What are the “Occupied Territories?”

The areas known as the Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) compose the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  In 1967 Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.  Some parts of the West Bank were annexed by Israel into Jerusalem, an action considered illegal in international law.  Similarly, Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. It returned Sinai back to Egypt with the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979. The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) is the longest military occupation in modern times.

What is the difference between the terms “occupied” and “disputed?”

The Israeli government prefers to call the area “disputed” territories, while keeping military occupation forces and rules in place.  In that way it avoids conforming to international laws and conventions governing occupation of territory.  When it is disputed it can be segmented in the negotiations.  The 2004 International Court of Justice advisory to the General Assembly of the United nations declared the area was occupied.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, effective August 12, 1949, governs the treatment of people in occupied territories.  This Convention, on “The Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War”, states, among other things, that an occupier is forbidden to move its own people into the territory occupied.  Israeli settlements are forbidden in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza if they are occupied territories.  Territories that are “disputed” do not fall under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Conventions were put into place by the nations of the world as a response to the Holocaust and were signed, among other nations, by Israel and the United States. The Fourth Geneva Convention deals with “protected persons” meaning those persons taking no active part in hostilities.  It forbids hostage taking, violence to life and person, outrages on personal dignity, and extra-judicial executions.  Nations who have signed the conventions are expected to conform to them and to see that other signatories conform.

What does the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 actually say?

The resolution includes a call for the withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict; the right of all States in the area to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries; a just settlement of the refugee problem; freedom of navigation; and the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area. The exact text isavailable from the UN website.  The resolution was adopted unanimously.

Didn’t Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories only begin to identify themselves as Palestinians after 1967

Nationalism in Palestine and the whole Middle East far preceded 1967.  Prior to World War I the area was a part of the Ottoman Empire.  In 1516, when Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire because of its religious significance, there was a growing Palestinian self-identity.

Palestinians, like other Middle Eastern groups, identify themselves by their nation, their culture, their city, their family or clan, and their religion.  Their identity from 1890 on, was defined in relation to the growing Zionist movement on their land. In addition, since 1948 Palestinians have had to grapple with the hundred of thousands of refugees who claim Palestinian identity but live in diaspora.  The year 1967 marked a revival of Palestinian nationalism but it did not mark the beginning.  

What is meant by “closure” and “curfew”?

Following the 1967 war, the Israeli military issued orders that the West Bank and Gaza were closed military zones.  At first, West Bank and Gaza residents were allowed to move freely into and out of Israel and East Jerusalem and between Gaza and the West Bank.

Individual exit permits were instituted in Gaza in 1989, and throughout the Occupied Territories in 1991 at the time of the Gulf War.  In March 1993 Israel set up permanent checkpoints and an overall closure “until further notice”, limiting severely the number of Palestinians who could go to Jerusalem or parts of Israel. When the closure is enforced, the West Bank and Gaza are sealed off from the rest of the world as well and Palestinians are unable to cross into the adjacent countries of Jordan and Egypt or any other part of the world without a special permit.  A full closure is sometimes declared invalidating all permits and requiring everyone to obtain a new permit.  Often this was used to reduce the number of permits.   Some closures prohibited Palestinians going from town to town and additional checkpoints were set up. A comprehensive closure has been imposed continuously since the second week of the current intifada.

During curfew, residents of neighborhoods or cities in the West Bank and Gaza are confined to their homes.  In many cases, the curfew goes on for days or weeks at a time.  Curfews may be lifted for two hours every few days so people can shop, but during curfew children cannot go to school and no one can go to mosque or church or get medical attention.  Food and medical supplies cannot get to Palestinian areas.

How has this changed since the beginning of 2001?

In March 2001, a new approach to a full “internal closure” was imposed additionally restricting the movement of Palestinians.  Some call it a “siege.”  The siege imprisons entire populations within their communities and severs them from the external world. The IDF enforces the closure by blocking access roads. To do this, it uses concrete blocks, dirt piles, deep trenches, or roadblocks staffed by soldiers.

