My new piece is up at The American Prospect:
Dror Etkes picked me up in front of the bank, next to the convenience store, on a normal Jerusalem street where nothing slows the morning commuters except normal traffic jams. I wanted to visit the Palestinian village of Silwad. To that, Etkes added a couple of other stops on our tangled route through the West Bank.
The day’s task was to examine how to take someone’s land for settlement — via stealth, strong-arm tactics, or legal maneuvers. Only at the day’s end would I understand what my real goal had been: to remind myself that the main street, the bank, the apartment buildings, the buses taking kids to summer day camps — the whole normal city day flowing according to sensible rules — is an enclave of illusory sanity.
Once upon a time you could get from Jerusalem to Silwad easily. You drove north on the main mountain-ridge highway. After Ramallah you turned right. On the other side of the country road from Silwad stood the wooden sign marking the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Ofrah. In the Oslo years of the 1990s, when Ramallah became the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, the drive got even easier. A new road — built so settlers wouldn’t need to commute through Palestinian towns — bypassed the Arab city.
Then came the second Intifada. To stop Palestinian drive-by shootings on West Bank roads and to keep suicide bombers from shredding themselves and other human beings in Israeli cafes and buses, the Israeli army installed a vast array of checkpoints and roadblocks. For Palestinians in occupied land, getting from one town to the next was somewhere between nerve-wracking and impossible.
Now, with the Intifada’s brutality becoming a memory, and with Israel under American pressure to loosen restrictions, traveling between Palestinian towns and villages has slowly become easier. To reach Silwad, we still had to take the long back road that loops over the dry eastern slopes. Etkes, an Israeli activist who has tenaciously charted settlement growth and challenged it in court, stopped along the way at Adam. According to an official report, the bedroom community is built on real estate that Israel considers state property under its interpretation of a 19th-century Ottoman law. But in 2003, Israeli settlers built a new fence around the settlement, outside the town limits, cutting through nearby Palestinian fields.
In addition, there are islands of privately owned Palestinian land inside Adam, surrounded by the suburban homes. Officially, the enclaves aren’t part of Adam’s municipal jurisdiction, but the Palestinians who once farmed them can’t reach them. We found one such enclave covered in rock and concrete debris from building sites, no longer fit to cultivate. Two synagogues and a kindergarten, all prefab, have been illegally erected on the scarred land. Their presence not only violates the law; it shames the religion in whose name many of the settlers purport to speak. I’m sure that the people who set up the kindergarten wouldn’t want the kids to steal each others’ crayons. Those who pray in the synagogues know the basic, obvious rule of Judaism that an obligation cannot be fulfilled through committing a sin. They wouldn’t steal prayer books from another house of worship. In the culture of the settlements, it seems, stealing land has become invisible, unnoticed. …
Read the rest at the American Prospect, and return to SoJo Enclave to comment.