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5 June 2007
Israel's 40-year occupation
Palestinians are increasingly squeezed off their land as Israel's foothold strengthens in the West Bank
On its 40th anniversary, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories is becoming increasingly entrenched. Scores of UN resolutions and calls by the international community for an end to the most crucial aspects of the occupation – notably the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) – remain unheeded.
For four decades Israel’s occupation of the OPT has been characterized by so-called “temporary” measures which appear, in fact, to be intended to bring about long-term demographic changes. They have had the effect of establishing or increasing the Israeli presence and appropriation of land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while at the same time reducing or removing the presence of Palestinians in these areas.
The Israeli authorities have implemented this policy in the OPT through three main measures: by supporting openly and also covertly the establishment of Israeli colonies – commonly known as settlements – throughout the OPT, by confiscating large areas of Palestinian land, and by confining the Palestinian population to ever smaller and increasingly disconnected pockets of land. This last measure is achieved by declaring certain areas to be “closed military areas” and impeding access to Palestinians by building fences and walls, and blocking roads.
In the occupied West Bank – a relatively small territory of less than 6,000km2 – almost half of the land has been appropriated by Israel. Some 550 Israeli military checkpoints and blockades ensure that Palestinians have no opportunity to move about freely. They are barred from using hundreds of kilometres of roads reserved for Israeli use. Palestinians must also obtain special permits from the Israeli army to move between different parts of the West Bank. The latest addition to this complex regime of restrictions is the 700km fence/wall which Israel is currently building, mostly (80 per cent) inside the West Bank. It encircles towns and villages, cutting off tens of thousands of Palestinians from their land and jobs as well as from education and health facilities and other crucial services.
These restrictions are imposed on the Palestinian population to facilitate the existence and expansion of Israeli settlements in the OPT – not, as Israel claims, to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel. If the latter was the objective the fence/wall and other restrictions would be placed between Israel and the West Bank and not deep inside the West Bank.
The direct result of these restrictions is growing poverty and economic paralysis for the Palestinian population and increasing despair at the lack of future prospects for its youth. In February 2007 the World Bank warned that “under the current set of restrictive measures the Palestinian economy will remain moribund… Movement restrictions and border closures continue to stifle the normal conduct of commercial activities.”
At the same time both the World Food Programme and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization expressed concern that “new population groups have become food insecure… Several factors account for this deterioration in economic conditions… [T]he most significant factor is the system of movement restrictions imposed by Israel on the free movement of Palestinian goods and labour.”
To find out more, see
Enduring occupation: Palestinians under siege in the West Bank