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 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sussiya 370
(photo credit: 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 at 270,000.
Almost every study on the size of Area C puts it at 62 percent of the West Bank, or 3,482, 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 it.
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.
The 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.”
The 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 homeless.
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 are refugees.”
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.”
An 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.
Oddly, 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 concerned.
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.