Occupied Palestine Not 'Settling' for Nothing: The cessation of the settlement moratorium was never in doubt to the Palestinian residents of Wadi Rahaal.

The one-lane road to Wadi Rahaal weaves its way through impossibly deep, rocky valleys, whose perimeters are speckled by Israeli settlements and settler outposts cascading from the hilltops.

“It wasn’t always like this,” Shadi Fuwaghara, an energetic 23 year-old resident of Wadi Rahaal told me as we stepped outside in the searing afternoon heat.

Pointing to an empty asphalt road once used by villagers -- and now behind the barriers of the nearby Efrat settlement, next to the rows of identical housing tracts -- he said it used to take people five minutes to get to Bethlehem’s city limits. “Now, it takes us thirty minutes or more, and we have to pass by seven villages,” he continued. In the winter months, the roads are flooded, making the route impassable -- and further locking the entire community of 1700 people inside a veritable prison.

A tiny village on the dry desert outskirts of Bethlehem, Wadi Rahaal has been suffocated by the settlement and its accompanying security apparatus: the path of the separation wall has been set with concrete curbstones, and when completed, it will pull more of the village inside the walled boundaries of the settlement.

Several homes were demolished when plans were drawn to re-route the wall deeper into Wadi Rahaal’s land, and there has been an Israeli military order in place since 2006 that prohibits any new homes from being built in the village -- a punitive and cynical measure when compared to the 4,000 new, modern homes the mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi, says he will start building inside his settlement across the street as the ten-month moratorium ends this week.

"In the matter of practicalities it can be done within days, within a day or two we can have the tractors turned on and starting to work," Revivi told ABC News this week. In other words, the villagers of Wadi Rahaal are bracing for more aggressive annexation, after years of slow and steady land confiscation that has devastated their village.

Efrat’s expansion has already taken nearly fourteen per cent of the village’s land, according to Fuwaghara’s statistics, and Wadi Rahaal’s residents feel that there is an atmosphere of incessant siege. “They dump the garbage from the settlement right next to our elementary school,” Fuwaghara said. It was not hard to guess what kind of message this sends to the village’s youngest population.

However, with all eyes on the theatrics surrounding the end to the moratorium -- a moratorium that never was, declared settlement watchdog group Peace Now, which documented 600 housing units built in 60 settlements during the ten-month charade -- the bigger issue has been obfuscated from the discussion.

What’s happening in Wadi Rahaal, and to the hundreds of villages, towns and cities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem held hostage by the encroaching settlement industry is entirely illegal under international law.

In June 2010, Israeli human rights group B’tselem released a report documenting settlement activities and land confiscation since 1967. “Some half a million Israelis are now living over the Green Line: more
than 300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality,” the report stated.

“One of the objectives of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is to preserve the demographic status quo in the occupied territory,” continued B’tselem in its report. “The article states that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” According to the commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the purpose of this article is to prevent a practice that was adopted by certain powers during World War II, ‘which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial
reasons, or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories.’”

Additionally, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in 2004 that the “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development.”

Ignoring the central legal violations of the settlement industry itself, in place of much hand-wringing over the distorted and ineffective theatrics of Netanyahu’s moratorium, is the elephant in the room; and it is not lost on Palestinians who ceaselessly watch their land annexed to growing settlement blocs.

The Americans’ soft-line tactics urging Israel to halt new growth -- instead of demanding the dismantling of the hundreds of illegal settlement colonies as a substantive move towards lasting justice in the region -- belies the agonizing reality of Israel’s colonialist project and ensures future negotiation failures.

Israel has effectively used the moratorium issue to distract attention away its rampant creation of irreparable "facts on the ground" -- such as the continued demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and inside the state itself, in the Negev; the ceaseless granting of permission to violent, armed Jewish settlers in taking over Palestinian homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem; and the unremitting siege and blockade against the Palestinians sealed inside the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Shadi Fuwaghara, his family, the children and the elders in their tiny village of Wadi Rahaal are intently watching Efrat’s tractors fuel up, bracing for the worst but strengthening the determination of the community not to give up hope.

“You can see what’s happening here,” he said. “Soon, we’ll be surrounded on all sides by the settlements. So we cultivate the land. We hold meetings and protests. We fight to stay here.”

© 2010 Al-Jazeera-English

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a freelance journalist currently based in the West Bank, formerly she was a senior producer for one of Pacifica Radio's flagship shows, Flashpoints.

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