bedouin residents told Mondoweiss the Civil Administration had approached some communities with an offer to swap land. Two weeks ago Abu Khamis, a Jahalin community leader in E1 showed us a map given to him by Israeli officials that highlighted a plot several miles west of E1 where the authorities hoped to transfer his village. Yet Abu Khamis avowed to stay on his land, despite the hardships of living without building permits.