Palestinian land must be returned to the Palestinians

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

The eviction of 1,000 Palestinian villagers from Masafer Yatta, an area in the hills south of Hebron in the West Bank, has now been given approval to go ahead by Israel’s High Court.

Although involving a large number of Palestinians in one decision, it is but the latest in a continuous process of “legalised theft” that has been depriving the Palestinians of their land and heritage since 1948 and before.

This weekend sees a demonstration marking the Nakba in 1948 when over 720,000 Palestinians were driven off their land and out of their villages and homes by armed Israeli terror gangs with the connivance and support of the British army and government.

As the occupying power following the first world war, it was the British who sanctioned the colonial settlement of Palestine with the Balfour Declaration that promised land for “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people.”

It was the British withdrawal in 1948 and its army standing idly by that invited and allowed the catastrophe of the Nakba to take place.

What is less recognised is the disingenuous legal framework that Israel put in place subsequently to give a veneer of legality to its systematic theft of Palestinian land.

On the back of Balfour, before the Nakba in 1948, Jewish settlers had managed to acquire just 6.6 per cent (1,734,000 dunums) of Palestinian lands.

This changed dramatically in 1948 after the Nakba, as a consequence of which the Israeli military took possession of more than three-quarters of Palestine — nearly 20,500,000 dunums.

Having terrorised the Palestinians out of their homes, the next step was to eliminate them from the records of the newly UN-created state of Israel.

To this end a census was held in November 1948 for which Palestinians had to not just register but be physically in residence on the day of the census to be eligible for Israeli citizenship.

This had the desired effect of eliminating the majority of the Palestinian indigenous population from the official records: only 63,000 Palestinians were able to comply and become “lawful residents.”

The next step was the creation of two-tier citizenship through the “two law strategy” of the Law of Return (1950) which gave every Jew worldwide the right to automatic citizenship from the moment they landed in Israel.

The second law was the Nationality Law (1952) that defined it was only others, ie Palestinians, who were resident according to the census in November 1948 who could become citizens.

In a single legislative stroke, the Nakba was enforced by eliminating in the region of 700,000 Palestinians from history, creating them as stateless people.

Worse than that, if they sought to return home, a further Act, the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954) was passed defining any such person as an infiltrator — for which there were severe criminal penalties.

The various citizenship laws had effectively prevented the forcibly excluded Palestinians from “infiltrating” back to live once again in their homes and on the land that was now going to be “redeemed” in their “absence.”

This was done by the Absentees Property Law (1950) that invented the notion that it is reasonable to take someone’s property because you have absented them by driving them away.

A legal framework was established, central to which was the concept that the Palestinian owner was voluntarily absent and had abandoned their property.

It is an interesting concept that the lawfully held and owned land of a person can be confiscated purely by virtue of their absence.

In most Western capitalist societies simply being away in another town, part of the country or even in a neighbouring country would give no acquisition rights to a third party.

The legitimising of the right to do this can be linked back to the same source as citizenship — there is a right or an entitlement to settle over and above that of the indigenous people.

Palestinians were now aliens in their own land, with ownership going from over 90 per cent to less than 10 per cent.

This process, using the same legal frameworks, is continuing now in Masafer Yatta, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, the Jordan Valley and throughout occupied Palestine and within Israel. A quasi-legal justification put on illegal acts, a catch-22 again and again.

This is being done with the clear objective of the colonialisation of all the land Israel occupies from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite the obvious and continuous breaches of international law, specifically the Geneva Convention, which states that the invading power should not move its citizens in to settle territories it has occupied, there has been Western compliance with this territorial theft, which the West first encouraged, then legitimised and now ignores its illegality.

Comparisons with Western reaction to other military incursions are all too obvious and odious.

The Nakba is not just a historic event but an ongoing dynamic with the continuous destruction and renaming of villages — attempting to physically eliminate Palestine from history.

Settlements are not houses on the prairie, they are weapons of war used to attack and encircle Palestinians.

Barriers are being built confining Palestinians to less and less space, but also to control and dominate.

The wall in the West Bank provides total surveillance capacity, as do the drones over Gaza and the watchtowers of the settlements.

Israel’s regime is, for the Palestinians, a panopticon prison — constant surveillance, without being able to tell whether or not you are being watched.

The decolonisation declamation of “give us back our land” is an important concept as part of a global decolonising discourse.

It challenges the settlers’ right to deindigenise the indigenous population of their land.

The settler regime that Israel has become is a frontier state out of control, undermining the very structure it is seeking to build by virtue of its racist nature, while still failing in its objectives to either eliminate or dominate the indigenous population — due to the resistance of the Palestinian people and their refusal to acquiesce and leave their land.

Labour and Palestine is supporting the demonstrations this weekend and calling on Labour to speak up for Palestine.

The murderous sniper assassination of Al-Jazeera journalist Sherin Abu Yaqla shows there are no boundaries for Israel in this war.

In recent weeks it has been good that Labour leaders say they will resign if they are found to have broken the law; it is good they call for sanctions if countries break international law through their military actions, but Labour can’t have a “Nelson’s eye” when it comes to Israel’s contempt for legality.

In the Queen’s Speech the government’s Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill is designed to limit and prevent the growing support for there to be consequences for Israel’s continuous breaches of international law.

Labour must oppose this Bill which will be yet another curtailment of the right to campaign, not just on Palestine, but potentially many other issues.

Labour wrongly abstained on a similar amendment to pensions legislation.

The Bill is not an occasion for silence, rather it is an opportunity to highlight and raise the need ethical investment and purchasing policies.

Israel’s brazen armed robbery of land to which it has no entitlement is as good an example one could have of why boycotts, divestment and sanctions are necessary actions for public bodies, the government and individuals to be able to use to bring pressure to bear on those complicit with breaking international law.