Practicing Truth to Power: A report about BADIL’s latest work to combat Forced Population Transfer

Affecting more Palestinians than any single military operation could, displacement is the biggest threat to Palestinian life today. In the past year alone, Israel displaced thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank Area C and the Gaza Strip Buffer Zone. In May, Israel approved the Prawer Plan that threatens to forcibly displace up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab.

Forced population transfer is illegal and has constituted an international crime since 1942. The strongest and most recent codification of this crime is in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Rome Statute clearly defines the forcible transfer of population and implantation of settlers as war crimes.

In order to forcibly transfer the indigenous Palestinian population many Israeli laws and state practices were developed. Today, Israel carries out forcible displacement in the form of a ‘silent’ transfer policy. The policy is relatively silent because Israel applies it while attempting to avoid international attention by regularly displacing small numbers of people, which it presumes would go unnoticed. Israel’s legal and political structures discriminate against Palestinians in many areas including citizenship, residency rights, land ownership and access, and regional and municipal planning.

BADIL Resource Center recently published “Israeli Land Grab and Forced Population Transfer of Palestinians: A Handbook for Vulnerable Individuals and Communities.” The Handbook and five accompanying brochures aim to help stymie the displacement of Palestinians. These materials primarily focus on West Bank Area C and East Jerusalem regarding three triggers of displacement: land confiscation, restrictions on use and access of land, and the system of planning, building permits and home demolitions.

The Handbook outlines Israeli state practices used to implement displacement by drawing on court decisions, legislation, military orders, and original interviews with affected individuals. Although the Handbook is not a replacement for qualified legal advice, the resource seeks to improve awareness of legal procedures imposed on Palestinians. In particular, the Handbook intends to support Palestinian institutions such as municipalities and popular committees in attempting to delay or counteract Israeli displacement strategies. Apart from the legal analysis, the Handbook includes 70 case studies on forced population transfer.

On 4 June 2013, BADIL launched the Handbook at a conference titled “Forced Population Transfer: Elements and Responsibilities.” Held in Ramallah, the conference included over 150 participants, US and UK academics and representatives from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian National Authority (PNA), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Addameer - Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Diakonia, Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council(PHROC), Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Contributors discussed the means to tackle forcible transfer of Palestinians using local, national and international interventions to prevent displacement. The conference was followed by a two-day field visit to affected areas.

Complementary field visit on 5 – 6 June 2013

A two-day visit to a selection of Palestinian communities living with the immediate threat of forcible displacement followed the conference. Three of the experiences are highlighted below.

al-Walaja and a “farmer without a land”

Before 1948, al-Walaja had the largest land holding in all of Palestine with its farmland stretching from southern Jerusalem to northern Bethlehem. 70 percent of al-Walaja landholdings were confiscated during and after the war. ‘New’ al-Walaja was established across the valley after the villagers’ expulsion although most refugees settled in camps in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jordan and Lebanon.

Causally related to land confiscation is the refugee issue. The massive land grab of 1948 resulted in the displacement of 1,600 residents. While about 100 of the villagers and their descendants live across the hill from their original village, today 25,000 Palestinian refugees from al-Walaja are living in Jordan.

Mohammad Barghouth is one of the 100 al-Walaja villagers living directly across the Green Line from his original home. He refers to himself as a “farmer without a land.” “First of all, I am a 1948 refugee,” Barghouth tells us while we sit in his sunlit salon towards the bottom of al-Walaja’s valley during a morning visit. In the 1967 war, Barghouth’s family lost landholding to what is now the Gilo colony that has grown to a population of around 40,000 Jewish-Israeli colonists.

The Jerusalem municipality unilaterally incorporated al-Walaja to its jurisdiction in 1982, after annexing East Jerusalem in 1967. Describing al-Walaja residents’ current reality, Barghouth said: “The only service we receive from the Jerusalem municipality is the bulldozer.”

In 2010 the military began constructing the Annexation Wall in al-Walaja. “The land where the newly-built road is now used to be good land full of fruit trees,” said Barghouth. The community utilized a broad toolbox in an attempt to halt the illegal and inhumane construction of the Wall. Lawyers have been working with the community for years, local and international media pays close attention to the villages’ struggle and protest has been waged with regularity.

Barghouth planned for a full garden – trees, a beehive and goats; what he calls “living in dignity.” However, Israel raised the Wall and with it the dust, which sent the bees away in addition to confiscating more land. In the process, the military uprooted more than 300 olive trees across the hill. Although his dream was undermined, he currently has 30 trees across the hillside and 10 in his garden. “The oldest and best producing trees were uprooted such as a 25 meter Cyprus tree, which was the most beautiful,” he said.

“You killed them, so you burry them,” is what Barghouth said to the Israeli military when they offered to replant the trees they had uprooted in order to erect the Wall. He rationalized: “I won’t accept them to use replanting as a way to say they are treating Palestinians well after they displaced us.”

