Milk and Honey or Stones and Teargas?
How Area C came into existence; the implications it has for Palestinians and Israelis, and how this affects prospects for peace
A Presentation to members of EAPPI – 27 June 2019
Text: Jeremiah 11v4-5
I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. 5 Then I will fulfil the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’- the land you possess today.”
Area C, (together with areas A and B), is meant to be a land flowing with milk and honey but has become a place of stones and teargas, drought and ruins instead.
Was this an inevitable consequence of its creation or is it a consequence of a determination to subvert the settlement envisaged for both Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestine by the International Community beginning with the Balfour Declaration of 1917? This process was revitalised at the end of the1967 War with the adoption of the ‘Two State solution’ hinted at by UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Frustrated with little concrete action the first Intifada followed, ending with the signing of the Oslo Accords of 1993 which established Areas A, B and C in the West Bank of the Jordan.
The hope of the Oslo Accords was that the establishment of the three Areas would give the Palestinian Authority time to grow into Statehood, with just Areas A and B being under its civil administration. The Accords also allowed time for Israel to redeploy its military from Area C, which would, in the interim, be administered by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). Israel was given a five year target of completely withdrawing from the occupied lands thus allowing the growth of the Palestinian State.
This period ended in 1999 when the ICA was meant to hand over control of Area C to the Palestinian Authority. Since the end of the transition period little withdrawal of the military has occurred, international condemnation has heightened, and many Palestinians have suffered in their own land.
Where did it go wrong?
The challenge of Area C, which makes up 61% of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), is that it is indeed the Biblical ‘Land flowing with Milk and Honey’ and, in a dry and thirsty area of the world, is rich with resources and potential for prosperity.
It is estimated that full access to the area (over 90% of which is open space) would enable the Palestinian Authority to decrease its budget deficit and strengthen its economy.
Why then, do Palestinians not till the soil, graze their sheep, or tend their Olive Groves? This accusation, often levelled by critics, does not take into account the fact that the ICA makes it extremely difficult for new building by Palestinians (only 5% of applications are approved). This leads to much ‘illegal’ building and up to 200 buildings a year being demolished by the ICA with many hundreds more under constant threat.
Israel has also blocked Palestinian development by designating large amounts of Area C as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks. In total over 60% of the Palestinian Area C – which itself is over 1/3 of the West Bank area – may not be used by Palestinians.
Perversely the State of Israel has at the same time encouraged the building of Settlements in Area C and elsewhere in spite of frequent condemnation and the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in 2016.
A growing pressure for cheaper land by Jewishsetlers has led to the Israeli Defence Force becoming the protector of the settler over the ‘guardian against external threat’ to the Palestinian residents that the Oslo Accords intended them to be.
Left unchecked the settlement process will, and perhaps already is, performing ethnic cleansing by osmosis as the Israeli Settlements grow and prosper whilst historic Palestinian homes and businesses tumble into ruin.
Area C set out to be a means to establish understanding between nations, races, and religions weary of war and Intifada and has instead become a place where extremists from both camps stare at each other across walls and razor wire. Stones and teargas have replaced milk and honey.
The Balfour Declaration set out as its aim:
‘… the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’
What was intended as a homecoming for Jew and Muslim and Christian alike has become a rallying cry for the elimination of some for the sole benefit of others. This is immoral, illegal, and irreligious for the adherents of the three larger faiths involved and a watching world weeps and learns not for itself the lessons of pogroms or holocaust or ethnic cleansing being carried out in their own lands to this day.
Ultimately the solution to Area C is one that will choose our common humanity above theprejudices of one group or another.
The Land of Milk and Honey is the inheritance of those of all faiths and none who heed the cry to welcome the sojourner, the outcast, and the God-fearer. When they do, all will flourish, the fig tree will bear fruit and the olive will blossom.
Until then Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed stand together and weep over Jerusalem and the Land of Promise.
[This blog ‘Milk and Honey or Stones and Teargas’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]