Israel's Separation Barrier, 85% of which runs inside the West Bank, has laid the groundwork for the de-facto annexation of most settlements Image Credit: Supplied

“In the fog of war”, the famed war strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his perennially influential work, On War (1817), “skilled intelligence is needed to scent out the truth”.

Well, in some cases the intelligence need not be that skilled — not if the truth is all too clear and transparent already.

Last week, Israel’s government, through its finance minister, far-right, I-mince-no-words Bezalel Smotrich, announced plans to recognise five formerly “unauthorised outposts” in the occupied West Bank as “legal settlements”. He said: “The goal here is to change the DNA of the system for many, many years”.

The system? The more holes you add to that piece of Swiss cheese that the occupied West Bank has become the more implausible becomes the prospect of establishing an independent or even a truncated Palestinian state there.

The holes in question are of course the 144 colonies (the world, save for the English-speaking part of it, calls them that, not “settlements”) that Israel has built in the territory since 1967 and which are now settled by 670,000 Jewish colonists, much in the manner as were the colonies that the roughly 800,000 French Pieds Noirs had settled in pre-independence Algeria.

Read more by Fawaz Turki

“Sparked international condemnation”

According to CNN, the announcement by Smotrich “sparked international condemnation”, denounced as it was by the European Union, the United Nations and governments in the Arab world.

Why is everyone shocked at the news that Israel was formalising the establishment of five new colonies in the West Bank?

Disenfranchising Palestinians of their land lies at the core and is anchored in the spirit of Zionist ideological thinking. And its brazenness became evident not after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but after the one that preceded it in 1948, when the Zionist state was grafted on Palestine.

At the time, Israel enacted the notorious Absentees Property Law, which allowed it to confiscate all the land left behind by the 750,000 Palestinians who had sought refuge in the surrounding countries, transforming it into “state land” or turning it over for settlement by Kibbutzim.

Concurrently, Israel enacted a sister law, the surrealistically named Present Absentees Property Law, directed at the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in their homeland and sought refuge in relatively safe locales within it.

And this law dictated that if you were a Palestinian, say, from the town of Safed in the north who sheltered with relatives in Acre north of the country, and thus were absent from your place of residence during the war, you too had your land — and your home, along with your movable and immovable property found on it — impounded.

The Nakba Palestine
Palestinian farmers returned to find their land taken and homes occupied, forced to labor on their own ancestral fields

An expansionist project

There were countless tales of farmers returning to their land after the end of hostilities to find their farms expropriated and their homes occupied by Jewish immigrants — worse still, to find that they were left with no choice but to end up working as hired hands on the land they and their ancestors had owned and worked for generations.

Flash your deed at these colonists, or at these colonists’ courts, and you would effectively be told that you had no recourse to justice, since by 1950 Israel’s then prime minister David Be-Gurion was able to turn these two laws — which were really more colonial diktats than formal laws — into two of Israel’s founding texts.

Now if we fast forward to 1967 and to the orgy of land theft and displacement that took place in the occupied territories since then, we feel no shock.

Washington’s response to Israel’s expansionist project in the occupied territories, repeated over and over again, to the point of litany, was always, well, “it is not helpful to the peace process”, as ineffectual and wishy-washy a response as the one it has been giving over the last eight months to the horrors Israel has inflict on Gaza and its inhabitants, “Israel must do more to protect civilian lives”.

If news of Israel’s plans to expand its colonies in the West Bank sparked “international condemnation” last week, I say that that condemnation should be directed at the Biden administration too.

Many influential Americans have voiced that very sentiment, most recently early this week.

This Tuesday, the 12 US government employees who had publicly resigned in protest of the Biden administration’s Gaza policies released a joint statement for the first time stating, among other things, that “America’s diplomatic cover for and continuous arms flow to Israel has ensured our undeniable complicity in the killings and forced starvation of a besieged Palestinian population in Gaza”, adding that the stand Washington has taken is “morally reprehensible and in clear violation of international law”.

Undeniable complicity indeed.

— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in Washington DC. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile