An article provided by our guest author Fini Hennig
When thinking of Middle Eastern cuisine, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is humus and falafel – dishes that can easily be found in most cities around the world. What most people don’t know is that the Middle Eastern cuisine has a lot more to offer. Therefore, Conflictfood’s last journey took them all the way to Palestine to discover the region’s delicacies. But why of all places Palestine?
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a pressing issue for years and no resolution seems to be in sight. At this stage, it is the Palestinian population suffering from the Israeli occupation, being left with little perspective. The occupation does not only influence political integrity and daily routines, but comes with profound impacts on the Palestinian economy and agriculture. This is a critical matter for a society with centuries of agricultural tradition. Therefore, Conflictfood decided to support small Palestinian farmers by establishing new distribution channels and thereby creating new perspectives for securing their livelihood.
Part 1: Most essential lines of conflict between Israel and Palestine
When Conflictfood talks about Palestine, they refer to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which according to the Oslo agreement were meant to form the state of Palestine. Both territories, including Jerusalem, Sinai in the South and the Golan Heights in the North, were conquered by Israel during the Six-Day war in 1967. Sinai was ascribed back to Egypt in 1982, whereas the status of the Golan-Heights remains unsolved. This region is claimed by Syria, but as there is no peace agreement reached so far, part of the Golan-Heights are annexed by Israel while other parts are still governed by the UN. The Israeli military withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and all Jewish settlements in the area were dissolved. Still – this region is cordoned off. Jerusalem remains with a special status but de facto functions as the capital of Israel. The West Bank as well as the Eastern part of Jerusalem are claimed by Palestinians but have been occupied by Israel for more than 50 years now. And still, a resolution of the conflict seems to be further away than ever before.
In the following, focus will be put on the agricultural situation of the West Bank. Due to the political division of the Palestinian leadership and the total Israeli blockade, the current conditions at the Gaza Strip would require a proper blog post on its own. As a consequence of the Israeli blockade, Conflictfood is only able to operate in the West Bank.
According to the UN partition plan of 1947, the British mandate territory in Palestine should have been separated into two states: one for the Jews and the other one for the Arabs. But the Arab population did not accept the partition plan. After the expiration of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948, Ben Gurion declared Israel an independent state – and the surrounding Arab states declared war against Israel. During the first Israeli-Arab war in 1948-49, Israel was able to conquer further territories originally assigned to the Arab population of Palestine. The war ended in 1949. Along with the ceasefire the so-called “Green Line” was established, which was negotiated in the course of the Oslo process between 1993 and 1995 to constitute the future two-State solution. The Green Line marks the borders between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank – the latter a border barely noticeable for the Israeli population but a frontier with significant presence for the Palestinians.
Ever since the formation of the Israeli state, the history of Palestine has been shaped by occupation of land, flight and expulsion. The wars between 1947-49 and 1967 have forced about one million people to flee their homeland. Ever since, most of the displaced people and their descendants live in refugee camps located in the West Bank or in the neighbouring Arab states as well as scattered around the globe. The right of return for Palestinian refugees has been a major issue in the conflict and has caused the failure of former peace negotiations. The Palestinians demand the unrestricted right of return for all refugees and their descendants to their place of origin – no matter if this place has been in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or in Israel. Israel rejects this solution fearing that the Jews would no longer be the majority of the Israeli population, which would contradict the fundamental Zionist idea of a Jewish majority within the Jewish state.
The question of the dissolvement of the Jewish settlements built on Palestinian territory has always been another important issue within recent peace negotiations. Since the Six-Day war in 1967, the Israeli government has pushed forward the constructions of Jewish settlements in spite of international law agreements that consider these settlements as illegal. Whereas the settlements in the Gaza Strip were dissolved in 2005, the ones in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem continue to grow, currently accomodating up to 550.000 people. Nowadays, not only right-wing religious people move to the settlements, but also ordinary Israelis with no pronounced political motivation Government-subsidized land prices make living there attractive, leading in turn to an overall normalization of the settlements within the Israeli society.During the past decades, huge blocks able to accomodate up to 40.000 people were developed, including complete urban infrastructures and facilities. They are usually arranged in strategically favourable positions, placed on hilltops overlooking the Palestinian villages or cities nearby. Up to now, there are about 125 officially authorized settlements in the West Bank and approximately 100 so-called outposts. The latter are not officially authorized but tolerated by the Israeli government. In the beginning, these outposts usually consist of a conglomeration of caravans that are successively replaced by fortified buildings alongside with the construction of basic infrastructure. This is how a new settlement is born. The official settlements do not only have an excellent infrastructure but their own streets directly connecting them with Israel. Thus, a parallel transportation infrastructure is being built that the Palestinians are not allowed to use.
Furthermore, the freedom of movement of the Palestinian population is severely restricted with 27 fortified checkpoints as well as mobile checkpoints that may pop up anywhere. All these aspects contribute to the further fragmentation of the West Bank and the increasing loss of agricultural land.
