Introduction: A Presentation on Israeli Unilateral Action

In Palestine 

Gary Fields


Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory reveals two distinct but complementary public faces. On the one hand, occupation consists of overt military force carried out by Israeli Defense Force personnel. Such military power ranges from the checkpoints for controlling the movement of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza, to incursions of military units into Palestinian cities where Israeli troops enforce curfews, arrest resisters to occupation, and in numerous instances kill Palestinians assumed to be engaged in anti-occupation activities and deemed security threats. The other face of the occupation, however, has a far different set of attributes. Although deriving from military considerations, this aspect of occupation utilizes the talents of technocrats within the Israeli planning establishment with their benign-sounding aims of land management, infrastructure development, open space preservation, and conversion of territory into “public lands.” Their tools of the trade consist of aerial topographical photography, land use planning maps, Geographic information Systems (GIS), and building regulations, backed by the bulldozer and construction crane. The aim of this technocratic institution within the Ministry of the Interior is the remaking of territory, most notably through settlements populated by Israeli citizen-settlers, and the networks of roads, electricity, water, and telecommunications lines that make such settlements viable. While military might and land management together constitute the matrix of control at the foundation of Israeli occupation, it is in the realm of the Israeli system of land use planning that Dr. Jad Issac and the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) have made such an important contribution to our understanding of how the occupation functions, and how it affects the social and economic fabric of Palestinian life.

In profiling the land use dimensions of the occupation, the various units of the Institute undertake research in four principal areas: 1) agriculture and biodiversity, 2) water and the environment, 3) Geographic Information Systems, and 4) Israeli settlement activity. In the context of occupation marked by ongoing land seizures, crop demolitions, and water resource confiscations, these issues and the planning tools used to analyze them have a decidedly political edge. What Issac and the Applied Research Institute reveal through their work in these areas is a concise statistical, cartographic, and pictorial representation of Israeli occupation and its impacts, much of it presented in time series that enable us to map the occupation’s steady and seemingly irrepressible historical progress.

This information, however, is not undertaken as an academic exercise. Issac and the ARIJ use GIS and satellite sensing technology to provide early warning systems for Palestinian communities and a variety of different constituencies--farmers, Palestinian government ministries, cities and local governments, and even peace negotiators--in an effort to identify areas of likely land encroachment and settlement activity. The aim is to develop a proactive set of tools, along with technical assistance for these constituencies so that they are better equipped to confront and even resist the destructive land use impacts of occupation before they become facts on the ground.
Among the most striking findings of the Institute is the environmental degradation caused by Israeli settlement and infrastructure development. Issac himself emphasizes that it is the natural landscape that is most seriously compromised by Israeli occupation. This is not simply an aesthetic concern. Because much of Palestinian society is so largely dependent upon agriculture and the land, environmental destruction has serious social and economic impacts.

The general pattern of Israeli settlement is for new development to confiscate hilltop land above existing Palestinian communities by converting it to so-called state property, level and clear-cut these hilltop sites including trees and orchards tended by Palestinian farmers, seize water resources used for irrigation and general consumption, and build upon the seized land. Issac and ARIJ reveal how, in a typical Israeli colony of this type such as Betar, the settlers site wastewater tanks outside the settlement close to the Palestinian village of Nahalin located on the hill beneath the settlement in a blatant pattern of environmental racism. Such humiliation, however, is only one of the onerous environmental impacts of settlement. The material livelihood of Palestinian communities, which depend upon cultivation in these hilltop environments, is compromised. Research from ARIJ reveals that from September, 2000 to January, 2003, the Israeli Occupation Force has uprooted and destroyed close to 750,000 trees in the West Bank most of which are olive and citrus. The dollar value of crop losses to Palestinian farmers from Israeli bulldozing of 54,000 dunums of land during this period amounts to $43.3 million. The results are even more startling since the inception of occupation. According to the ARIJ GIS database, a total area of 750,000 dunums of land cultivated with more than 12 million olive trees were uprooted by the Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank since 1967. As Dr. Issac pointed out in a presentation to a conference of academics in East Jerusalem in January, this remaking of territory has been designed over time to make Palestinian life untenable.

Perhaps the most blatant environmental, social, and economic impacts from occupation, however, are being caused by construction of the Israeli separation Wall, Israeli’s newest addition to the occupation’s matrix of control. Not only is the Wall an oppressive scourge upon the landscape. As the ARIJ reveals in one of its most comprehensive Reports, construction of the Wall has resulted in an enormous amount of agricultural land being confiscated, bulldozed, and taken out of service. The first phase of the Wall has resulted in the loss of 64 square kilometers of crop land in the West Bank. When phase two of the Wall is completed, the resulting loss of agricultural land will reach 180 square kilometers while losses of forest land will amount to 45 square kilometers. Destruction of fruit, vegetable, and other agricultural land in the Segregation Zone created by the Wall in the Eastern portion of the West Bank amounts to 16.4% of agricultural land. In the Western portion, the percentage rises to almost 30%. When completed, the Wall will effectively shrink by 50% Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Such facts beg for recognition by a World Community that has been hauntingly silent. In this sense, the ARIJ has a special role to play in helping the World recover lost vision.


See Jad Issac's presentation:

Gary Fields is author of Territories of Profit (Stanford University Press) and is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.