By: George Kurzom
Agricultural production in West Bank settlements constitutes the lion's share of Israeli agricultural exports to EU countries
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
Over the past few decades, the Israeli colonialist agricultural projects have expanded significantly in the West Bank, especially in the Jordan Valley and landscapes containing vineyards, olive and fruit trees in and around the settlements. Palestinians are prevented from entering the vast lands that the occupation looted from Palestinian owners and annexed them to the settlements.
Israelis plant large areas in the Jordan Valley with palms, greenhouses crops and field crops. They confiscate vast amount of water resources for their cultivation in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea areas. Currently, the cultivated area in the settlements reaches more than 100,000 dunums, productivity higher than the Palestinian areas because of the abundance of confiscated Palestinian water and resources looted for colonialist agriculture in the settlements that produce a large proportion of its crops exported by Israel to Europe. For example, most of the pomegranate exported to Europe comes from settlements, in addition to 22% of almonds, 13% of olives and 60% of the dates marketed in the Israeli market and 40% of exported dates, are cultivated in the Jordan Valley settlements (UNCTAD 2015, Besieged Palestinian Agriculture Sector).
Organic farming has expanded remarkably in settlements. Vegetables, apples, dates, eggs, goat milk and other organic products are exported abroad, especially to Europe, as Israeli products and not as settlements products (UNCTAD, ibid). The value of agricultural goods and products exported by the settlements’ factories and companies to the EU coutries is estimated at around $4.5 billion (Al-Sabbagh, Zuhair, 2018. Palestinian labor class).
According to the colonial divisions of the West Bank (agreed in colonial agreements signed by official Palestinian parties), 61% of the latter is under the absolute Israeli civil and security control (the so-called Area C). This area accounts for 63% of the West Bank's agricultural resources, fertile lands and the best quality lands of grazing; noting that Palestinians are "prohibited" by Israel from using most of the pastoral lands throughout the West Bank, due to settlement expansion, military zones and the colonial separation wall (UNCTAD, former source).
In addition, about three-quarters of Area C is reserved for Israeli settlements and their future expansion, military training zones and "natural reserves" which often is a cover for Israeli colonial and military activities. The occupation also prohibits construction in all its forms in 70% of Area C, and does not allow "urban" activity except in no more than 1% of area C; while imposing impeding restrictions on construction in the remaining 29 % of the area (UNCTAD, ibid). Under strict Israeli restrictions and the requirements of obtaining permits (almost impossible) from the occupation to establish any agricultural facility or wells drilling; expectedly, Palestinian agriculture in this area is fragile, unstable and uncompetitive.
The shocking facts indicate that under the Palestinian Authority, created by the colonial agreements with the occupation; colonial settlements flourished and the number of Zionist settlers in the West Bank increased. In mid eighties, the number of settlements in the West Bank stood at about 120, and now stands at about 150, in addition to the so-called settlement outposts that have reached more than 100. The area of settlements rose from about 120,000 dunums in the mid-1990s to about 300,000 dunums today (an increase of about 150 %!).
In such a colonial reality, the number of settlers in the West Bank (mostly religious, ideological fanatics and extremists) amount to about 700,000 (including East Jerusalem), more than three times the figure in 1993 (when Oslo Accords where signed), when they did not exceed 220,000, including East Jerusalem settlers. Their number exceeded of what was on the eve of the occupation of most of Palestine in 1948, when they were about 650,000 (Statistical Abstract of Israel, No. 64, 2013), and occupied 78% of historic Palestine. Today, settlers are about 21% of the total population of the West Bank (UNCTAD, ibid).
Moreover, Palestinian economic dependence on Israel is structural and organic, and is reflected in the fact that Israel accounts for 70% of the Palestinian imports and absorbs more than 80% of the West Bank and Gaza strip exports, noting that more than 77% of the total Palestinian trade deficit is with Israel (UNCTAD, ibid).
Israeli food and agricultural products (including those produced at illegal settlements) dominate Palestinian markets. Israeli products that do not meet export standards are marketed in Palestinian markets and affect Palestinian producers who are unable to compete because Israeli products are subsidized and have lower prices than Palestinian products. This subsidized Israeli dumping of the Palestinian market, is faced with Palestinian products that do not have minimum financial support and protection due to the Palestinian Authority committed to colonial agreements and ties with the occupation, resulting in an inability to protect Palestinian farmers and producers facing destructive Israeli competition and market volatility.
