by Sneha Naren
International House (I-House) is a residential community on UCSD’s campus that houses domestic and international students and organizes programs which foster multicultural curiosity and understanding. Global Forums which explore topics of international and local interest are held weekly in the Great Hall. The following information was discussed at the Global Forum on Jan. 31, 2018.
At International House’s most recent Global Forum, Professor Gary Fields, an instructor in UCSD’s communications department, led a discussion over his new book “Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror.” The book speaks about the nature of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, while also addressing the broader question of a country’s right to power. Fields’ talk came just months after President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his book, Fields discusses the developments in the conflict which led to Trump’s decision.
Fields began by associating Israel’s takeover of Palestine with the idea of “imaginative geography.” This concept doesn’t necessarily entail lying or fantasy, but rather a difference in perception. Countries may perceive that a piece of land rightfully belongs to them, even if this notion has little factual basis. This creates a conflict of interest, in which multiple countries may believe that they have the right to own an area of land. In the case of Israel and Palestine, imaginative geography heightened tension between the two groups and eventually led to the crisis we know of today. According to Fields, this concept of rightful ownership is one which groups have fallen victim to for centuries. When observing how British expansion was justified during the colonial period, he cited John Winthrop, who stated that “if you leave natives sufficient land, then you can lawfully take the rest.” It was this justification that permitted British colonialism, and it is the same idea that is allowing the enclosure of Palestine.
A key aspect in Field’s lecture was to shed light on the unfortunate circumstances which the Palestinian’s had undergone since the war of 1967, which marked the beginning of Israel’s settlements into Palestine. This unorthodox opinion vastly contradicts the traditionally held view of the U.S., where 54% of the population supports Israel. The information which Fields provided further emphasized the failure of the two groups to co-exist together in an idealistic two-state society.
The injustice done to Palestine begins with the unlawful settlements over the West Bank and Gaza strip in 1967. Under the authority of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yigal Allon, the “Allon Plan” was formed. Here, it was stated that Israel would annex most of the West Bank, claiming that the establishment of Israeli sovereignty was necessary for Israel’s defence. While this area is technically controlled by Israel, it contains a Palestinian majority, making the settlement by Israeli citizens controversial. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its population into the territories that it occupies,” yet, this is exactly what Israel did. With the help of a civilian run right-wing activist group, by the name of “Gush Emunim,” Israel was able to establish settlements in Palestinian majority terrority. The settlements started as Nahal settlements, which entailed first setting up a line of military defense to make it seem like these settlements were only temporary. They then expanded into full civilian settlements.
The first settlement was Kfar Etzion in 1967. The land was confiscated through military order, implying that it would be used for military use alone. However, it became a civilian settlement. Israel expanded far into Palestine under the guise of of military order, until the Elon Moreh settlement in the mid-1970s. Here, the Palestinian civilians of Elon Moreh rebelled against the Israelis. The incident was taken to court, where the Israeli government deemed the act as unlawful, stating that while military order is temporary, a civilian settlement is permanent. This effectively ended the use of military order by the Israelis to settle in Palestine. However, unlawful Israeli expansion continued. The Israeli government began to take control of “dead land,”which was defined as areas in which less than 50% of the land was cultivated. As shown in Fields’ presentation, the geographical nature of Palestine creates land formations that hold a majority of dead land. The Israelis used this to their advantage and expanded deep into the Palestinian West Bank, essentially creating a Greater Jerusalem.
Fields, having pursued a career in urban planning, provided a unique and informative take on the architecture and structures of Palestine. Equipped with personal photographs of his time in Palestine, he was able to clearly illustrate the division of the state. The Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem are separated only by a highway, yet the standards of living between the two regions are vastly different. The Israeli-Palestinian governments established a joint committee, termed as the “Joint Water Committee,” whose goals were to regulate the use of water sources surrounding the area, and manage sewage related infrastructure. The committee, however, remains largely biased towards the Israeli government, thus limiting the development and expansion of Palestinian water infrastructure. It also leads to unequal division of resources between the two states, giving the majority of the water to the Jewish West side. Recently, the two states formed another deal, giving the West almost complete control of the water distribution in the state. This will have serious effects on the conflict, as the Palestinians must give even more power to Israel. Today, those on the Palestinian East side only receive an inflow of water every two or three days. The houses are thus marked with black water tanks on their roofs, where water is stored periodically.
The inequality within divided Jerusalem doesn’t stop with water. The Palestinians in the East face serious difficulties in receiving housing permits. In the state, each housing permit must be issued by the municipality to the landowner who is requesting it. Unfortunately, due to the Israeli power in the state, most of the Palestinian applicants get rejected for housing permits, for no reason other than political bias. Because of this, Palestinians are forced to build their houses illegally, thus leading to the unjust demolition of their houses.
By the end of Fields’ talk, the audience was left wondering who to support in the conflict. On one hand, we were presented with numerous facts of the injustice Israelis committed against Palestinians. On the other hand, Fields consistently brought up the idea of imaginative geography as a kind of self-justification of the Israeli acts.
When asked whether he thought that the conflict over Jerusalem was simply a battle over Israel’s strong belief in their right to ownership, he said yes. “I think the reason imaginative geography is so formidable is because the parties truly believe in it.” Fields strongly supported the notion that people don’t lie about their imaginative geography, but rather, they believe the justifications which they form. If both nations do believe in their right to the land, then is anyone actually in the wrong? Where do we draw the line between what we “deserve” and what is “right”? Finally, is it ever possible for two conflicting nations to co-exist in a two-state society?
These are all questions that swarmed my mind after the discussion. While we may never fully know the answers, the forum did aid in proving that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-layered phenomenon that expands much further than the black and white picture that it is painted to be.