When I return from Bethlehem there is a neighboring shepherd who has decided that it’s time to graze his fields right next to the outpost known as Avigail. Outposts are small Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, unrecognized by Israeli law.
Avigail is only a few years old, in contrast to Mufaqara’s considerable age. Yet Avigail has a normal electrical system, running water and plenty of above ground buildings. There is even a pizzeria. None of this is allowed for Palestinians. The campaign that Mufaqara is running to build their own above-ground houses and infrastructure brings this point in frequently; they are simply trying to implement the same systems that they see their neighbors building. Throughout the history of the Palestinian village’s struggle, they have timed their efforts to coincide with their neighbors in order to highlight this point. For example, when the Israeli neighbors got electricity, Mufaqara saw this and subsequently built their own power pylons with clear public statements that if the colonizing Israelis are allowed to install electricity, native Palestinians should be able to do so also. The Israeli military destroyed Mufaqara’s power pylons and left Avigail’s alone.
It’s this sort of treatment, where Israelis are allowed to do things that Palestinians aren’t, that results in the term “Israeli Apartheid”. There are all sorts of rules like this, even streets that Israelis can walk down but Palestinians can’t, roads that only Israelis can use. Normally only Israelis are allowed to build wells, have water towers, have a normal electrical system, leave Palestine without permission and last, but not least, own guns.
Some people don’t like the term “Israeli Apartheid” because it implies that Israel is a legitimate state. I see their point but at least I think the second part is very apt, and I might mention that this is affirmed by the government of South Africa.
In this context, Avigail is sitting on the hill next to Mufaqara, a technically illegal settlement which is left alone because it is populated by Israelis rather than Palestinians. As we are about to see, it is not only left alone but supported and helped to expand by a willing Israeli military.
As I previously described, but am happy to repeat, the way outposts like Avigail expand and take over more land is by scaring farmers away from their borders with intimidation or direct violence. Then, when the shepherds or olive orchardists have been unable to access their land for three years, the land is declared abandoned. The government then takes it and hands it over to the settlers. The process iterates with new borders. Emphasis is laid on areas that will amalgamate existing colonies and cut the Palestinian territory up into isolated sections which have difficulty coordinating and resisting the advancing colonization. You can recognize this as the old tactic of Divide and Conquer manifested in a physical way (as opposed to the also common psychological divide and conquer techniques). I’ve written previously how this is happening to Bethlehem, which is being prepared for an economic siege by surrounding it with settlements, and how Mufaqara is in between two colonies which are trying to amalgamate.
The shepherd we are with today is foiling this process of land appropriation by using his land and documenting it, despite intimidation from one of the strongest armies in the world. He is a non-violent resistance fighter.
Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.
Two people from Operation Dove and myself are accompanying the shepherd to document the process. Continue reading