Reproduction of the colonial reality before 1948
The current tragic colonial economic and agricultural reality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a repetition very similar to the colonial reality that existed in Palestine before 1948. The Anglo-Zionist colonial alliance at that time systematically destroyed the traditional Palestinian agricultural economy through leaking agricultural Palestinian lands to Zionist settlers, particularly through some of the great Arab landlords.
The Zionist project (pre-1948), in a systematic and gradual manner, controlled large areas of fertile agricultural lands and expelled Palestinian farmers, for the interest of establishing Zionist colonies. In the agricultural field, the latter were characterized by a diversity of socio-economic patterns; such as Kibbutz, Moshav and other agricultural cooperatives aimed at countering the resistance of the indigenous Palestinian population. For this purpose, and by benefiting from the international support, the Zionist project relied on the flow of Zionist capital to promote colonial migration to Palestine, Zionist settlements and the purchase of fertile agricultural lands. They also planned to seize the most important Palestinian economic branches at the time, mainly citrus (Al-Sabbagh, Zuhair, ibid).
The Zionists since 1930s and 1940s worked to promote their products by flooding the Palestinian market and at the same time boycotting the Palestinian products that were prevented from entering the Zionist settlement market. In parallel, in order to destroy the Palestinian agricultural economy and prevent its development and thus competing with the Zionist goods; the British colonial authorities imposed heavy taxes and fees on the Palestinian lands and Palestinian agricultural production, flooded the Palestinian market with imported crops and prevented the issuance of permits for agricultural industries and Palestinian exports.
The plundering colonialist reality today, which is destroying the Palestinian agricultural economy, is nothing but a more rigorous reproduction of the colonial reality that prevailed before 1948. Many people did not read the history of Zionist colonization in Palestine; however, others read it but did not understand or learn from the history and geography of Zionist settlement colonization in Palestine; or did not learn about the methods and arts of resisting this ugly colonial situation in Palestine. These people rather preferred to become agents and subcontractors for the occupation.
The Israeli confiscation of Palestinian agricultural land and resources from the farmers is the main reason that led to the impoverishment of most of the Palestinian farmers’ in the 1967 Occupied Territories. It is also the reason that some farmers have become cheap workers in the Israeli economy or in the consumer economy in the Palestinian cities or even unemployed, all of this has eventually led to the destruction of the Palestinian agriculture sector.
The emergence of surplus in agricultural Palestinian labors in the Palestinian countryside was not the result of unemployment suffered by agricultural labor, which often leads to dislocation from agriculture and moving to work as labors in the city, as in many “Third World Countires”, Rather, this surplus is resulted after the destruction of the Palestinian rural and agricultural economy, and the weakening of the agricultural bourgeoisie due to extensive land confiscations and the plundering of water resources. Consequently, this latter process played a fundamental role in the abnormal and distorted birth of Palestinian workers. The nature of the Palestinian labor force and its role in serving the Israeli economy were determined in the absence of a local economic alternative that could have absorbed the surplus labor force in the Palestinian countryside. In contrast, the occupation allowed the Palestinian intermediate class (the comprador) to expand and dominate, by giving them the necessary facilities to play the role of promoters of Israeli agricultural products in the Palestinian markets.
The Anglo-Zionist colonial reality (before 1948) is the unedited original version of the current colonial reality. The migration of Palestinian farmers from the countryside to the city and thus the expansion of the Palestinian working class at that time was due to the leaking of agricultural lands to the Zionist colonists who uprooted peasants from their lands and forced them to become non-professional workers.
The long-standing Palestinian historical facts, and the current political-security and economic indicators, have proved that the Zionist colonial-settlement entity will not relinquish its domination over the Palestinian lands and resources and will continue to maintain its existence as long as it is a comfortable and economically profitable project; and as long as the Zionist project is imposed on Palestinians by direct and indirect military force, and is not faced by systematic and organized resistance that affects its equation of colonial profits and losses in favor of losses in all its forms.
The solid facts on the ground confirm that the Occupation will not lift its restrictions on the Palestinian productive sectors, especially agriculture and private and public investment; it will not allow Palestinians to access their water and land, will not abandon the closure policy in the West Bank and will not lift the siege on Gaza.
The natural situation of a population under Occupation assumes the existence of organized resistance in all its forms, including economic resistance which in some aspects is reflected in the resistance development education in schools, universities and workplaces, in addition to the popular protection of small farmers, the consumption of their products, and boycotting occupiers’ products. As well as establishing small and medium-sized networks to collect rainwater, floods and springs as such initiatives cannot be fully prevented by the occupation. The creation of productive cooperatives should also be encouraged by drawing lessons from the experience of Palestinian cooperative work, and successful cooperatives around the world.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh