November 2, 2017 will mark 100 years since the infamous Balfour Declaration. The declaration was issued by the British government during World War I, and supported the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Ottoman Palestine. The declaration was the culmination of efforts by the Zionist movement in Europe to gain a patron for its settler project in the eastern Mediterranean.
In the lead up to this anniversary, analysts have noted how the declaration was not simply a historical document, but rather the beginning of a colonial process that continues to shape the Palestinian experience to this day. It was incorporated into the “constitutional” structure of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (which was administered by the British after the First World War), and opened the door to Palestine’s large-scale colonization by Zionists, at the expense of the majority, indigenous Palestinian Arab population. It was central to the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948, and, with it, the marginalization (and expulsion) of many Palestinians from their historic homeland.
To this day, the Zionist movement is pursuing a maximalist vision of a Jewish state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Since its occupation of these lands in June 1967, Israel has colonized East Jerusalem and the West Bank to such an extent that the 1949 armistice lines legally separating Israel from the occupied territories have been erased both geographically and politically. This was done through military might and a process of incremental annexation, involving piecemeal resource confiscation, the gradual separation of Palestinians from their lands, and the gerrymandering of borders (notably the extension of the Israeli Jerusalem municipal boundaries and the erection of the separation wall that cuts through the West Bank).
On Sunday, October 29, just days before the Balfour Declaration’s centenary, the Israeli Ministerial Committee prepared to vote on the so-called “Greater Jerusalem” bill. If approved by the Knesset, the bill would formally expand occupied Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries even further into the West Bank. The legislation is designed to manipulate political-ethnic geographies by absorbing several major West Bank colonies (Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and the Gush Etzion settlement cluster to the south) into Jerusalem’s city limits. At the same time, the law would remove some 100,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites currently within the Israeli Jerusalem municipal boundaries (Anata, Shu’fat refugee camp, and Kafr ‘Aqab). Although already effectively “removed” from the city thanks to the Israeli separation wall, these Palestinian Jerusalemites would be formally expelled from Jerusalem’s census jurisdiction and governed by a new municipal structure.
While the law would extend municipal voting rights (mayoral and city council) to the 150,000 Israelis living in the selected illegal settlement blocs, it would not bestow full Israeli sovereignty over the area. Avoiding the direct application of sovereignty (Israeli law) is a strategic move meant to deflect international criticism, as Israel’s claims to the occupied territories are not recognized. Still, the bill amounts to de facto annexation and Likud MK (Member of Knesset) Yoav Kish, who submitted the legislation, declared that the law is in fact a “first step toward enacting (Israeli) sovereignty” over some of the country’s most important illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Indeed, Israeli ministers have been candid about the law’s ultimate goal, which is to “ensure a Jewish majority” and “weaken the Arab hold” on Jerusalem. According to BADIL (Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights), the bill is a war crime under international law, since it facilitates “the forcible transfer of residents” from an occupied land.
For now, the ministerial vote on the Greater Jerusalem bill has been delayed until the government receives a green light from the United States. In the meantime, Israel is continuing to alter Jerusalem’s demographic realities through other means. The municipality is currently preparing to demolish five residential buildings (138 apartments) in Kafr ‘Aqab, one of the three suburbs being targeted for exclusion by the Greater Jerusalem bill. Palestinian Bedouin residents of Khan al-Ahmar, located in the E1 corridor just outside Jerusalem, are also being evicted from their land so that the Israeli colony of Ma’ale Adumim can expand.
The Balfour Declaration signaled the beginning of the Zionist settler-colonial project in Israel/Palestine. Fast-forward 100 years and the Israeli government is actively working to realize the complete colonization of historic Palestine.