With only a few days for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to, under the coalition government agreement, be able to pursue annexation of the illegally occupied West Bank territory, the debate revolves around which lands, if any, will be formally annexed. in the coming weeks and months. .
Various annexation scenarios are being discussed, from the 30 percent of the West Bank envisaged in the Donald Trump administration’s plan, including the Jordan Valley region, to a smaller amount of territory concentrated around major settlements.
Israeli political discussions are accompanied by intense and parallel international diplomacy, as the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah seeks to rally opposition to such a move between member states of the European Union and Arab governments.
But while annexation is debated and dissected in the Knesset, European capitals and newspaper opinion pages, little attention is paid to the Palestinian communities and activists on the ground who will be most directly affected.
For Rashid Khoudary, an activist in Jordan Valley Solidarity, Israel’s moves toward formal annexation are the logical conclusion of an intensification of Jewish settlement expansion policies and debilitating construction restrictions for Palestinians.
“About three years ago we began to see more Israeli attacks on our communities,” Khoudary told Al Jazeera, citing demolitions and tighter restrictions on access to farmland, “different kinds of strategies for getting around.” Settler activity at outposts also increased, he added, “taking over more land.”
“It was obvious to us that the Israeli government wants to expel Palestinians from the Jordan Valley to annex the land,” Khoudary continued. “The main fight is over who can control this land, who can have this land. It is very clear, and we understand it.”
The Jordan Valley constitutes almost 30 percent of the West Bank and is home to some 65,000 Palestinians. There are also 11,000 Jewish settlers, and Israel prevents Palestinians from entering or using 85 percent of the entire region, according to the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.
Data revealed in the Haaretz newspaper earlier this year showed that more than 90 percent of evacuation orders issued by the Israeli occupation authorities were given to Palestinians, with Israel evacuating people from “more land in the Valley of the Jordan than any other region. “
Serious threats posed by annexation to Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley, as well as the importance of the region to the viability of an independent Palestinian state, have made the area a focus for Palestinian efforts to protest against pending Israeli movements. .
Thousands of Palestinians gathered in Jericho in the southern Jordan Valley on Monday to protest the planned annexation, in an action requested and backed by Fatah, attended by several international diplomats.
While the Jordan Valley region has understandably been the focus of attention, other areas of the occupied West Bank are also vulnerable to annexation, particularly those with a significant and active presence of settlers.
“We are discussing this issue a lot,” South Hebron Hills activist Sami Hureini told Al Jazeera. “We have met with the popular committees and discussed the upcoming plans, including being part of the actions in the Jordan Valley.”
Hureini comes from the village of At-Tuwani, an area that, thanks to its designation as Area C under the Oslo Accords, means that the Israeli occupation authorities systematically deny construction permits to Palestinians.
Official figures show that during the 2016-2018 period, Israel approved only 21 of 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction permits, and the area in which Palestinians can build “legally” represents only 0.5 percent of Area C.
By contrast, the area of plans for Israeli settlements is around 26 percent. Therefore, with the majority of the settlements located in Area C, it is a prime candidate for annexation.
“Everyone is afraid of annexation, nobody wants to live under the occupation law,” said Hureini. “Today is the Jordan Valley, tomorrow is the southern Hebron Hills. Everyone thinks about it and people are ready to resist.”
UN and Arab League call on Israel to withdraw annexation plans
‘An international fight
However, what exactly is expected regarding resistance on the ground is a complex question, according to Mahmoud Soliman Zwahre, an activist within the Coordination Committee of Popular Struggle and a resident of Al-Ma’sara near Bethlehem.
“This is a little different than the previous struggles,” he told Al Jazeera, “because unlike the protests against the [Separation] Wall, for example, annexation is not targeted at a specific village, and the change on the ground is also ‘invisible’, for now.
“Palestinians in these areas know exactly what is happening on the ground, and their very existence in these communities is a form of resistance,” Soliman continued. “From this daily resistance to rebuild a house or a tent, a collective action will emerge in these communities.”
Soliman said Israel’s pursuit of annexation, with all the practical policies that this will entail on the ground regarding access and movement restrictions, “will lead to the emergence of community leaders,” particularly in Area C.
“I think there will be a bottom-up approach to deciding on the future of the Palestinians,” added Soliman, “and this will transform the struggle and the face of the struggle, from self-determination to an anti-apartheid revolution.”
As activists in the West Bank work to mobilize Palestinians and pass on hard-earned lessons from previous battles, it is also clear to organizers that their efforts on the ground have an international audience, and the concrete steps of governments are seen as essential given the power asymmetry. facing the Palestinians.
While busy organizing protests in the Jordan Valley, Rashid knows that such actions are not sufficient in themselves.
“We as Palestinian civilians, this is not our fight alone, it is an international fight,” he declared, “and the international community has to protect international law and protect us, as people living under occupation. The international community has to stop this annexation. “