In the days when Gaza was treated by Israeli settlers as “liberated” territory along with Judea and Samaria, under the acronym “Yesha,” the settler movement used the slogan “Yesha is here” to win support among the Jewish Israeli public. The logic behind the slogan was clear: there’s no difference between Jewish settlement within the Green Line and beyond it as the right to the Land of Israel applies on both sides. But the slogan also contained a warning: if you “give up” the West Bank and Gaza, the Arabs will come after Tel Aviv too. The slogan was accompanied by claims that the post-67 settlers are not doing anything different to the pre-67 settlers, that the Zionist movement has always done what’s needed to establish and maintain “the Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel.” “What’s needed” has included military force, expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians, and certainly that was the case before 1967.
The slogan’s currency has not waned since Gaza was cut off from the West Bank (and the rest of the world). The already relocated Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank, is facing immanent demolition following a ruling on May 5, 2015, by Israel’s High Court of Justice. The case of Susiya is well documented and has been a focus of sustained campaigns by Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem (click on the links for detailed information) and it has also attracted a good deal of international attention, with EU and UN representatives visiting the site. The villagers were evicted 30 years ago not in the heat of battle, but to make way for an archaeological site that became a settlement, and now they face further expulsion from the private land they moved on to, to give the settlement more space. The case of Susiya is clearly a part of a pattern in Area C, where Israel retains full civil and military control, and where the Civil Administration’s planning powers are used cynically to enforce the creeping annexation of the area. The Israeli settlement project in the West Bank entails an exclusive Jewish right to settle on the land, and hence the removal and dispossession of the Palestinians who are already settled.
This is not, however, only the story of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, because “Yesha” is here in pre-1967 Israel too. Dedicated to human rights in Israel as well as the occupied territories, Rabbis for Human Rights also campaigns against expulsions and displacements of Arabs within Israel, notably the Bedouin of the Negev and most recently the village of Umm al-Hiran, which is also slated to make way for a new town for Jews. Neither on this nor that side of the Green Line is it mostly a question of extremist, fundamentalist settlers taking the law into their own hands and forcing Palestinians from their land. In each case, it is Israel’s High Court that has judged that the inhabitants of the land have no right to it, or to build on it, but the State does. “Yesha,” the State-backed project of exclusive Jewish settlement, for which the law is as much a force as its military, is indeed here.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the connection between dispossession there and dispossession here, on either side of the Green Line, is inherent to the activity of Rabbis for Human Rights, and that it is practiced under the heading of “rights” not “peace.” If “peace” signifies two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, and the assumption that drawing a line between them is enough for there to be peace, then what would that peace be? The Palestinian State, one hopes, would allow the villagers of Susiya to return to their land, but what would peace be for the people of Umm al-Hiran? Peace can’t only be there but not here. And that is why the practice of Rabbis for Human Rights is not only about rights but also about peace, because there is no peace without justice and no justice without peace.