Illustration: Downtown Hebron (Image Credit: Carl Serafino via Wikimedia [CC BY-SA 4.0]
A bill currently put on hold by the Israeli government that would extend Israeli law and administrative court jurisdiction to Area C of Judea and Samaria, and protect the civil and legal rights of Israeli citizens living there, has prompted accusations of “creeping annexation.” These accusations are based on the assumption that the entire area is part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (OPT), and that therefore all Israeli “settlements” are “illegal.” “Creeping annexation,” however, has another dimension which is not widely acknowledged or understood, even by the Israeli government: the massive movement of “Palestinian” Arabs from Areas A and B (under Palestinian Authority control) to Area C (under full Israeli control). Critics of extending sovereignty to Area C, in which all of the “settlements” are located, argue that Israel cannot annex the area without giving full, equal rights to the Arab population living there. Advocates of extending Israeli law to Area C argue that there are nearly half a million Jews living there, far outnumbering the Arabs. This perception was reinforced in 2008 by Bimkom, a pro-”Palestinian” NGO, which published “The Prohibited Zone,” listing 47,360 Arabs in 149 villages in Area C based on the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Bimkom disputed claims by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), which surveyed Arabs living in 418 Palestinian villages located partly or entirely in Area C, that numbered 228,600. “We estimate that no more than 150,000 Palestinians currently live in Area C,” it claimed in its report. It acknowledged “numerous difficulties involved in collecting data about Palestinian villages,” and noted that therefore the data represented “an approximation.” How many Arabs actually live in Area C? That is a crucial question, and unfortunately one that the government cannot answer. In 2011, UNOCHA reported that about 150,000 Arabs were living in 270 “villages, camps, and other communities,” two-thirds of which are located primarily in Areas A and B, but which extend into Area C, and an estimated 50,000 Bedouin and “herders” were living in Area C. Two years later, another UNOCHA report appears to show an estimated 297,000 people, who had been living in 532 Palestinian Authority (PA) villages in A and B, had moved into Area C, building homes and taking over land, creating de facto extensions of their villages. Although illegal, the Israeli military authority in Area C, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and the Israeli government have ignored this attempt to create “facts on the ground” by expanding the area which “Palestinians” claim as their future state. All of this has been known for a decade or more, according to the legal NGO Regavim. If true, however, why hasn’t the government done anything to stop it? Meanwhile, COGAT, backed by the High Court and IDF judicial and administrative units, has been busy tearing down entire Jewish communities, such as Migron, Amona, and Netiv Ha'avot destroying Jewish neighborhoods in long-established communities, such as Ofra, Bet El, and Elazar, and destroying many hundreds of Jewish homes throughout the area because they were deemed “illegal,” and in some cases claimed to be “built on private Palestinian land” – although this was never proven or even adjudicated by an Israeli court.
The failure of COGAT to protect Israel’s interests in Area C, its policy of declaring disputed land “Palestinian,” and its policy of uprooting and destroying attempts by Jews to settle barren and empty areas not only leads to unnecessary confrontations, but directly affects the future of this critical area and the State of Israel in general. COGAT has, whether deliberately or without understanding and forethought, undermined the right of Jews to live in the Jewish national home, Eretz Yisrael. It has pursued a dangerous and self-defeating agenda by refusing to protect Israeli civilians living in Judea and Samaria. It has betrayed the values of Zionism and the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the IDF’s own code of ethics. The government must take responsibility; it cannot be left to the whims, bias, or ignorance of military bureaucrats. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s judicial reforms are the first step toward establishing a fair, balanced, clear, and coherent policy. It is a battle for Israeli democracy and the right of Jews to live in the heartland of the Jewish people; we cannot afford to lose it.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem. His book of short stories, “As Far As the Eye Can See,” was published by the New English Review Press in 2015. This article, reprinted with permission of the author, previously appeared.