The Right to Our Land Must Be Restored

This week in Annapolis, Maryland the United States government will host a conference between Palestinian and Israeli leaders to launch peace talks on a permanent agreement. A vital component of the peace proposals to be discussed involves exchanges of territory that would allow Israel to keep its West Bank “settlement blocs” while compensating Palestinians with land inside Israel.

But my community of Qira, like many others, cannot survive in a Palestinian state divided by Israel’s settlement blocs. The settlement blocs are built on Palestinian agricultural land and water resources, and carve the West Bank into disconnected Palestinian bantustans.

Every morning I see through my window the settlement of Ariel, lying atop the hill adjacent to my village. I’ve never visited Ariel’s beautiful homes and green gardens, so different from our poor, parched community, because as a Palestinian I am forbidden to enter Ariel, even though it sits on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

In 1978, when construction of Ariel began, I was a child. Yet I recall my frustration and sorrow for the many Palestinian farmers who lost their lands to the Israeli colony. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ariel is one of the four fastest growing Israeli settlements. It expanded from 179 acres and 5,300 residents in 1985 to 1732 acres and 16,414 inhabitants in 2005. In contrast, my village, which is hundreds of years old, has not grown because the Israeli government restricts the area and growth of Palestinian communities.

Ariel is located in the center of the Salfit District in the northern West Bank, 13 miles east from the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. Ariel is part of the larger “Ariel settlement bloc” which consists of 26 other West Bank settlements with nearly 40,000 settlers.

Cutting deep into the heart of the West Bank, the Ariel settlement bloc separates the northern West Bank from the rest of the West Bank. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher warned against the construction of Israel’s wall around Ariel in June 2004, saying that it would make Palestinian life more difficult and confiscate Palestinian property. Nonetheless, hundreds of acres of Palestinian land were confiscated for that wall.

If the Ariel settlement bloc becomes part of Israel through the territorial exchanges proposed by Israel and supported by the US, it would be disastrous for the Salfit district’s 70,000 residents. Ariel forms a physical barrier. We must travel around the entire settlement and through Israeli checkpoints to reach the town of Salfit, our district’s “urban center.” It typically took me 90 minutes to drive from my village to Salfit when I worked there, even though it is only four miles away.

Ariel’s settlers prevent Palestinians from harvesting their olive groves near the colony. They attack Palestinians, sometimes under the Israeli army’s protection. They have even entered mosques and desecrated the Quran inside.

Although the Salfit district is located in the West Bank’s most water-rich region, our water supplies have been redirected to Israel and Ariel. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Israeli settlers consume five times more water than local Palestinians. The nearby villages of Kifr al-Dik and Bruqin are constantly without enough water for these reasons.

Sewage from the hilltop settlements and wastewater from Ariel’s industrial zone pollute our region. According to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, 80 factories from Ariel’s Barkan industrial zone discharge 0.81 million cubic meters of wastewater per year into nearby valleys. All this wastewater and the sewage have formed a river through the agricultural lands of the villages of Kifr al-Dik and Bruqin. These poisonous streams have led to the death and ruin of trees and crops located in their immediate vicinity.

Restrictions on our movement, settler attacks, the diversion of our water and the pollution of our land, all caused by the Ariel settlement bloc, are destroying Salfit’s economy, and dramatically restricting our rights. Ariel is like a bone in our throat that is choking us.

Palestinians hope to reach a peace agreement with Israel, and we are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Annapolis, Maryland conference. But Palestinians are most concerned with getting back their stolen lands. Incorporating settlement blocs like Ariel into Israel is not a viable solution. Ordinary Palestinians will not be able to cope unless their rights are restored.

Fareed Taamallah is a peace activist and journalist who lives in the West Bank village of Qira in the Salfit district. Read other articles by Fareed, or visit Fareed's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on December 2nd, 2007 at 10:33pm #

    I think Joshua’s answer to Gerald Spezio about what motivates Clinton and what drives Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about as succinct and accurate as one is bound to see.

    Mr. Frank does an excellent job providing a radical analysis of Liberals and how they dilute radicalism and any chance for progressive change his analysis here and his response to Mr. Spezio is downright reactionary and cynical.

    Mr. Frank claims that … Hillary is in essence a power driven elitist. But that not analysis. Such a description can be labeled against any an all “leaders”. The question is their advocacy.

    One of the “excuses” the left could use upon GW Bush (Texas), Chaney and Rice is that since they all had background with oil firms that could be use by the left to justify their “War For Oil” explanation. However Clinton was not known with having a long association with oil firms. However with Clinton being a Senator from New York State the likelihood of her having an affinity toward Zionism is much more likely.

    What Mr. Frank is doing is diluting the role Zionism has in influencing and shaping Ms. Clinton advocacy. This is a rather dishonest analysis as we have seen numerous article here on DV by James Petras that has clearly detailed oil firms being against the Iraq invasion. As well as the military being tepid in their desire to invade Iraq and being more vocal against the invasion in Iran.

    It is also dishonest not to examine Zionism and how it contributes to maintaining LARGE U.S. military budget as a large military budget is required in order for the U.S. to engage in these Middle East incursion that would now appear to benefit Israeli hegemony. Even some members of the right have questioned the bloated military budgets and maintenance of bases world wide. Apparently the “left” suffers from myopia.

    Even the venerable Bill Moyers ignores Zionism (AIPAC/Jewish variety) and is only fears the “Christian” variety. Apparently, Dutch TV is willing to tackle the issue that the U.S. “left” is too cowardly to honestly discuss.

    Here a link …

    The Israel Lobby

  2. jaime said on December 3rd, 2007 at 9:08am #

    First time I’ve seen someone giving a hard time to our other editor for being Jewish.
    Maybe Joshua will learn something important by it.
    Maybe the lesson is similar to the one that Norm Finkelstein just had…
    You can hang with antisemities, terror-lovers and rat bags of every description, and even try to become like them in hopes of being accepted.
    But sooner or later you’re going to get called a “dirty Jew” no matter what you do.

  3. jaime said on December 3rd, 2007 at 9:33am #

    Occupation sucks. But that’s what can happen when somebody tries to annihilate somebody else and then loses. And the Palestinians have only themselves and their irregular warfare to blame for the wall.
    But what I really want to bring attention to is this little calumny here:
    “…They (Israelis)have even entered mosques and desecrated the Quran inside….”
    This is an accusation of religious defilement. Actually it’s not even an accusation. It’s presented as a done deal without, of course, any substantiation. That makes it a blood libel.
    Perfect stuff here for DV though.
    I’m going to save a copy of this posting in case the editors don’t want you to consider these words.

  4. gerald spezio said on December 3rd, 2007 at 4:42pm #

    THE SETTLERS – that’s the pitch.

    The settlers from the Ukraine exited their Conestoga wagons and started cashing checks on the empty, very empty, very uninhabited soil of their promised land where nary a discouraging word was even sub-vocalized in the dry desert air.

  5. gerald spezio said on December 3rd, 2007 at 4:45pm #

    Fareed, the empty, very empty, very uninhabited land belongs to the SETTLERS who done settled it, hey!

    Fareed, there are laws!