"The only alternative that would be acceptable to me would be your complete withdrawal from all Palestinian land.” The case of Khalid Abdullah Yassin.
Thus spoke Khalid Abdullah Yassin, a farmer from the small village of Dura, near Ramallah, when the Israeli government offered him a huge sum of money to lease from him the land upon which Israeli settlers had illegally built. Though comprising no more than 11 acres of land, this small patch of Palestine, and what happens to it over the coming weeks, could become a litmus test for Israel’s further spiral into outright contempt and blatant disregard for not only international law, but also Israeli.
The story of Khalid and the villagers began in 1995, when, living in the shadow of the Israeli settlement of Beit El, they began to notice that settlers were regularly encroaching upon their land. While at first the settlers built temporary structures in which to celebrate their various festivals, the structures began to take on a more permanent nature and severely disrupted the agricultural life of the village. In response to this creeping colonisation of their land, the villagers started to demonstrate, and it was during one of these demonstrations that a young man, Khair Abd al-Hafiz Qasim, was killed, becoming the first martyr of this particular, yet painfully familiar resistance to Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing.
As the wall built by Israel to annex the land cuts right across the hills of the village, it became impossible for Khalid to access his land and ascertain whether or not the settlers had begun to build there. Khalid said: “I worked this land tirelessly, turning the earth with a plow, and I keep it in my heart and will not accept anything less than its return.”
Between 2006 and 2007, having confirmed that settlers had indeed built upon his land, Khalid started to build a legal case for the restoration of his land with help from many different friends and groups, including Stop the Wall. After a year of painstaking research and consultation, in 2008 he filed a lawsuit against several different parties. The defendants were: Ehud Barak, the then-Defence Minister; Brigadier Hagai Mordechai, the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank; Shlomo Kataba, Israeli police commmander; the head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank; and the local councils of the settlements of Beit El and Kiryat Hishaba.
A legal precedent that exposes the tired arguments in defence of Israeli “democracy”, but does nothing to exonerate the complicity of the Israeli Supreme Court.
On 17th October 2008, after 10 months of legal battles, the Israel Supreme Court issued its decision that Khalid was entitled to his land and that all structures built by the settlers should be demolished.
This decision, the first of its kind since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, has potentially far reaching consequences, as the highest legal power of the occupation, the Israeli Supreme Court, has effectively set a legal precedent in demanding that land stolen from Palestinians for Israeli settlements should be returned to its rightful owners.
This does not mean that the Israeli Supreme Court has suddenly become a beacon of democracy, dedicated to treating all citizens of Israel, and those Israel occupies illegally, as equal before the law. The Israeli Supreme Court has only ever been a “loyal and quiet servant” to the successive Israeli governments who have enacted policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against Palestinians. It has upheld the countless laws that discriminate against Palestinians and deny them their human rights, such as the Absentee’s Property Law which prevents Palestinians ethnically cleansed from Palestine in 1948 the right to return to their homes.
No, the Supreme Court is entirely complicit in Israel’s crimes, but its decision represents an internal contradiction to Israel's attempt to maintain the charade of a "democracy" with the continued ethnic cleansing, colonisation and occupation of the Palestinian people. Thus it presents a problem for the Israeli government and exposes the fact that the goals of Zionism as a colonial movement will always supersede the values of democracy and equality for all.
The court’s decision to dismantle the settlement outpost of Givat Ulpana, near the settlement of Beit El, east of Ramallah, created an obvious dilemma for the Israeli government: to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision would be to recognize that, even according to the colonial laws of the Israeli state, many of the settlements that are illegal under international law could well be considered illegal under Israeli law. To dismantle and demolish the illegal settlement built on Khalid’s land would set a precedent for all Palestinians who have had land stolen, either directly by the Israeli state or through quasi-governmental institutions like the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
The Israeli government resists the Supreme Court ruling to return Khalid’s land, and establishes a committee to “legalise” the illegal.
The Israeli government, sensing the dangerous potential of enforcing such a ruling for Israeli colonial expansion on Palestinian land, defied the Supreme Court’s ruling, procrastinated and failed to carry out the demolition orders. Once again, on 21st September 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the Israeli government’s appeal against the decision, and reiterated its initial order to demolish the settler buildings built upon the privately owned land of Khalid.
With the date of the destruction set for 1st May 2012, the Israeli government made the historic decision on 27th April 2012 to inform the Israeli Supreme Court that they would not enforce the court order to dismantle the 6 buildings built on Palestinian land, coming as a result of internal pressures within the Israeli coalition government, particularly from some ministers of the Likud party.
The Israeli governments justified such a move by claiming that more time was needed to provide rehousing for the settlers. In reality it was an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court's decision to demolish "Givat Ulpana," after several of his ministers threatened to end the coalition if the court order was enforced. The true intentions of the Israeli government in refusing to abide by the court’s decision can be seen in Netanyahu’s establishment of a special ministerial committee to legalise other scattered settlement outposts in the Occupied West Bank.
On 6th May 2012 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the Israeli government’s second appeal, ruling for the third time that the settlement of Givat Ulpana was illegally build on Khalid’s land, that it should be demolished, and that all land should be returned to him. The court set 1st July 2012 for the implementation of this order.
The court’s first ruling in October 2008 not only shook the Israeli establishment’s assumptions of legal invulnerability, but also provoked a sustained and violent campaign against Khalid from elements of the around 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank. He has received threatening phone calls, had two of his cars torched, had graffiti scrawled across his property, as well as numerous raids of his home by the Israeli army.
Khalid daily carries with him the Supreme Court’s ruling, and refuses to negotiate anything less than the return of all stolen land.
Despite the fact that this decision has still not been implemented, and it looks as if the Israeli government has not exhausted all possible ways to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling, Khalid has not lost hope that he will one day be able to return to the land that he farmed before the theft of his land, and before the settlers built upon his fields. He still carries, along with his identity papers, the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, telling those he meets that he insists on the restoration of his land, despite the threats and harassment of the Israeli army and the settlers, even if it costs him his life. .
In a bid to counter this legal threat to continued colonial expansion on Palestinian land, which already sees half a million settlers in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government offered to lease the land from Khalid, and thus to avoid carrying out the demolitions ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court. While it remains to be seen whether this decision will be implemented, its lesson is clear: the Zionist colonial project in Palestine treats with contempt any threat, whether from international law or the decisions of the Israeli judiciary, to its complete control over all of the land.
The Khalids of Palestine, though, will not negotiate the sale of this land to those who seek to colonise and ultimately expel them. To negotiate and bargain with the oppressor and usurper of the land is not an alternative worth considering. To paraphrase Khalid, the only alternative to the status quo that any of us should accept is the complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land. Only then may the countless Khalids, in the refugee camps of Yarmouk, Sabra, Khan Younis or Aida, be able to return again to plough their soil and tend their olive trees.