Lit by the light of the valley, we sat in the salon listening to the abusive conditions, poignant history and principled rejection against what Barghouth sees as his absurd situation. From one of the room’s windows we see the Israeli road and infrastructure, which will support the coming construction of the Wall. Out the other window we can see across the valley to the original Walaja, Jerusalem ‘suburbs’ and colonial buildings. The Green Line sits between this room and there.


photos -]

Battir, the vegetable basket of Jerusalem

The Battir eggplant is particularly well known, “found in markets from Jerusalem to Jenin”, says our tour guide Hasan Muammar. Members of the group nod their heads in quiet confirmation. Battir’s terraces are renowned for their productivity and heritage.

An old woman washes lettuce in one of the springs that is the center of Battir spatially, socially and economically. Village history has it that water running into the valley was allocated for irrigation use to each of the eight major families for one day a week, producing a unique eight-day week cycle. The practice continues until this day.

Home to almost 5,000 residents, Battir is famous for its greenery and ancient agriculture. Seven springs feed into terraces with a 4,000 year agricultural inheritance. In addition to many legacies, ruins of a Roman citadel sit atop a cliff in the center of town. A Roman-era aqueduct is splayed open, only discovered when villagers were refurbishing a road decades ago. Israel has refused excavation of the citadel and other Battir relics because they are located in Area C.

70 percent of Battir is in Area C and 30 percent, the center, is in Area B. According to the Oslo agreements, Palestinians must apply for any planning, construction or development work in Area C through the Israeli military administration. Since the military does not authorize such requests in the vast majority of cases, Israel effectively bans ‘legitimate’ growth in Battir isolating the community from improving roads, electricity or other services that must cross through the Area C ring composing the majority of the village.

At the time of our tour, the village was awaiting the meeting of UNESCO in Cambodia during the last week of June. The village worked to compile an application to UNESCO applying for recognition of Battir as a World Heritage Site. With much effort, the community submitted the completed application to the Palestinian Authority in January 2013. As a final step in the process, President Mahmoud Abbas signed the application and Palestinians expected it to be submitted to UNESCO by the February deadline.

Recognition from UNESCO would increase the political difficulty for Israel to build the Annexation Wall in Battir, which residents are also attempting to challenge through the Israeli legal system. The plan for the Wall earmarks some 30 percent of Battir lands for confiscation.

On 16 June 2013, Ma’an News Agency revealed in an expose that the Palestinian Authority never filed the finalized application with UNESCO. Anonymously citing Palestinian officials, the expose described a backroom deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in which the Palestinian Authority agreed to drop the bid in exchange for Israel to permit an UNESCO investigation in al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s old city. However, on 20 May 2013 Israel refused the entry of UNESCO investigators to Jerusalem. In the expose, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor denied that shelving the Battir vote was part of their deal. Regardless, Battir’s application may have been a tough pill to swallow for the Palestinian Authority even before Israel’s potential renege.

Battir’s application to UNESCO included all of Battir’s territory for a heritage site, putting the Palestinian Authority in a difficult position since Battir’s territory does not conform to the 1967 ceasefire line on which the dominant discourse about a ‘negotiated solution’ is based. Israel has annexed and colonized well past the 1967 borders while the Palestinian political regime has indicated that it would accept border adjustments in the case of a ‘two-state solution.’

Before 1948, the village served as a major produce hub for Jerusalem with a constant human flow between the locales. Battir’s intended UNESCO bid covering village territory that traversed the 1967 ceasefire line poses a challenge to the increasing fragmentation of Palestinian territory.


Photo story:


Al-Tuwani resists ongoing displacement

Hafez Bulbul leads us, a group of 10, from our bus towards his house in the sunbaked village of al-Tuwani. The village is located in Area C of the South Hebron Hills and functions as a center for the surrounding communities. The Israeli Civil Administration, the bureaucratic entity managing colonization of the West Bank, intends to turn the land into a military-only training area. Al-Tuwani is one of 13 villages in the area, eight of which are targeted by Israel in the Firing Zone 918 displacement plan that declared 30,000 dunums a restricted military zone in the 1970s. Since then, the communities live with the threat of demolition and expulsion.

In 1999, 700 residents of villages in Firing Zone 918 were forcibly evicted and their homes demolished. The residents resisted by filing legal challenges, returning despite active persecution and often living in natural shelters such as caves. In accordance with Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s 19 July 2012 decision, al-Tuwani is among the five villages from the community not immediately at risk to eviction, but Bulbul foresees the same eventual fate for his village. The Israeli Civil Administration’s strategy for acquisition of territory is progressive, he tells us.

Under military occupation since 1967, the residents of the South Hebron Hills were victims to confiscation of and displacement from their land, along with violence from the adjacent Havat Maon colony. A young father, the long history of colonization has encompassed Bulbul’s life and that of his toddler’s. In response, he and other residents coordinate popular resistance with villages in the area.

