The Conflict

On the Road to Apartheid

Nabi Saleh

Apartheid is now the most likely outcome of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. That’s me not mincing words. Here is Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, not mincing words.

“We are here to stay, forever.” Netanyahu spoke these words last Monday in the Israeli settlement of Barkan, located in the northern West Bank.

He continued: “So we will not fold. We are guarding Samaria against those who want to uproot us. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle.” Samaria is the Israeli nomenclature for the northern part of the West Bank. Judea is the name used for the southern section.

Barkan, the Israeli settlement where Netanyahu gave this speech, is in the northern West Bank (thus Netanyahu’s use of Samaria) and is home to about 1,800 settlers. There are approximately 130 settlements like this all over the West Bank, some home to less than 100 settlers and some home to more than 40,000. There are another 100 outposts (read: likely future settlements) scattered around the West Bank. These outposts are not yet sanctioned by the government, but you can be sure that most of them will be official settlements someday.

For some Palestinians living in the West Bank, apartheid is already a reality. These Palestinians, around 250,000 (about 10% of all Palestinians living in the West Bank), live in Area C of the West Bank. There are about 180 Palestinian villages that lie entirely within Area C of the West Bank.

Area C is under the complete control of the Israeli Defense Force. All Israeli settlements are in Area C. The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (again, Israel does not use the term West Bank) is the Israeli government organization that oversees civil policy in the West Bank. It is subordinate to Israel’s defense minister. Remember, this is a military occupation.

Let’s focus on water to illustrate how this version of apartheid works. Israel controls all, not just for Area C, of the water in the West Bank. All water-related infrastructure projects must be approved by Israel. There is a huge mountain aquifer, much of which lies under the West Bank. The Jordan River also runs mostly through the West Bank, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Israel controls the water of both the aquifer and the river. Israel allocates no water from the Jordan River to Palestinians and 13-17% of the water from the mountain aquifer to Palestinians. So just to be clear, Israel gets all the water from the Jordan river and 83-87% of the water from the aquifer.

In Area C, the Civil Administration has approved master plans for 16 of the 180 Palestinian villages it administers. Only these 16 villages are authorized to be connected to a water supply network. The villages not connected to a water supply must collect rainwater or buy water from private contractors.

From the website of B’Tselem, an Israeli organization that monitors Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank:

“Between 2009 and 2012, the Civil Administration destroyed 90 cisterns, 61 wells and 17 reservoirs belonging to Palestinians in Area C.”

“The price of water purchased from private contractors is NIS 25 to 45 per cubic meter, depending on the distance from the water source to the village. This sum is as much as four times the highest price of water for household consumption paid by residents of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv (NIS 12.6 per cubic meter for any consumption over 3.5 cubic meters a month), and up to three times as much as the comparable price rate in the settlements of Ariel and Karnei Shomron (NIS 14.8 per cubic meter).”

“In the southern West Bank, some 42 [Palestinian] communities consume less than 60 liters of water per person, per day, while herding communities in the northern Jordan Valley consume only about 20 liters per person, per day. For the sake of comparison, average domestic water consumption in Israel is between 100 and 230 liters per person, per day. Settlements are allocated higher amounts: for example, the settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot in the Jordan Valley are allocated more than 460 liters of water per person, per day, for household use only – at least 23 times the water consumption per person, per day, in the nearby Palestinian village of al-Hadidiya.”

And this only scratches the surface of the water issues. You can read more here, here, here, herehere, and here. Maybe Israeli Jim Crow is a better way to categorize the conditions in Area C and the future situation I envision for all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. You can read an argument for the Jim Crow analogy here and here. Here’s an argument for and against the use of the term apartheid when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Apartheid does not describe the current situation for all Palestinians. Some Palestinians live in Israel (as Israeli citizens). Some live in East Jerusalem (with a Jerusalemite ID and no citizenship, in most cases). Many Palestinians (about 2.5 million, accounting for 90% of Palestinians in the West Bank) live in Areas A (supposedly controlled completely by the Palestinian authority) and B (the Palestinian Authority handles municipal issues and the IDF handles security). As discussed above, some Palestinians live in Area C. Finally, Gaza (an issue for another day) is home to about 2 million Palestinians. The life of each of these groups of Palestinians is different, sometimes dramatically so. A Palestinian with Israeli citizenship suffers discrimination, but his or her life is exceedingly better than the life of a Palestinian living in Area C. It could be argued that all Palestinians living in the West Bank are living in an apartheid system. Palestinians living in Areas A and B, especially those in Area A, have more independence, but only within the city in which they live. Traveling within the West Bank, to give just one example, is highly restricted for all Palestinians.

But make no mistake, unless something shifts dramatically, the entire West Bank, and likely East Jerusalem, will be under an apartheid system. Either the occupation of both areas will continue and eventually be recognized as an apartheid system. Or, Israel will formally annex the West Bank (as it did to East Jerusalem in 1967) and fail to give full citizenship rights to Palestinians. Perhaps the 1.8 million Palestinians (20% of the Israeli population) with Israeli citizenship will be spared. Perhaps the 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem will retain their second-tier status as Jerusalemite residents (read more about the plight of East Jerusalemites here). For the 2.7 million Palestinians of the West Bank, to say nothing of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza (again, another day), the prospects are sadly dim.

Step one is to be honest about the current reality and its trajectory. Thus, this blog. Netanyahu’s words were clear. The actions of his government, his military, and many of his people match his words. As with so many things at this moment in history, it’s time to fight with our eyes wide open.

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