The Guardian reports [here] on the launch by American Friends of Peace of an app -Facts on the Ground- designed to keep the shameless growth of illegal settlements to hand. The idea is that, just as with previous historical examples of massive or sustained crimes against humanity, you can’t say you didn’t know. [Re; imminent end of temporary freeze, expect another shorter one with various exclusions -and renewed slaughter somewhere or other- by the masters of exceptionalism. Or out and out resumption of same. They won’t actually stop, they will have to be stopped, actually.]
So it’s very welcome; you can check the number of illegal settlers of a hyper-nationalist or -religious persuasion and how much of the settlement is classified as “private Palestinian land” just as easily as you can check how many Boris Bikes are at each stop. My only complaint is that even with this to hand the actuality is underplayed. How do I know? Because I’ve walked around these very settlements, onto overlooking hills and photographed them only this summer. I’ve witnessed the actuality and know the truth. Just as every Palestinian imprisoned in the otherwise gorgeous hills knows -something you might ponder.
One example of why this is good; Bil’in is a village at the bottom of a series of hills running from Ramallah towards the west and the sea at Yaffa. A huge proportion of its farmland was stolen by the Occupation to build the separation wall and massive settlements on. Bil’in protests weekly against this wall -occupation infrastructure which blocks views of the settlements on Bil’in’s stolen land, at least from the ground. People are disabled and killed there routinely by the Occupation, peaceful protestors arrested and imprisoned, the ground around the olive groves covered with Occupation munitions; the whole placed terrorised by Occupation excess.
The settlements built on Bil’in’s land are clearly marked on this app; Modi’in Ilit, Matityahu, Kfar Ha’oranim and Hashmonaim. These four settlements are intended to become the fourth largest city [known as Modi’in Ilit, I believe] within the state of Israel, even though they’re built on recently confiscated land, incontrovertibly on the eastern side of the Green Line. It’s important to recognise that these are illegal settlements if International law has any meaning or purpose whatsoever. Recognising International law does not make you anti-semitic, it merely clarifies why the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the state of Israel is such an abhorrent crime against the humanity of every one of us on our little planet.
Two examples of the app’s limits; let’s take the settlement built in 1981 -a ‘peace dividend’ which dumped American settlers from the Sinai onto Jabal al Tawiil, a once pretty hill to the east of al Bireh -which is now swallowed up by Ramallah- to found a settlement known as Psagot. The Facts on the Ground app reduces the size of this settlement and then classifies a part of it as an outpost, while in actuality the whole area is within electrified security fences and contains a military base with tank access, etc. So the figures on the app which helpfully describe the acreage of the site, making it clear that it is all built on private Palestinian land [caveate here too, actually] misrepresent the actuality.
How do I know? Well I’ve walked there, to the top of a hill to the east in Area C -shared by sniper’s posts and snakes- in order to know, see, record; witness. The part described [in customisable ‘layers’] as an outpost is very much settled, albeit by new, apparently eastern European/Russian state-subsidised extremist settlers [these things are relative!] in ‘caravans’, as we all either know or can easily discover, this is how settlements were and are begun [see Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land for example]. This is how it is that 42% of the so-called ‘West Bank’ is now annexed by the Occupation and its infrastructure.
Typical suburban Settlement; Psagot from hill to east.
Settlement spills towards Outpost [beyond frame to L],
all is ringed by electrified fences -vs app imagery.
Settlement entrance with destroyed terraces and
military access ramp in NE corner of site.
Settler road to South, note perimeter ‘fence’ top R -not
recognised by this app– and outpost on hill ahead.
All of the rest is annexed by Occupation.
The images of Psagot settlement above were not taken for these purposes but do show the continuity of Occupation apparatus and that the gaps which the app render between Settlement and Outpost are simply misleading. From the hill to the east of it, by the way, further closely connected outposts/settlements/occupation presence are clear. However, it’s not as overtly mortifying as many other places to the south, west and north of Ramallah, where every angle is covered. In the places I’ve stood, I know that the app seems to render roughly the footprints of buildings only, which hugely underplays the scale and impact of settler presence/impunity and related Occupation infrastructure.
The other point over-simplified by the app is the definition of land ownership. It suggests that ownership is transparent and divides settlements up into privately owned Palestinian land and not, the ‘not’ apparently suggesting that it’s land freely available to be settled. This is the Occupation’s approach to it, constantly refining ‘ownership’ by various means of confiscation so as to create this kind of myth [and the app’s figures come from official Israeli sources]. ALL the land that these settlements have stolen is Palestinian. The more you know about how land categorisation and related ethnic cleansing goes on, the more obvious this is, and the more scepticism you have for a notional definition of some of the land as privately owned by Palestinians.
Finally, again as welcome as this is [thank you!] even something as mortifying as the image of so many Settlements is, you ought to know how the actuality is minimised in this way. Also how, even if this did accurately represent the horror/restrictiveness of it, you need to be there to understand why it is so uniquely sickening as an enterprise. I remind you that Palestinians are there of course [literally imprisoned in this open-air camp] and they know the scale of this, other crimes against humanity and uniquely chronic abrogations of International law etc. Trust their responses to it -or at the very least go there and witness it for yourself. You’ll find that their brave resistance is the only possible human response, their steady resolve almost super human.
> For a web version of the map see here.
> For more information visit Btselem’s site, here, which has a link to a 2008 UN map showing Occupation infrastructure in about as much detail as possible here. Also read their recent report -By Hook and By Crook- detailing the 42% figure here.
> Visit the decolonizing site here for detailed information on so-called Psagot [including a reproduced Municipal map of the distribution of ownership of the land that the settler’s stole and detail about my caveat above] for instance and happy plans for the coming dismantling of these horrors.
> Read Raja Shehadeh’s book Palestinian Walks, which is a bit loose with its romancing of the family qasr and inherently out of date, but strategically effective and best on the legal issues around land classification and illegal settlement here.
> Lastly; two appeals from Bil’in which highlight what goes on day in day out and which you can impact on perhaps. One, on the imprisonment of Abdullah Abu Rahmah Coordinator of Bil’in’s peaceful protest here. One also about 17 year old Ahmad Burnat here -which I highlight partly because whatever happens to poor Ahmad he will now not be allowed to leave the prison of the Palestinian hills, to visit nearby Jerusalem for instance, at least not until Occupation is brought to an end.
> If you want the real thing; dustily detailed and beautifully rendered accounts of the hills and wadis around Ramallah and glimpses of its interiors, then you’ll have to wait for the results of my recent Residency; In Ramallah, Running 2010, to emerge in print during next year. More on that to come soon I hope…