Bulbul who has an intimate familiarity with Israel’s intentions for him and his land said, “the Occupation’s plan is to connect settlements at the expense of Palestinian towns, villages and hamlets.” After attempts at raising electricity poles were thwarted by Israeli-commissioned bulldozers the nearby village of Susya now runs its electricity on European Union donated solar panels. The Israeli Civil Administration raided Susya on 27 June 2013 and issued stop-work orders to the solar panels among other infrastructure, a procedure preceding demolition.

Furthermore, residents face near constant impediment to their freedom of movement through the implementation of checkpoints, roadblocks and closures, and the threat of violence from Israeli Jewish colonists. Children from neighboring villages are under court orders to accompanied by an Israeli military jeep on their daily walk to primary school in al-Tuwani. However, the implementation of the supposed ‘facilitation’ are not always adhered to, residents reported. Furthermore, Operation Dove, an Italian organization with a 24-hour documentation presence in the Firing Zone, reported that:

In Firing Zone 918, helicopters landed three times on May 6, 7 and 8 close to the school of Al Fakheit; two vehicles of the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture were confiscated and seven people were detained on May 9; military trainings were held by the army in the area of Mirkez and Jinba, damaging local fields with heavy vehicles and preventing shepherds from grazing their flocks.

Israel facilitates settler violence and implements military violence while applying ‘legal’ justification as a means of guaranteeing impunity for encouraging Palestinian displacement to already concentrated urban centers, such as the nearby city of Yatta.[1]

The strategy works. The Havat Maon colony extends into Kharura and Sarura, two small villages whose residents were forcibly removed and refused return as a result of settler violence. International volunteers with Operation Dove present in the hamlets have documented colonists from Havat Maon attacking the village of al-TuwanePalestinian shepherds, killing a Palestinian’s donkey, and throwing rocks at children.

The communities in the South Hebron Hills are under threat, but Israel employs similar expulsion tactics in other areas under its control, including Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, the Jordan ValleyNazareth and the Naqab.

The Israeli Supreme Court has scheduled a decision on the expulsion of the 8 villages in Firing Zone 918 for 2 September 2013. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is coordinating the law-based resistance to this case. The community organizes popular resistance through the venue of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee.


Um Fagarah

Photo story:




Adalah film:]

Israeli Land Grab and Forced Population Transfer of Palestinians: A Handbook for Vulnerable Individuals and Communities

BADIL’s Handbook seeks to assist Palestinian organizations, municipalities and individuals in understanding the Israeli system of disenfranchisement while suggesting some proactive measures. The Handbook offers recommendations to those sectors as well as to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestinian Authority and international community. The following are recommendations to the international community and civil society:[2]

·         Study and address the root causes of the ongoing forcible displacement of Palestinians by Israel. After 65 years of a protracted Nakba, civil society and influencers continue to bear the duty of promoting awareness of and effective responses to Israel’s system of occupation, apartheid and colonialism that prevents Palestinian self-determination and constitutes the root cause of Israel’s policy of population transfer;

·         Develop mechanisms and take effective measures to bring Israel into compliance with international law. Responsibility and accountability for injuries, loss of life and property should be pursued through investigations, ensuring reparations and prosecuting those guilty of serious international human rights and humanitarian law violations;

·         Improve response mechanisms in the occupied Palestinian territory through short-term emergency aid within the framework of filling medium and long-term protection gaps, a central requirement of which is preventing institutionalized forced displacement;

·         Lobby governments to cease diplomatic, military and economic support of, and cooperation with, the state of Israel;

·         To the degree possible, reject limitations on interventions based on Israeli political and legal requirements;

·         Ensure reparations and remedies for Palestinian victims. Practical measures to facilitate housing and property restitution and compensation by Israel include comprehensively documenting damages incurred by Israel’s violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and allocating compensation funds such as through activating and developing the UN register of Damages caused by the Wall;

·         Update the compilation work begun in the Handbook with changes in Israeli legislation, court decisions and state practices. Expand on the Handbook’s preliminary research particularly on forcible population transfer in the Gaza Strip. Elaborate on all issues illustrated in the Handbook with further detail.

[1]Facilitation of settler violence and implementation of military violence may constitute the crime of forcible transfer of populations, a crime against humanity, which entails: “the full range of coercive pressures on people to flee their homes, including death threats, destruction of their homes, and other acts of persecution such as depriving members of a group of employment, denying them access to schools, and forcing them to wear a symbol of their religious identity.” See: Christopher K. Hall in Otto Triffterer (ed.), Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1999), p. 162; as found in “Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq,” Human Rights Watch, August 2004 Vol. 16, No. 4(E).

[2]BADIL, “Israeli Land Grab and Forced Population Transfer of Palestinians: A Handbook for Vulnerable Individuals and Communities,” June 2013.