The closure policy severely affects access to medical treatment for Palestinians since vehicles cannot cross the barriers even if the soldiers will let people pass.  This approach also severely damages the already depressed Palestinian economy: many workers are unable to reach their place of work; manufacturing processes are stopped because of the shortage of inputs; and merchandise cannot be marketed.  Children and teachers cannot get to school.

The internal closure policy, which Israel imposes only on the Palestinian population, constitutes flagrant discrimination.  Its destructive human consequences make this a clear case of collective punishment, which is prohibited by both Israeli law and international law.

Is a “settlement” the current name for a “kibbutz”?

The kibbutz movement was a “back to the land” movement based on the belief that Jews who worked the land would become more closely tied to it.  Kibbutzim (plural) were originally established on a socialist model: possessions were held in common; there was a common purpose for the group, living arrangements were often quite simple, meals were shared.  Over the past two decades many kibbutzim have voted to adopt more individualized and privatized systems of family life and livelihood. Kibbutzim now operate as vacation resorts, manufacturing plants, and museums, among other things.

Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are like suburbs in that there are individual homes and apartments for families and each family cares for itself.  Some look and feel like middle-class American suburbs, complete with shopping centers, schools, swimming pools, and offices.  However, settlements are built on Palestinian land occupied and confiscated by Israel.  Often the government provides significant incentives for people to move to settlements.  These include rebates and low interest loans, free infrastructure services and employment of a high percentage of settlers in the public sector.

Israel has maintained its ongoing policy of establishing settlements in disregard of international prohibitions. Between 1967 and November 1999, Israel established 145 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These settlements contained 172,000 Israeli residents. These figures do not include Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem on land annexed by Israel although this land, too, is occupied territory, whose status is the same as the West Bank.

Current reports, were that in addition to the 145 official settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem),  as of December 2008, there were also 130 “outposts” located away from main settlements.  They also say that there were approximately 490,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and 19,000 settlers living in the Golan Heights. 

Why have the settlements become such a difficult issue?

The international community, including the members of the European Union, the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Russian Federation agree that the Israeli settlement system is illegal and an obstacle to peace. This is based on the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War that prohibits, in all cases, the transfer of parts of the civilian population of the occupying Power into the territory it occupies.  The U.S. position as stated up through President Reagan was that the settlements were categorically “illegal.” Due to domestic political pressure since then, U.S. administration rhetoric has gradually moderated from calling settlements “obstacles to peace” to labeling the presence of settlements “not helpful” to prospective peace negotiations.  Most recently, the U.S. administration has advocated for a freeze in settlement construction until a peace agreement is reached and the issue can be resolved.

There are three types of settlements. The largest are the economic settlements located closest to the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice Line demarcating the boundary between Israel and the occupied territories). The second category is the ideological settlements, inhabited by those who claim that the land was promised them (and only them) by God.  The third kind are the private settlements, built by land developers.

The Israeli settlement system has been characterized by illegal acquisition of Palestinian land-initially on the grounds of “military necessity.”  Then when that was challenged, Israel proclaimed thousands of acres of Palestinian land to be “state lands.”  The declaration was based on a disputed interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law of 1858 that was in effect at the time the occupation began. The Israeli settlements have been accompanied by exploitation of natural resources, especially water resources, and construction of substantial by-pass roads, built to bypass Palestinian towns and villages in order to increase settler security.  Palestinians are not allowed to drive on most of these roads and must take older (sometimes dirt) roads.

The Palestinians protest that their human rights are continually violated and their proposed state is further reduced in size and divided into small enclaves surrounded by settlements and by-pass roads protected by Israeli soldiers. Because of this situation, the settlements have become the focus of constant friction and spiraling violence.  Settlement activities defy not only the basic logic of the peace process, but also the mutual recognition between the parties and the goal of achieving a just and comprehensive peace.

Living on occupied territory is an aggressive political statement for some residents, so some settlements are the home of armed right-wing residents who frequently harass and shoot Palestinians.

What is the basis for Israel’s claim to a unified Jerusalem?