Area A, B, C
In the 1990s the Oslo process was supposed to initiate the formation of the Palestinian state including the gradual withdrawal of the Israeli military from the Occupied Territories. But the dispute about the distribution of territories continued, especially concerning the West Bank. Therefore, the West Bank was divided into different administrative areas with different degrees of Israeli influence. Today, long after the failure of the peace negotiations in 2002 those administrative areas still exist. The occupation of Palestinian territories remains and the two-State solution is increasingly unlikely. The administrative partition of the West Bank has a huge impact on the Palestinian economy, particularly on the agricultural sector.
Only 18% of the West Bank – mainly the bigger cities – are fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This is Area A, where barely any agricultural activity is happening. Area B accounts for 22% of the West Bank and primarily includes the villages and rural areas surrounding the urban centers. Area B is also governed by the Palestinian Civilian Administration, but political and security matters are still controlled by Israel. Finally, accounting for 60% of the whole West Bank, Area C is completely subject to the Israeli security control. Additionally, Israel controls any territorial matters and the entire infrastructure. Area C mainly consists of agricultural regions as well as of most of the Jewish settlements. Here Palestinians are not allowed to construct buildings or interfere in infrastructural matters. And the Israeli government can expropriate their land at any time.
In 2002 the constructions of the wall started as a result of the failed peace negotiations and the second Intifada. The wall is built along the Green Line that was established after the first Israeli-Arab war in 1948, but also beyond invading great parts of the West Bank. Whereas the Green Line counted 320 kilometres, the length of the whole wall will be about 700 kilometres upon completion.
Jewish settlements located in the West Bank nearby the Green Line are cut off from Palestinian territory. Furthermore, 80% of the separation barrier complex is built on Palestinian territory – sometimes as broad as 60 metres. Constructions are supposed to finish in 2020 and about 15% of the former West Bank area will then be located on the Israeli side of the wall. In some cases, the wall even divides or encompasses whole cities and villages, thereby separating farmers from their fields. In addition, the wall facilitates the control of imports and exports of goods from and to Palestine. Import and export are only possible through Israeli harbours and thus heavily depend on the Israeli military as well as the customs and border control, who regularly impede smooth delivery of goods from and to the West Bank. Furthermore, Palestinian manufacturers pay high taxes on exports, whereas Israel can introduce goods free of charge in the Occupied Territories. Because of these regulations Israeli products overrun Palestinian markets offering prices that neither farmers nor food manufacturers or handicraft businesses in Palestine are able to keep up with. Furthermore, there is a lack of consistent political strategies from the government that could strengthen the local Palestinian economy. And financial funding from development cooperations mainly focuses on agricultural businesses with a global market orientation. Thus, standardisation and industrialisation are promoted at the expense of local agricultural diversity and small businesses that are unable to compete. In summary, the settlements, the ongoing territorial fragmentation of the West Bank and the separation wall push forward land seizure and expulsion of the Palestinian population. All together, this poses a huge threat to the Palestinian agriculture, which accounts for 13% of the GDP and supports up to 70-100.000 families.
Scarcity of water
Another fundamental issue in the West Bank is the scarcity of water. Water supply and related infrastructure is entirely controlled by the Israeli state enterprise Mekorot. Even though resources of water in the West Bank would be extensive enough to supply all inhabitants, Palestinian communities do not receive sufficient amounts, especially during hot summer seasons. The Israeli population receives about 300 litres per capita, whereas only 70 litres per capita are delivered to the Palestinians in the West Bank. This is even 30 litres less than the daily minimum need recommended by the WHO. One can recognize Palestinian villages from afar by their black water tanks on their rooftops. Those tanks are used to store water during periods when no water is delivered through the pipes. To get through the summer period, people are forced to additionally buy water from Mekorot, which is delivered to them with trucks.
Scarcity of water does not only concern households, but also influences the agricultural sector and the biodiversity of Palestine. If fields cannot be watered properly, many fruits and vegetables cannot mature and therefore are no longer cultivated. As a consequence focus is laid on plants like olives, which survive with the amount of water they get during the rainfalls in winter. This focus causes an oversupply resulting in price drops that in turn worsen the farmers’ situation.In addition, the Israeli military and settlers have intentionally destroyed 800.000 of the 10 million olive trees growing in Palestine. This has not only economic consequences, but also invades the farmers’ self-conception as guardians of the land and its fruits – especially olive trees. For centuries, cultivating and caring for the Biblical olive tree has been an integral part of Palestinian identity.
Ultimately, all the issues mentioned above severely impact and limit a diverse, profitable and high-quality agriculture in the West Bank.
What Palestinian farmers do to improve their situation? Find out with our next blog post.
Fini Hennig is a social anthropologist specialized on the MENA region and currently studying Sustainable Tourism Management at the University for Sustainable Development Eberswalde. She also loves the food of the region and is wiriting her master thesis about Palestinian cuisine and its meaning for constructing a collective Palestinian identity in Palestine and beyond.
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