The sun never sets on Bab Al Shams
On Tuesday, January 15th, Palestinians wearing festive clothing tried to sneak back into the new village of Bab al Shams, where the Israeli government is, despite international criticism, adamant to expand and erect new illegal settlements. Israeli army forces fired stun grenades at the returning activists disguised as wedding goers, and blocked their entrance, forcing them to leave the site once again.
About one month ago Palestinians, who live under immense danger of having their villages “frozen” in order to accommodate the accelerated expansion of settlements, began planning the creation of a new Palestinian village called “Bab al-Shams.” This new village is located between the settlement of Maaleh Adumim and east Jerusalem. On January 11th, roughly 200 Palestinians and foreign activists put up tents in the newly established village. More than 50 Palestinians joined the day after, coming from Ramallah. Bab al-Shams, which is built on privately owned Palestinian land, is composed of 20-25 steel-framed tents, filled with powerful and determined Palestinian spirits. The village had some camp fires lit, in an attempt to survive the bitterly cold weather, as well as a first-aid tent, and naturally the numerous Palestinian flags waving in the winter sky. The community of Bab al-Shams went up overnight and had a strong presence, all in an effort to reenact the “game” played against them by the Israeli settlers who camp on hilltops with no warning or welcome, knowing full well that their new settlement can be erected and established overnight. The main objectives behind Bab al-Shams, according to its organizers are to protect the area for a sovereign Palestinian state as well as to secure the land owners’ right to build on their property.
The initiative of Bab al-Shams is being considered one of the people’s most innovative and significant moves. Palestinian politicians have backed the project, including member of the PLO’s executive committee, Hanan Ashrawi, who considered it to be a “highly creative and legitimate non-violent tool to protect our land from Israeli colonial plans.” Member of parliament and head of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa Barghouti, participated in a solidarity visit to the village, and PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat, attempted to visit, but was barred by Israeli troops.
Needless to say, Israel’s viewpoint completely opposed that of the Palestinians. Within the first day of the village’s establishment, the Israeli police “visited” the area and passed out an eviction order. Nevertheless, the activists succeeded in obtaining an injunction by Israel’s High Court, preventing the Israeli Government from forcing the people to leave the region. Unfortunately, shortly after, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a directive, asserting his military power and deeming his decision to evacuate the activists a matter of “urgent security.” By Sunday, Israeli occupation forces had expelled the outpost, detained a number of activists and injured a few. Subsequently, Netanyahu proclaimed the area as a closed military zone. The activists who were denied access on Tuesday, were told by the Israeli police that the zone was made off-limits by the army.
The chain of events leading up to the establishment of Bab Al Shams is no coincidence. The UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member state last November was considered as an act of defiance by Israel, prompting Netanyahu to retaliate by voicing plans to build approximately 4,000 housing units in the E1 area. E1 lies within Area C of the West Bank, which is the territory that falls under Israeli security and civilian control. Within this area, it is impossible for Palestinians to acquire building permits. Despite the fact the international community views settlements as illegal, and believes that their existence is detrimental to peace talks between Palestine and Israel – which came to a halt in 2010 -- and although Israel’s closest allies condemn the construction of these settlements, Israel chooses to simply disregard international criticism. Israel differentiates between settlements which have been authorized by the government and others that have not, and only sometimes takes action against the unauthorized settlements. However, Netanyahu has recently stated that Israel has the right to build in the West Bank, a policy all Israeli governments have adopted, whether officially or unofficially since 1967.
The prospect of creating a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, which includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as its capital is under enormous threat with the green light being given to the E1 project. If it goes into full effect, E1 will separate the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part, and will completely separate both from east Jerusalem, the long sought-after capital of Palestine.
Mayse Jarbawi is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.