The Caterpillar D9 is a specific series of track-type tractor. A special Israeli license is required to drive such a bulldozer over a Palestinian home. The same is true for the backhoe loader, which the Civil Administration uses to destroy the humble dirt roads and desperate water pipes of the Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. For a road sweeper, too – like the one the Supreme Court justices use to clear their consciences – a special Israeli license is needed.
But the sweeper has not been invented that can clear the expulsion from the homes and the destruction of the communities of more than 1,000 people, the Palestinians living in the desert frontier area in the South Hebron Hills, Masafer Yatta, a cluster of Palestinian villages – called Firing Zone 918 in the military order that declared it and in the shameful ruling that the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, issued on the eve of Independence Day 5782. After more than 20 years of legal proceedings, the justices in Jerusalem gave the government the green light, which only they may give, to commit the war crime of forced population transfer.
Not that the Israeli torment and the dispossession efforts against the Palestinians in the area stopped during the years of High Court proceedings. The inhabitants had to suspend their lives – not to build anything, to ignore their growing families and the need for basic infrastructure. Simply to wait, for more than a generation. And throughout that time to see the settlements and the settlement outposts surround them flourishing, enjoying electricity, running water and state funding.
Anyone who did build, in the absence of an alternative, was forced to live under the constant threat of a demolition order from the Civil Administration. The court, in its detachment from this reality, found that they had taken the law into their own hands and accused them of “lack of integrity” – as Justice David Mintz wrote, surely with integrity and a clear conscience.
And why shouldn’t the justices have a clear conscience? After all, everything is legal, since in the law that the army wrote for itself it enshrined “the authority of the military commander to order the closure of an area.” Simple. Not only that, it’s actually for their own good (!), as Mintz explains: “authority that is rooted in a duty to the welfare and safety of the population in the area.” This compassionate concern is what brings Israel to guarantee the welfare of Palestinian subjects by destroying their lives – how else? The guiltless hand that wrote those words presumably did not tremble.
It may be that when Mintz wrote the words “the population in the area” he was also thinking about himself, since he lives in the West Bank settlement of Dolev. But his colleague on the panel that heard the case, Justice Isaac Amit, did well to include in the ruling a quote by one Israel Defense Forces Capt. (res.) Daphne Barak – now their colleague on the bench, Justice Daphne Barak-Erez – to remind us that everyone is involved in the work of erasing and enabling Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians – “liberals” and “conservatives,” settlers and Tel Avivians.
After all, the “population in the area” – in every area – is us, the Jews. The Palestinians are invited to “contact the military commander to receive entry permits to the land they own or is in their possession.” In other words: Good luck with that. That’s what the Jews have been doing to the Palestinians since 1948: Land that was under Palestinian ownership is transferred to our possession. In the Galilee, in the Negev and in the Jordan Valley, in Jerusalem and in Sheikh Munis (the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv). And now in Masafer Yatta as well.
“[M]ilitary bulldozers came … and demolished everything in the village. They destroyed our cave, which had room for 500 sheep, as well as shelters and four water cisterns. They also confiscated our personal property and drove us out of the area. But three of my children and I didn’t leave. For 17 days we hid near the village, and at night we came back to it.”
This hair-raising description is not from the Nakba of 1948. It is from Fatmeh Abu Sabha, testifying to a B’Tselem field researcher about the great expulsion that Israel carried out in Masafer Yatta in late 1999. The prime minister at the time was Ehud Barak, and that cruel expulsion was probably part of the “peace process” that was conducted at the time with the Palestinians. The current prime minister is Naftali Bennett, an educator who saw fit to explain to the Palestinians precisely at this time how “their situation would have been totally different … If they invested in building their future one-tenth of the energy they invest in interfering with us.”
Israel invested, is investing and will invest considerable energy in “interfering with” the Palestinians anywhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River it covets their land, with the goal of dispossessing them. The excuses change from time to time, from place to place – sometimes they “flee,” sometimes it’s simply necessary for “the rule of law,” sometimes it’s actually for their own good – but the ideology remains.
That is why some people think the Nakba was not a singular event, but rather a process by which Israel is building its future. With a dirty conscience, Israeli gives itself a license to treat the Palestinians that way, with the D9 driven by a prime minister from the left or from the right, the backhoe loader by the IDF chief of staff and the road sweeper by all the Supreme Court justices. That is how Jewish supremacy has been built here for 74 years.
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem.