Boeotia in Palestine: The war for Area C
Terra Incognita: Area C has to be understood as the last part of this unsettled dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sussiya Photo: REUTERS
Recent articles about the village of Sussiya highlight the struggle that is
taking place in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank. In the absence of a Palestinian state
the West Bank has continued to percolate along the status quo lines set down in
the Oslo agreement.
Many commentators miss this in their analysis of what
is taking place in terms of “the conflict.” People speak about being
“pro-peace,” but if one defines the absence of war as a form of peace, in fact
the West Bank is quite peaceful. But that masks the quiet conflict that takes
place every day for control over a small sliver of land.
Area C is an
abstract invention of a peace agreement that was never fully implemented. In
this sense it is a bureau-geographic creature, invented so that it could
eventually be disbanded. At Oslo in 1993 and 1995 the West Bank was divided into
three sections, one of full Palestinian civil and police control, one of mixed
control and an area of full Israeli civil and military control. This last area
includes all 121 recognized Jewish communities in the West Bank as well as the
other 100-odd Jewish “outposts.” The Jewish population of this area is estimated
Almost every study on the size of Area C puts it at 62
percent of the West Bank, or 3,482 sq.km, which makes it slightly larger than
Yosemite national park in the US.
That Area C is often said to include a
majority of the West Bank is primarily due to the fact that much of the desert
was placed in Area C as part of Israeli military reservations. The entire Jordan
valley, except Jericho and several villages, is part of Area C. In addition
almost all the Israeli-built roads, like Route 60 which traverses the West Bank
from north to south, is not only in Area C but includes swaths of Area C on each
side of it, like a land corridor.
The quiet conflict for Area C is being
waged because, for all intents and purposes, Israel has given up any interest in
the rest of the West Bank. Except for Hebron, Israel long ago withdrew its
forces from the Palestinian cities which had been re-occupied during Operation
Defensive Shield in 2002. Recently it has been proposed that Israel might annex
parts of Area C in part of a final status agreement, or as part of a unilateral
action, like the disengagement in Gaza.
There is a remaining piece of the
Area C puzzle: The security fence includes about 8.5% of the West Bank between
it and the Green Line. This includes the entire area of east Jerusalem that
Israel has annexed.
The dispute is over those areas between the security
fence and the major Palestinian population centers which run along the
mountainous center of the area. Wherever there is a Jewish community there is an
effort to quietly encroach upon that community, to plow up land, to refurbish
terraces, plant orchards, farm land and inhabit houses. The notion is that the
more Palestinians can make parts of Area C appear to be Palestinian, the more
pressure the international community will bring on Israel to release claims to
Like ancient Boeotia, which served as a pawn in the war between
Athens and Sparta, Area C is a buffer zone that must be conquered and put to use
by one side or the other. After all, Area C is all that is left, it is the place
where the land is still in dispute, where a plowed field or a harvested orchard
can make or break states. That might sound ridiculous, but each case, each
farmstead, each shack, each deed that is presented in court creates waves that
impact beyond the lives of the several dozen individuals involved.
recent news about Area C is what a World Council of Churches 2011 EAPPI document
called the “quiet transfer.” According to this brochure the area “was meant to
be gradually transferred to Palestinian administration” but instead Israel has
been working to remove Palestinians from it.
The UN estimates that there
are some 150,000 Arabs living in the area C in 270 “villages, camps and other
communities.” However, according to a UN document produced by OCHA in August
2011, “two-thirds of [them] live in localities which are partly located in Area
A and B.” Supposedly the remaining third, 50,000 people, are mostly Beduin and
“herders.” The UN estimates there are 27,000 members of these “herding
communities” comprising some 5,000 families.
THIS LITTLE group of people
is the focus of a massive international campaign. After OCHA spent a year
interviewing some members of this group in the spring of 2011, it released a
memo called “displacement and insecurity in Area C of the West Bank.”
memo claimed that the herders or Beduin faced “restrictive and discriminatory
planning...restrictions on movement...[and] military harassment.” The
EAPPI factsheet published in 2011 piggybacked on this report with claims that
Israel had demolished 342 structures in the area and made 656 people
On August 28, Mya Guarneiri, a Jerusalem based pro-Palestinian
activist, wrote an op-ed in The National in Australia that claimed that “dozens
of Palestinian and Beduin villages are threatened with demolition and over
27,000 men, women and children face forced transfer. Most of these people
Notice how she characterizes the entire Palestinian
population as being “threatened” with “forced transfer.”
ONE OF the
newest stories about the “transfer” was reported in The New York Times when Jodi
Rudoren claimed that “the Israeli government has asked the Supreme Court to
allow the demolition of eight Palestinian hamlets in the South Hebron Hills.”
She went on to claim that it involves “about 1,800 people who live at least part
time in a dozen communities that predate Israel’s 1967 seizure of the West Bank
from Jordan, and in some cases have been around since the 1800s.”
Israeli government spokesman quoted in the article noted that “starting from
2009, an increasing trend of augmenting and strengthening the population on the
C Grounds is taking place.”
A great deal of misinformation is bandied
about regarding these groups. Not only are they said to be refugees from 1948,
but they are also then said to have lived in some ancient village since the
1800s. It is claimed that they cannot build houses because Israel does not
provide permits in Area C, and yet it is also claimed their houses predate the
creation of Area C in 1993 and the conquest of the area in 1967.
the “villages” often appear on no maps, aerial photos or documents until the
past several decades. In the herding community at Jinba (Janiba), for instance,
some people who have met with the residents report that they actually came from
Gaza after a family feud several decades ago.
Whatever the case, the UN
notations and the reports often note that the people live only “part time” in a
place or sometimes in Area B and sometimes in C. Yet these nomadic herding
groups become permanent residents of ancient villages when Israeli policy is
Area C has to be understood as the last part of this unsettled
dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the focus on it is generated for
propaganda purposes to influence people to believe that one side or the other
has more rights to it.