Jerusalem24– In international parlance, a buffer zone is a neutral zonal area that lies between two or more bodies of land. In the case of the occupied Palestinian territories, buffer zones serve as an Israeli tool to annex Palestinian land.
On this episode of Vibes, Mahmoud Zawahreh, coordinator of the Wall and Settlement Commission, talks to Jerusalem24.
A tactic to annex Palestinian land
Zawahreh explains that buffer zones are areas that Israel established around the illegal segregation wall, and around settlements and bypass roads Israel established after 1993: “These areas vary from one another, they exist around the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Buffer Zones are an Israeli policy justifying the annexation of Palestinian land and prohibiting Palestinians from reaching and building on them.”
There are some areas in the West Bank where it can be clearly seen how Israel is pushing Palestinians from building houses and using these lands. Zawahreh says that Wadi Al-Hummus, close to Dar Salah – where Israeli bulldozers demolished an under-construction house near the wall last Wednesday – is an example of these areas on both sides of the segregation wall. In 2019 Israel bombed and demolished houses and residential buildings of Palestinians with a Jerusalem ID on the Israeli side of the wall – but are now also doing so on the Palestinian side of the wall, “so Palestinians are experiencing house demolition in the so-called “buffer zones” in Alkadeir, Noaman, and Al-Khas villages, Dar Salah and many other places, including the Gaza strip.”
Zawahreh adds that buffer zones are mostly part of Area C and sometimes parts of Area B, and that Israel uses this as a tactic to annex Palestinian land. “If we take a look at Area C, which is around 61% of the occupied Palestinian territories, we will discover that buffer zones and firing zones are a list of Israeli justifications to annex the Palestinian land.”
61% of the occupied West Bank is categorized as Area C according to the Oslo accords, which means that it is under full Israeli military occupation, where no Palestinian activities (official Palestinian intervention) can take place. “We are talking about 1% of Area C that can be used by Palestinians, where 27% of Area C is populated with more than 300,000 Palestinians,” says Zawahreh.
No recourse in military courts for Palestinians
Buffering zones, firing zones, settlements, and so-called nature reserves are under full Israeli control, 99% of which are prohibited for Palestinians to invest in, impacting all aspects of Palestinian lives.
“We’re not talking about a few kilometers of the wall but 400 kilometers, so if we talk about 150 meters from each side of the wall that’s 300 meters, and most of the wall is built on the 1967 occupied territories, this means huge areas and spaces are annexed by just building the illegal wall.”
Zawahreh explains that what happened in Dar Salah on Wednesday, when Israel demolished an under-construction house near the wall, goes back to the beginning of 2000, when Israel started building the wall and dividing areas, like Al-Khas and An-Noaman: each village is on either side of the wall, with a gate that restricts the movement of Palestinians who live inside.
Zawahreh says that according to Israeli military law, Palestinians who build in the buffer zones and have their houses demolished cannot object in Israeli courts. On the contrary, the Israeli court grants the military the freedom of implementing these laws without going to court. Zawahreh explains, “So, when you’re given 72 hours to demolish the house, they demolish the house without going to a court system. This is how Israel is designing these laws in order to escalate the violation of Palestinian rights in these areas. The wall has been built for two decades, but Palestinians have been living there for hundreds of years, in houses that are even older than the occupation.”
“Separating the people from the land”
To an extent, there’s a difference between the buffer zones in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip aren’t allowed to get near the buffer zones or even cultivate their lands. However, Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to cultivate parts of these lands and graze their sheep but are prohibited from building or otherwise investing in these areas. The buffer zones in the Gaza strip are also wider than the West Bank.
The borders with Jordan are classified as agricultural zones. In 2021, after a long process of coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli occupation authorities, some farmers managed to cultivate their lands. However, settlers who live in the Jordan Valley areas release their cows and sheep on Palestinian lands and ruin crops.
The buffer zone along the Jordanian border is not inhabited by Palestinians, though originally it was Palestinian farmland. The Israeli authorities allow settlers to rent the lands.
“If we look at the Israeli policy of seizing land through buffer zones,” says Zawahreh, “you’d have to look back at the beginnings when Israel built the wall on the outskirts of the villages – like in the case of Qalqilya, separating the people from the land so they know if they want to invest in these areas, they will for sure lose their investments.”
Different types of treatment along the wall
The wall is almost exclusively built beyond the Green Line on 1967 lands, meaning the buffer zones are either side of the wall usually encroach on Palestinian lands. However in the case of settlements which are built close to the wall and within the buffer zone, settlers are permitted to use the land for building, farming, or whatever other purpose they see fit.
Listen to today’s full episode of Vibes for more details.