Palestinian refugees are facing an uncertain future in the West Bank as Israel moves ahead with plans to expand the illegal settlement enterprise.
The families of three young boys in the village of Duma in the central West Bank, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, are among the hundreds of families who have been forcibly uprooted since Israel expanded its illegal settlements in 2006, with no plan to return.
The Israeli army began demolishing the illegal settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim in 2010 and Beit Ummar in 2013.
Israel has demolished about 1,500 Palestinian homes since then.
But the Israeli army is now expanding its illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
In recent years, the number of Palestinians forced out of their homes has skyrocketed.
The Israeli government has imposed a new round of “security coordination” with the Palestinian Authority, a unity government with the PA, and is attempting to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
But many Palestinians in the villages of Dama, Duma, Nabi Saleh and Duma Adumir fear that the new government will only deepen the military occupation and the settlement enterprise that has driven them from their homes.
On Tuesday, Israeli authorities announced that they would begin construction of more than a dozen new illegal settlements that would be built in the Ramallah district of the West Ramallah settlement bloc, located in the heart of the occupied Palestinian territory.
The plans have been welcomed by Palestinian leaders.
They say the new settlements will increase the number and size of illegal settlements to nearly a third of the area’s total land.
But Palestinian rights groups have said the plans are an attempt to re-impose Israel’s control over the West, which is already under siege and surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints.
“It’s a sad day for all of us,” said Khalil Abu Ayn, a young Palestinian refugee from Duma who is still waiting for a return ticket to his home in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.
“The government has demolished our homes, our homes were built in our name.
They are the key element of Palestinian society.”
The new settlements were approved by Israel’s Defense Ministry in March and will take up to 12 years to build, and they are expected to take the same amount of land as the entire Palestinian population of the territory.
“I am very happy with the decision,” Abu Aysh said.
“They have built more than 50 homes.
They have built a new settlement.”
The government plans to continue building in the settlements, which are built in a zone of land roughly the size of two football fields, as long as the Palestinian population remains in the area.
The settlers are considered a “security threat” by Israel, which maintains a military presence in the areas.
But they also are viewed by Palestinians as a way to gain control over land in the territories.
“When they came, we were the ones who lived there, but now we are living there too,” said Nada Abu Khader, a local resident of the village.
“We feel that we have to leave the settlements and move to another village.”
Aydemar Qassem, a spokesman for the Palestinian refugee group B’Tselem, said the Israeli government’s plans to build new settlements in the illegal West Bank violate international law and international human rights law.
“Israel’s actions are illegal and constitute a breach of international law,” he said.
Israel plans to construct nearly 1,200 more illegal settlements, including in the northern West Bank city of Hebron, as well as new housing developments in the Palestinian village of Beit Nusim in the East Jerusalem district of Ramallah.
The military plans to increase the size and scope of the illegal colonies in the years ahead, and the Israeli authorities have already begun demolishing Palestinian homes in areas where the settlements are planned.
The plans also are being criticized by the international community, including the European Union, which said they violated international law.
Israel has demolished at least 200 Palestinian homes and properties in the past decade in areas of the northern East Jerusalem and West Bank under Israeli control.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that about 40 percent of the Palestinian people live in settlements, according to a report released in February by the International Solidarity Movement, a British-based NGO that supports Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians say Israel’s new settlement plans are part of a campaign to increase their population and increase the settler population in the region.
“What is happening is the continuation of a racist colonial policy,” Abu Khada said.