The Israeli outpost of Amona has captured media attention in recent weeks.
In December 2014, the settlers of Amona, which was established in 1995 on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, received a court order to evacuate within two years. With the deadline approaching, in early November, leaders of the Jewish Home party put forward the “Regulation Bill” for a parliamentary vote. The legislation would protect Amona by retroactively legalizing a number of unauthorized settlements. The U.S. State Department has already expressed its disapproval of the bill, which passed the first step toward becoming law on November 16.
Around the same time, Israeli authorities approved plans for the expansion of Gilo, which is part of a ring of settlements encircling East Jerusalem in the West Bank. Like the Regulation Bill, the move received international condemnation and was described as threatening the prospects for peace. Gilo was established by Israel in the early 1970s on land illegally expropriated from the Palestinian village of al-Walaja. Its enlargement will exacerbate the hardships al-Walaja’s residents have endured for decades, at the hands of Israeli political and military authorities.
Less discussed outside the Israeli-Palestinian press is the case of Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Palestinian-Bedouin village in southern Israel. Following a lengthy legal battle between village residents and the state, on November 22, Umm al-Hiran was scheduled for demolition to make room for a new Jewish town. While it was blocked as a result of a sit-in by Palestinian activists and a last minute court appeal, demolition is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
According to the Israeli government, Umm al-Hiran’s residents are illegally trespassing on state land. Of course, the reality is much more complex. Umm al-Hiran is one of dozens of Palestinian villages throughout Israel that the government has refused to recognize for political reasons. Israel’s objective is to maximize control over the land for the exclusive benefit of its Jewish citizens. Although official statistics are difficult to come by, roughly 10% of Israel’s Palestinian citizens live in unrecognized villages. Most pre-date Israel’s establishment while others, like Umm al-Hiran, were built by Palestinians internally displaced during the 1948 war.
The case of Umm al-Hiran has spread through social media, especially Twitter, thanks to a campaign launched by Adalah. Still, it has failed to provoke the same sense of international condemnation directed toward Israel’s illegal settlements. But, if the ongoing theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace, Israeli plans for Umm al-Hiran surely pose a similar threat.
Part of the reason why this is less appreciated is that the legal distinction between Israel proper (Israel within the 1949 armistice lines) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt) continues to shape popular and scholarly analysis. The Israeli colonial project in the oPt is commonly depicted as a deviation from Israel’s pre-1967 history and policy within its internationally recognized borders. Israeli settlers are, relatedly, represented as zealots at odds with mainstream Israeli values.
According to this framework, settlers in Amona and their parliamentary representatives are antagonists undermining peace, rule of law, and the legitimacy of the state. By contrast, the case of Umm al-Hiran is viewed as a bureaucratic problem in an otherwise functioning democracy.
While this distinction can be analytically useful, it also conceals the historical and contemporary continuities, both political and legal, between Israel proper and the oPt. Amona, Gilo, and Umm al-Hiran epitomize Israeli land policy and the system of discriminatory rule supporting it from the inside-out.