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NGOs: Israel excluding Palestinians from their lands in the West Bank and Gaza

Israeli policies have been severely criticised this week by human rights NGOs, with a particular focus on the exclusion of Palestinians from their land in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A report co-published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) focuses on Israeli violations in the so-called Access Restricted Areas (ARA) – IDF-imposed 'no go zones' in land and sea.

The document, 'Under Fire: Israel's enforcement of Access Restricted Areas in the Gaza Strip', lays out how Israeli attacks on civilians have exacted a heavy price on Gaza's population, with 127 Palestinians killed and 761 injured between June 2007 and July 2013 in the ARA.

Meanwhile at sea, the report records 522 documented Israeli shooting incidents against fishermen between 1997 and December 2013, resulting in 9 civilian deaths, 47 injuries and 422 detentions.

Just since the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, Israeli forces have killed at least 8 Palestinian civilians in the ARA and injured 120 more – opening fire on fishermen almost 150 times in the first 12 months after 'Operation Pillar of Defense'.

The report notes that "there have been no criminal prosecutions into the killing or injury of fishermen or farmers by Israeli forces" while "nearly every civil claim has been dismissed on procedural grounds and without compensation to the victims."

In terms of the amount of territory affected, the ARA has placed 35% of Gaza's agricultural land off-limits for cultivation – that is 17% of the entire Gaza Strip. At sea, Israel denies Palestinian fishermen access to 85% of the area allocated to them under the Oslo Accords, with the restrictions leaving 95% of fishermen dependent on international aid.

In total, an estimated 180,000 Palestinians – 12% of the Gaza Strip's population – is directly affected by the enforcement of the ARA at land and sea.

Among the recommendations made by IDMC and PCHR is that the Israeli government should "lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and the access restrictions at land and sea, both of which are collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza".

Meanwhile, this week also saw Human Rights Watch (HRW) publish 'Israel: Military Choking Palestinian Village, Planning Tourist Site', a detailed microcosm of Israel's apartheid regime as it affects one Palestinian village near Jerusalem, Nabi Samwil.

HRW contextualises the current plight of the village with its history under Israeli military rule since 1967. In 1971, IDF forces demolished around 30 buildings in the village, then in 1995, designated the area a national park. This subsequently provided the basis for denying residents "the right to build, renovate, conduct business, or plant trees". The area around the village mosque, including remains of the demolished houses, was declared an archaeological site.

Since 2007, HRW reports, the Apartheid Wall has separated Nabi Samwil from the rest of the West Bank, leaving villagers in the so-called 'seam zone' between the Wall and the Green Line (around 11,000 Palestinians are similarly located).

As with other villages in seam zone areas, the military only allows Palestinians whom it has registered as permanent residents of Nabi Samwil to cross a checkpoint to the rest of the West Bank, and severely restricts the goods they can bring in with them. In one case, forces at the checkpoint held up a school bus for hours because one student tried to bring a sack of bread into the village without prior permission.

In June 2013, the Israeli authorities announced plans for an archaeological tourist site in the village. In the words of HRW's Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson, "the Israeli military has choked off Nabi Samwil for years", and is now set to "make a tourist attraction out of the part of the village the military destroyed". Military authorities "should be making sure Nabi Samwil residents can return and rebuild", Whitson added, "not making their displacement permanent."

HRW highlights other examples of the politicisation of archaeology under Israeli apartheid, such as the military's efforts "to forcibly displace residents of the Palestinian villages of Susiya and Khirbet Zanuta, in the southern West Bank, because of archaeological finds at the sites". Also cited is the notorious, settler-run 'City of David' project in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem. In Nabi Samwil itself, officials from the Israeli military's Archaeological Staff Office have removed a 200-300 year-old, Arabic-inscribed stone, from the wall of mosque. As Whitson puts it:

Israeli authorities not only exclude Palestinians from any role in managing their cultural heritage, but are perverting archaeology into a tool to drive Palestinians out of their communities.

Human Rights Watch references the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition on individual or mass forcible transfers of an occupied population for anything other than imperative military reasons or for their own safety – stressing that "the prohibition of forcible transfer extends to cases in which the military makes life so difficult that people are essentially forced to leave".

Deliberately violating this prohibition is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and prosecutable as a war crime.

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