General, Occupied Territories

Understanding the Occupation: Theft via “Special Security Zones”

0 Comments 15 November 2017

Extremist settlers use a variety of methods to steal land from Palestinians. One of the less talked-about methods is known by the acronym “SSZ.”

Extremist Israelis stealing Palestinian olives from El Jenia groves

Extremist Israelis stealing Palestinian olives from El Jenia groves

Following the Second Intifada, the army declared large strips of land near certain settlements “Special Security Zones” (“SSZ”). Palestinians are then forbidden from entering these areas without prior army coordination and approval, even if the lands are privately owned by Palestinians. Sometimes the area encompassed is quite large in comparison to the size of the settlement itself. Furthermore,  some settlements and outposts have created an unofficial SSZ for themselves even though the army did not see a need to declare such from a security point of view. On-going threats, intimidation, and violence by extremist settlers leads to the creation of these unofficial SSZ’s as Palestinian farmers eventually conclude that accessing their land is not worth the struggle and danger.  Some farmers become so desperate that they abandon all  hope of using their agricultural land.

While the SSZ is designated for a security purposes only, settlers exploit this denial of access in order to take control of the land, use it as their own, and even try (and sometimes succeed) to legally assert ownership on the pretext that they have cultivated “abandoned” land, often through exploitation of these Special Security Zones. While this type of takeover is not limited to SSZs, it is easier to take advantage of farmers’ access limitions to their land in SSZs. At times, Israeli extremists also target Palestinian agricultural work previously approved by the army, whether through use of violence or simply by trespassing onto the land and then blocking the work.  Unwilling to deal with the extremist’s aggression, the army will often cancel the work day for the Palestinians under the pretext of “avoiding friction.” This outcome, of course, comes entirely at the expense of the Palestinians whose agriculture is consequently neglected and harmed. In the end, the farmer’s lack of access or even abandonment of their land as a result of the actions of the army is more severe than even the damages caused by the extremists. Even in the relatively “positive” cases, where takeover in SSZs did not occur, these lands become a sort of “nature park” near the settlements, expropriated from their Palestinian owners and used for the benefit of the settlers. Despite security rationale behind the declaration of Special Security Zones, in reality these measures have becomes a tool of theft and expropriation.

Of course, the army does not forbid settlers from entering land near Palestinian villages that have suffered attacks from Israeli extremists. The SSZ measure- which can be debated regarding when it is appropriate to employ and to what extent it is proportional – is applied asymmetrically and on the basis of ethnic origin.

Land take-overs via SSZ is tantamount to government-sponsored theft, and therefore is very serious. We must be particularly sensitive to the rights of the Palestinians because they have no representation in Israeli government institutions and exist under a discriminatory military regime.

On such systems, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the fathers of modern Orthodoxy, said that when the powerful take upon themselves the “burden” of doing justice to those who have no voice and do not sit at the negotiating table, it is “bordering on crime,” even when there are good intentions.

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