Opinion Editorial by Maya Pollack
This fall, J Street U, a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace campus organization, launched a new campaign called Stop Demolitions, Build Peace. The campaign is devoted to stopping the demolitions of Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank, and to opposing Israeli policies seeking ultimately to annex the area. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can often be divisive on campuses, the campaign has unified college students across the political spectrum in support for Palestinian human rights and for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.
I was confronted by the impact of Israel’s West Bank settlements during my gap year in Israel, when I went on a trip with J Street to the settlement of Ariel. When most people hear the word “settlement,” they picture a small village, but what I saw was an ever-expanding city with seemingly unlimited resources. On my trip, the tour guide proudly said that Ariel has 7 schools, a new recreation complex with an indoor swimming pool, a sauna, game rooms, tennis courts, a mini golf course, and a fitness center. He also pointed out Ariel’s new construction projects. Seeing Ariel, I wondered whether Palestinian communities nearby looked similar.
Ariel is located in a part of the West Bank known as Area C, which comprises 60% of the territory and is under full Israeli civil and military control. Though the international community agrees that the large majority of the West Bank should ultimately become part of a Palestinian state under a two-state peace agreement, about 400,000 Israeli settlers live scattered throughout Area C. Many of these settlements reach deep into the West Bank, and it is hard to imagine how a contiguous Palestinian state could exist while all of them remain.
Area C is also home to between 200,000-300,000 Palestinians living in approximately 180 Palestinian villages. Their living circumstances drastically contrast with what I saw in Ariel. Only 16 of the 180 villages have been recognized by Israel. In order to obtain a building permit to build anything from a road, to a playground, to a medical clinic, the village needs to have an official master plan. Yet Israeli authorities almost always refuse to authorize such master plans. That means that 91% of the Palestinian villages in Area C live in unrecognized communities, unable to build or access basic infrastructure. Many of their structures (and, in some cases, entire communities) are under threat of demolition by the Israeli government. Ariel adds building after building, while Palestinian villages in Area C cannot even build a school without fear that it might be demolished soon after.
The expansion of these settlements and their costs to Palestinian communities are a blatant violations of human rights. But it’s also deeply dangerous for Israel and its future. Israeli annexation of the West Bank would leave its government with two choices - either grant the Palestinian population in the West Bank full citizenship and face losing a Jewish majority, or refuse full rights to those Palestinians and give up their status as a democratic state. The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is the first step to rendering the two-state solution unviable -- and without it, Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state is in severe jeopardy.
Settlement expansion not only has costs for Israel in the long term but is hurting Israel right now. According to Molad, a non-partisan Israeli think tank, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are actually draining resources from Israel proper. More than 50% of active IDF forces are deployed in the West Bank, and 80% of these forces serve on “guard duty” of settlements. Instead of using IDF soldiers to address Israel’s many security needs on its northern and southern borders and beyond, the IDF has to use majority of their soldiers to protect the scattered settlements that are located in occupied territory, and to enforce non-democratic rule over hundreds of thousands of people. Rather than making Israel more secure, settlements are making the IDF’s job of protecting Israel even more difficult.
Additionally, the Israeli government pours a large amount of its civil resources into settlements. In 2003, The New York Times reported that Israel spent more than $500 million on civilian needs in settlements and that budget has only increased since then. People who move to settlements are given tax income breaks, grants for houses, and teachers are given bonuses. Thus, the average settler family benefits from about $10,000 more per year of government spending than a family residing in Israel proper. This has real costs for the development of many struggling Israeli communities.
Demolitions of Palestinian communities and the expansion of Israeli settlements does not help Israel or the Palestinians. For this reason, Stop Demolitions, Build Peace is uniting students across the country. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Israelis, environmental activists, pro-Israel advocates, pro-Palestinian advocates, and human rights activists are joining forces. Here at American University, AU College Democrats and the One Voice movement at AU have joined the campaign in order to send the message that real pro-Israel, pro-peace leaders must stand against demolitions and creeping annexation, and stand instead for a peaceful two-state solution. Already, ten US Senators including Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have spoken out against the consequences of settlement expansion and demolitions.
But our work cannot stop there. US leadership is needed to challenge these deeply damaging actions and to help point the way towards peace.We need to continue to show our leaders that students are demanding that demolitions of Palestinian villages be stopped in the name of both human rights and ensuring a Jewish and democratic future for Israel.
Maya is from Monterey, California and is a sophomore at American University. She is majoring in International Studies focusing in conflict resolution in the Middle East as well as minoring in journalism. She spent a gap year in Israel with Netzer Olami where she became interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Along with being part of the Student Israelity team, Maya is also an intern at Hillel and co-president of J Street U at American University. When not seen drinking coffee and talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Maya can be found playing hard on the Ultimate Frisbee field!
Photo Retrieved From https://www.btselem.org/index.php/planning_and_building
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