Tel Aviv –Palestinians on Thursday mark Nakba Day, the “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel and the mass expulsion that came with it. In 1948, more than 800,000 Palestinians (or 67 percent of the population back then) fled or were expelled by force from their homes and prevented from returning.
Today the population stands at around 11.8 million, half of whom live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, or within Israel proper.
For the nearly six million Palestinians who live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the nakba remains an ongoing process, as Israel uses a range of tools to restrict their livelihoods.
They remain vulnerable to expulsion, watching an ever-increasing share of their land become off-limits. About half of the occupied West Bank is already inaccessible to Palestinians, designated as military zones or nature reserves, or set aside for future Israeli settlements.
The growth of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank hit a 10-year high in 2013, and the Israeli government earmarked a record section of territory as “state land”. Hundreds of families were driven from their homes – either forcibly, by bulldozers, or through the courts.
The Israeli statistics agency said that work began on 2,534 new homes in the settlements during 2013, a 124 percent increase from the previous year. Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home party (and a settler himself), has been a driving force behind the increase.
Ariel helped bring about the end of negotiations by approving a tender for 700 new homes in Gilo, in East Jerusalem, as both sides were discussing an extension of the talks.
At a press conference last week, Ariel and other ministers announced a plan to triple the Jewish population in the Jordan Valley over the next decade. The valley, which would be the breadbasket of a future Palestinian state, is largely off-limits to the Palestinians, much of it designated as a military zone.
“Between the Jordan [River] and the sea, there will be one nation with sovereignty, and that is the state of Israel,” Ariel said, announcing a 50 million shekel ($14m) programme to build new roads in the region, infrastructure that could support future settlements.
Across the entire occupied West Bank, Israel designated 28,000sqr kms as “state land” last year, according to official figures. The designation is a key step towards allocating the land to settlers, and much of it is located near existing settlements, giving them room to expand.
Last month, for example, Israel annexed nearly 1,000sqr kms of area around Nativ HaAvot, an “illegal outpost” south of Jerusalem. The settlement, which was originally built without permits, is now free to expand.
can tell you to leave, they can tell you they’re destroying it. They want to destroy them all. Where are we supposed to go? For a thousand years we lived here. And now this.”]
Palestinians, hoping to build new homes, are not so fortunate. Major General Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Israeli military coordination office in the occupied West Bank, told the Knesset last month that planning in “Area C” has been suspended to punish the Palestinians for the collapse of peace talks.
The freeze, which was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, means that the Palestinians in Area C – which encompasses 62 percent of the occupied West Bank – will not be issued any permits for construction. Even before the freeze, Mordechai’s office only approved about five percent of the requests it received.
Accordingly, Palestinians build illegally, and those buildings are routinely torn down: The Israeli army demolished 663 structures in the occupied West Bank last year, about a third of them homes, according to the United Nations.
“Everyone is the same. Every one in Dirat, in the area,” said Mohamed Abu Ram, a resident of al-Dirat al-Rifa’ya in the south Hebron hills, whose home was demolished. “All these houses, they can tell you to leave, they can tell you they’re destroying it. They want to destroy them all. Where are we supposed to go? For a thousand years we lived here. And now this.”
The demolitions affect residents of East Jerusalem as well, where building permits are expensive and rarely issued. On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers rolled into three neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and demolished one building in each. In Shua’fat, they levelled a shop; the owner, Muhammad Awadallah, told the Ma’an news agency that it was built 80 years ago.
Other Palestinian citizens of Israel are pushed off their land through the courts. An Israeli organisation estimates that perhaps 10 percent of the Palestinian homes in Jaffa are under demolition orders.
Last year, Israel scrapped the controversial “Prawer Plan”, a programme that would have destroyed 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev and displaced tens of thousands of people. Residents, however, fear that the plan will be resurrected in the near future.
In the northern city of Akka, a Palestinian woman faces eviction from the family home where she has lived since 1967. The municipality says that her house in Akka is unsafe; Salwa Zeidan, the owner, believes the city wants to expel her to make room for tourist development.
Residents have stalled the demolition – so far – by staging regular protests, Zeidan, however, still faces eviction from Akka’s historic old city, which is populated almost entirely by Palestinians.
“We’ve exhausted all of our legal options,” she said in an interview last month, explaining that the city had already seized another seafront property next door. “My only hope is popular action… where am I supposed to go? This home is all I know.”
“This is just the beginning… they want us off this land,” she said.