From 1948 to June 1967 Jerusalem was divided in two.  Israel controlled West Jerusalem and Jordan ruled East Jerusalem, including the Old City.  After its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israel illegally annexed 70 square kilometers to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem and declared the newly expanded West Jerusalem unified with East Jerusalem the “eternal and united capital of Israel.”

There is now one municipal government for the whole city.  Palestinian residents are required to pay taxes like everyone else.  However, the level of government services provided in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is far inferior to those provided in Jewish neighborhoods.  Many Palestinian neighborhoods do not have sewage systems, paved roads, sidewalks, parks, libraries or recreational facilities, all of which are standard in Jewish neighborhoods.  Visitors have noted that it is similar to the racial segregation in the USA prior to the time of the civil rights actions.  Jerusalem Palestinians are not citizens of Israel; their documentation is a blue identification card.

Why don’t all countries move their embassies to Jerusalem if it is the capital of Israel?

When Israel occupied the territories in 1967 and declared the whole of Jerusalem its eternal capital, most countries refused to recognize the occupation of East Jerusalem as valid.  The acquisition of territory by occupation is against international law and was specifically dealt with in UN Resolution 242.  Most countries believe that moving their embassies to Jerusalem would signify their acceptance of the whole of Jerusalem as a legitimate part of the State of Israel, would undermine respect for international law, and would compromise future peace negotiations.  While the U.S. Congress has repeatedly approved of this ideological move to Jerusalem, the executive branch has exercised its waiver option not to move.  Tel Aviv had been the capital.  Embassies still reside there; consulates have been placed in Jerusalem.

Why do Israelis demolish Palestinian homes?

When a Palestinian family needs to build a new house or expand an existing building, the owner of the home is required to apply for a permit and pay a fee, often more than the cost of the renovation itself.  Permits are rarely granted to Palestinians and so the people repair and renovate without the permit, knowing that they may lose everything by demolition.  In 2004, a report stated that permits cost $20,000 (in American dollars) and are not refundable if the owner is turned down.

Permission to build or repair a building includes proving ownership of the land through documents that the owner may not have, since different laws governed previous land ownership policy.  Obtaining a permit also requires that the land must be under a land plan that allows building houses for Palestinians.  In some places, Palestinian residential areas have been designated as “green spaces” where building is illegal.  In other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Israel has never developed land usage plans, and it is prohibitively expensive for a homeowner to have a land plan drawn.

Some Palestinian homes are demolished because a member of the extended family is considered a threat to Israeli security and home demolition is a method of punishment.  This is a form of collective punishment, illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Other homes are demolished because the Israeli government has deemed the land public land and has confiscated it for Jewish settlements, the separation barrier or by-pass roads.  Since there is a rule that no Palestinian homes or farms can be left within 500 meters either side of a by-pass road, agricultural land and houses are both destroyed.

How has the occupation impacted Palestinian access to water?

Water for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is controlled and heavily restricted by Israel.  Mekorot (Israel’s water company) controls the flow of water to communities connected on the pipelines.  In the summer, Mekorot increases the flow of water to Israeli settlements in the West Bank to meet increased demand; however, it does not increase and even reduces the supply to Palestinian towns connected to the water pipelines.  It is not unusual for Palestinian families to suffer from inadequate amounts of water for drinking, cleaning, and bathing and for farmers to have insufficient water for their crops while Israelis settlers in the West Bank and Gaza are able to water their lawns in the dry season (summer) and keep their swimming pools filled.

Approximately 215,000 Palestinians in 200 West Bank villages are not connected to running water.  During the winter they obtain water by collecting rainfall; in the summer they must obtain water from springs or purchase it from water vendors for storage in tanks on the roofs.  The wall that is being built often blocks water tankers from delivering water to those without access.

Per capita water consumption by Palestinians in the West Bank for domestic, urban, and industrial use is 26 cubic meters a year- 70 liters per person per day.  For domestic and agricultural and industrial use, the average Israeli consumes approximately five times as much and the settlers use 20 times as much per day.  The World Health Organization and the United States Agency for International Development recommend 100 liters of water per person per day as the minimum quantity for basic consumption.

