March 30: Stolen Lands

Alas for those who devise wickedness
   and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
   because it is in their power. 
They covet fields, and seize them;
   houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
   people and their inheritance. 
Micah 2:1-2

How does someone “seize” or “take away” a field or house, as Micah describes it?

There are lots of ways, some of them even legal. Banks can foreclose, creditors can call in their debts, and governments can determine “eminent domain.” Nations can invade with armies, and annex land at will.

One of the worst land and property seizures happening in the world right now, however, is taking place slowly and deliberately in the West Bank. Even though the international community has recognized the official borders of the Palestinian territories for years, the Israeli government continues to disregard these borders by allowing the construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

The city of Hebron is one such example. Shortly after the Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel captured the West Bank, Israeli settlers moved into a Hebron hotel, and were allowed to stay “temporarily.” Since this time, settlers have continued to move into Palestinian territories, building houses, cutting off Palestinian farmers from their fields, and even, in some cases, tormenting the Palestinians who live around them.

Hebron’s population is estimated to be just over 209,000, all of whom are Palestinian, except for a small Jewish minority of 500-800. The city was divided into two regions, the first of which is run entirely by Palestinians; the second region, known as H2, consists of the Old City, and has a population of 30,000 Palestinians and the Jewish settlers. In 2015, Israel sent a brigade to protect the small contingent of settlers, and marked a “closed military zone” in the heart of the city, shutting down over 500 Palestinian-owned businesses. Palestinians are subject to daily roadblocks and searches by the army, as well as to insults, threats, and violence by some of the settlers.

Settlements continue unabated across the West Bank. Despite widespread international opposition, settlers have multiplied fourfold in the last 24 years, with a total of 130 settlements throughout the West Bank. 

This reality on the ground makes it harder for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate peace. For one, it severely hampers efforts at a two-state solution. Since the Israeli military is now present throughout the West Bank, and Palestinians are unable to move freely within the territory, it appears as if the Israeli government is pursuing a “divide and conquer” tactic.

This state of affairs has been an ongoing burden for the Palestinian people since 1948, when 750,000 were uprooted from their homes and lands to make way for the newly-created Jewish state. Many fled to Lebanon, carrying their house keys with them, certain that they would return in just a few weeks or months. Instead, they died in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, the keys rusting into irrelevance.

The violence that some Palestinian militias and rebel groups embrace is, in part, a reaction to the original crime of land seizure in 1948, a cry of resistance to the loss of identity, home, family.

Micah’s message is that violence begets violence, that oppression breeds oppression. He warns the cities of Judah that those within them who covet and seize will themselves be seized. He powerfully protests against the injustices which are routinely practiced in the land.

Prayer: God, please show mercy to those who have had their lands seized from them, and to those who have had to flee their homes for safety. Make me a righteous peace-maker. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Watch these 2 short videos by Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. It’s ten minutes of reality-check that you will not forget.