By Mohammed Khatib
For the people of our small village of Bil’in, which lies west of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, the planned negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Annapolis, Maryland evoke mixed feelings. Like all Palestinians, we pray that our children will not spend their lives as we did, under Israeli military occupation.
But our experience has been that Israel, the stronger party, exploits peace talks as a smokescreen to obscure facts that it is establishing on the ground. During the Oslo “peace” process Israel built settlements in the occupied territories at an unprecedented rate. Israel’s system of settler-only roads, which is now strangling our cities and villages, was created during the Oslo process. This makes us wary of the Annapolis negotiations.
Israel built settlements throughout the West Bank even though international law prohibits an occupying power from settling its population in occupied territory. Now Israel intends to annex most West Bank settlement blocs either through negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, or unilaterally.
Bil’in, like tens of West Bank villages, is losing vital land and resources to Israel’s settlement blocs. In 1991, Israel confiscated 200 acres of our village’s land and declared them state land. In 2001 private Israeli developers began building a new Jewish settlement there, as part of the Modi’in Illit settlement bloc.
In 2005 Israel’s apartheid wall separated Bil’in from 50% of our agricultural land. In response, we held over 100 nonviolent protests together with Israeli and international supporters. Hundreds of us were injured and arrested. After our protests and a legal appeal, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled last month that the wall’s route in Bil’in must be changed to return around half of our land that was taken.
Though we celebrated this success, Israel, with US backing, still plans to annex the Modi’in Illit settlement bloc which includes more of our land. Unlike the settlements initiated by the settler movements, the settlement blocs were built in strategic areas by the Israeli government under the Likud, Labor, and Kadima parties. The settlement blocs are designed to ensure Israeli control of our movement, borders, access to water and of Jerusalem, even following the creation of a “sovereign” Palestinian state.
Some Israeli politicians claim that the settlement blocs that Israel intends to annex comprise 5% of the West Bank. However, these politicians do not include the settlements in occupied East Jerusalem in their calculations because occupied East Jerusalem was unilaterally and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967.
But in reality, Israel has already de facto annexed the strategic 10.2% of the West Bank that lies between the Green Line and the apartheid wall, including the settlement blocs. About 80% of all Israeli settlers now reside west of the apartheid wall and inside the West Bank.
As Palestinians, we have expressed our willingness to live together on this land with the Jewish people, and to live in one democratic state with Jewish Israelis as equal citizens. However, most Jewish Israelis and their politicians have clearly stated that they must live in a Jewish state, not in a state for all of its citizens. For this reason, we agreed to live in two states- Palestine side by side with Israel.
For Palestinians, agreeing to live in a state on 22% of our historic homeland was a great compromise. But Yasser Arafat was besieged in his office by Israel because he didn’t accept Israel’s so-called “generous offer” at Camp David. He was punished because he would not surrender yet more land, and accept a state composed of isolated cantons carved up by Israel’s settlement blocs.
We take strength from our faith that no situation of injustice can continue forever. In the end we will all have to live on this land as equals. When that time finally comes we will discover that we are more similar than different. Until then, we will not accept shiny trinkets made of words like “state” and “sovereignty” when we know that within our “state” we will not be able to access our water, exit and enter freely, or move from one place to another without Israeli permission. I will not be free as long as Israel’s settlement blocs and wall steal and carve up my land and surround my capital, Jerusalem.
We have suffered too much for too long. We will not accept apartheid masked as peace. We will settle for no less than our freedom.
Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and the secretary of Bil’in’s Village Council.