Hizma, Occupied West Bank – The Israeli government is forging ahead with a plan for a massive new Israeli settlement that could destroy the two-state solution and Palestinian hopes for an independent state.
In an August 8 report, Israel’s Peace Now organisation said a plan for 9,000 housing units near Atarot Airport – between the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Kafr Aqab, Qalandiya and ar-Ram south of Ramallah – was moving ahead.
If this plan goes through, it will be the first new settlement in East Jerusalem since former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government built the Har Homa settlement in 1997.
“This is a very dangerous plan which might bring a blow to the two-state solution,” said Peace Now.
“The planned neighbourhood is at the heart of the urban territorial Palestinian continuity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, and thus will prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“The government must remove the plan from the agenda immediately and shelve it.”
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee will discuss the final approval of the plan at the beginning of December and once it is validated and published, construction permits for building will be issued.
Israeli built-up area
Area C of the West Bank, comprising 60 percent of the occupied territory, falls under full Israeli control, with most of the territory used by Israel’s Civil Administration for the expansion of current Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, and the establishment of new outposts by hardline settlers.
The Israeli authorities are already working on their E1 plan, which involves creating a contiguous, Israeli built-up area extending from Jerusalem to the Maale Adumim settlement – 11km (5 miles) beyond the Green Line, or the internationally recognised boundary that separates Israel from the West Bank.
Critics argue the West Bank now resembles a Bantustan because of the lack of a viable and contiguous Palestinian territory.
“This will block the eastern connection of East Jerusalem to the West Bank as well as disconnect Ramallah and the north of the West Bank from Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank,” said Israeli rights group Ir Amim, referring to the E1 area.
On Tuesday the Civil Administration will convene for final approval on the construction of about 2,000 new housing units across the West Bank, not related to the E1 area or the new Atarot settlement.
In a rare move, and to soften international condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved 900 of those for Palestinian homes.
While Israeli bureaucracy, and Israeli settler movements, move forward with taking over Area C land, the suffering of Palestinians on the ground continues.
The small town of Hizma, on the way to Jericho, is in Area C between an Israeli military checkpoint, the separation wall, and four illegal Israeli settlements: Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zeev, Anatot, and Geva Binyamin.
The Khatib family is currently reeling from the destruction of 15 of their commercial and agricultural facilities several weeks ago to make way for widening a road that leads to the settlements.
“The soldiers came on August 4 at about 3:30am and beat several youths before employing heavy machinery to destroy our car wash, mechanic and electrical repair workshops, a large building we had for our goats as well as part of our home,” Essam Khatib told Al Jazeera.
“My father had been running these businesses for over 20 years and we estimate our economic losses at approximately $622,000. We have now lost our livelihoods on which nearly 30 family members depend.”
‘State of despair’
The demolitions were carried out clandestinely, according to lawyer Midhat Dhiba, and followed a petition by settler group Regavim in June to the Israeli courts.
However, despite the Israeli courts rejecting the original petition, Israeli authorities issued new demolition orders to be carried out within 24 hours when the courts were on leave, explained Dhiba as reported by the WAFA news agency.
“My husband Abdel Aziz, 75, was rushed to hospital with heart problems and has been hospitalised for days,” matriarch Nihad Khatib, 61, told Al Jazeera.
“We are all in a state of despair and are afraid that more demolitions will be carried out in the future as we have rebuilt some of the buildings.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem says that, for decades, Israeli authorities have been implementing a policy aimed at driving out Palestinian communities, referring to policies in Area C of the occupied West Bank.
“They have made living conditions miserable and intolerable in an attempt to get residents to leave, ostensibly of their own volition,” said a B’Tselem report.
“Under this policy, authorities prohibit any construction of residential or public structures in these communities, refuse to hook them up to the water and power grids, and decline to pave access roads to the communities.
“When, in the absence of any other alternative, residents build without permits, the Civil Administration issues orders to demolish the structures.
“In some communities, families have had their homes demolished several times”.
B’Tselem said the Civil Administration also destroyed infrastructure laid or installed by the residents – such as rainwater cisterns, roads and solar panels for generating electricity – and confiscated water tanks or cut water pipes.
It is not only the Khatib family whose lives have been devastated by the demolitions but also their employees.
Mustafa Ayesh, from Bethlehem, had been working as a mechanic at one of the workshops for a year, supporting a wife and four children.
“I’m now unemployed and am trying to find more work in Bethlehem but there are very few job opportunities there,” Ayesh told Al Jazeera.
‘What can we do?’
Ammar Abu Skheidam and Ibrahim Tahboub, both from Hebron, were employed in one of the electrical repair facilities owned by the Khatibs.
Between them, their salaries were supporting 25 family members back home in Hebron.
“We are worried about how our families will survive and how we will be able to provide for them,” Tahboub told Al Jazeera.
Ironically, a significant number of the Khatib’s customers used to be Israeli settlers from the nearby settlements because they could get their cars washed and repaired in Hizma far more cheaply than in Israel.
While Al Jazeera was on site, several settlers sat near the site of the demolished car wash facility getting their cars washed by hand.
“They know what happened but they don’t care because we give them good service, cheap,” Essam Khatib told Al Jazeera.
“We are so desperate for any business and to earn a living that we still take them as customers to earn a few dollars. What can we do?”