In the Gaza Strip, the primary problem is the poor quality of the water coming from the Gaza Aquifer.  The main reasons for the pollution of the aquifer are the penetration of untreated sewage, and penetration of pesticides and fertilizers.  Additionally, the water in many areas has become so saline that it cannot even be used for animals, no less drinking water for children and adults.  The heavy water demands by the large population and the Israeli settlers has meant that the aquifers have been lowered to the point that water seeps in from the Mediterranean Sea. Wells that tap the same aquifers have been dug just outside the Gaza to supply water to Israel.

Why don’t the Arab nations do more to help Palestinians economically?

While Israel has been supported economically and militarily by the United States, the world’s wealthiest and militarily most powerful nation, the Arab countries remain politically disunited and economically undeveloped.  The richer oil exporting Arab countries have not yet achieved the political and economic reforms necessary for their own development.  Only a small number of people are wealthy and many people continue to suffer from pervasive poverty.

Arab countries also experience a “catch 22” situation in which substantial aid to the Palestinians, with whom they have strong sympathies because of their shared Arab and Muslim identity, risks angering the U. S.  It is something Arab nations don’t wish to do. The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has not been very responsible fiscally and lacks civic and political structures of accountability. Arab countries also know that Israeli weapons, purchased from or provided by the United States, could devastate them easily in a war.

Does Israel permit Christians and Muslims to go to religious sites?

Israel restricts visits to religious sites by Palestinians although they generally allow foreign tourists to visit.  Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, including Christians, seldom get a permit to visit Jerusalem and the holy sites there.  On special holy days when tradition brings Christians in procession to special sites, Palestinian Christians have been restricted in their free access to Jerusalem.  At the present time, Muslim men under age 40, even residents of Jerusalem, are denied access to Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock.  When Israel institutes internal closures, Christians and Muslims cannot travel to any religious sites, churches or mosques outside of their own city, town or village.

Why are the occupied territories compared to South Africa?

Many people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, consider Israeli policies in the occupied territories to be worse than structural discrimination that exists against Palestinians.  Apartheid is the term used in South Africa before its restructuring to describe its policy of strict racial segregation and political and economic discrimination.  Within the state of Israel there are differences between the rights of Israeli Arabs (Christians and Muslims) and Israeli Jews.  Palestinian towns and villages have fewer and poorer civil services and some are not even recognized by the government as existing. 

In the occupied territories, the Palestinian cities, towns, villages and farms have been separated from each other by land appropriated as Israeli state land, areas for settlements, and by-pass highways.  The Israeli Knesset has made a series of legal modifications that, in practice, have brought Israeli settlers living in the Occupied Territories under Israeli civil law and eligible for various liberties, services, and budget allocations.  Thus, Palestinians and others consider the Palestinian areas to be similar to “bantustans”, the reserves established in the 1970’s for Black South Africans. 

What is the significance of Hebron in the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians?

Hebron is located in the West Bank south of Jerusalem and contains the tombs of biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, including Abraham and Sarah.  Although Hebron has had a large Arab population for thousands of years, Muslims, Christians and Jews all claim it because the tombs are sacred for all three.  (Its name in Arabic is Al-Khalil, which means “the friend” since Abraham was considered the friend of God.)  It was the site of a massacre in 1929 and again in 1994.

The city is home to about 120,000 Palestinians.  It is the only Palestinian city with a substantial presence of Israeli settlers: some 500 live in four small settlements in the Israeli-controlled old city center of Hebron and some 7,000 others on the edge of the city.   In 1997 an agreement was reached to divide the city into an area under the Palestinian police and another under Israel.  The Israeli sector, housing 500 right-wing settlers, also contains a large number of Palestinians who are subject to curfews and other Israeli actions.

Palestinian gunmen fire on the settlements in Hebron and its surroundings while Israeli settlers and right wing vigilantes have fired on Palestinians, thrown garbage on them, stopped their children from going to school, closed their markets and generally harassed them physically and verbally.  The settlers have also attacked humanitarian workers, independent observers and journalists. The IDF protects the settlers, but seldom makes any effort to stop or prevent attacks by the Jewish settlers on Palestinians.

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