Israel’s goal, according to Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is to “establish facts on the ground” in service of annexing the Palestinian lands.

By Brett Wilkins
Common Dreams

Human rights defenders on Wednesday condemned the far-right Israeli government’s announcement of the largest seizure of Palestinian land—many critics bluntly called it “land theft”—in the illegally occupied West Bank in over 30 years.

On June 25, Israeli occupation authorities unilaterally declared 12,700 dunams, or 4.9 square miles, of land in the Jordan Valley “state lands.” Israel’s Custodian of the State’s Property in the Civil Administration published the declaration on Wednesday. The move supplements previous Israeli land grabs totaling nearly 11,000 dunams (4.2 square miles) in February and March.

Combined, these are the biggest seizures of Palestinian land since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

“Land theft is a component part of colonial genocide as a social process,” noted Heidi Matthews, an assistant professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto.

Muther Isaac, academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College in Jerusalem, lamented that “the land theft continues in the West Bank!”

Israel’s goal, according to Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is to “establish facts on the ground” in service of annexing the Palestinian lands and establishing or expanding overwhelmingly Jewish colonies there. The push comes as more and more countries—nearly 150, according to Palestinian officials—officially recognize the state of Palestine and as Israeli forces continue an assault on Gaza that has been widely condemned as genocidal.

“We will establish sovereignty… first on the ground and then through legislation. I intend to legalize the young settlements,” Smotrich said last month, referring to illegal outposts that are newer and smaller than established Jewish settler colonies.

“My life’s mission is to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he added.

Under international law, all of the settlements are illegal. Most were built on land seized from Palestinians through terrorism and ethnic cleansing during the Nakba, or catastrophe, when more than 700,000 Arabs were expelled during the establishment and consolidation of modern Israel in the late 1940s, and during the conquest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967.

Smotrich and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “are determined to fight against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers who receive thousands of dunams as if there were no political conflict to resolve or war to end,” the Tel Aviv-based activist group Peace Now said in a statement Wednesday.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” the group added. “Still, the Israeli government chooses to actually make it difficult and distance us from the possibility of peace and stopping the bloodshed.”

That bloodshed includes a surge in settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since last October. More than 500 Palestinians—around a quarter of them children—have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers there over the past nine months, according to Palestinian and international agencies.

Protected and sometimes aided by Israeli troops, Israeli settlers have launched multiple deadly pogroms targeting Palestinian people and property in the occupied territories since last year.

These and other previous attacks prompted the Biden administration to impose sanctions on a handful of the most extremist Israeli settlers. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reverted to classifying Israeli settlements as unlawful, which was the State Department’s position from 1978 until the Trump administration reversed it in 2019.

However, the U.S. remains Israel’s staunchest international supporter, providing billions of dollars in military aid and diplomatic cover for Israeli policies and actions that, in addition to occupation and colonization, critics say amount to apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams, where this article originally appeared; licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Photo: Ronan Shenhav / Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0

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