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Owning the Homeland: Property, Markets and Land Defense in the West Bank

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The author engages in a critical discussion on much of the literature on Palestine, land defence and agriculture. While land is commonly framed as the space where lies a dichotomy, on one hand having occupation, neoliberalism and privatization and on the other, the Palestinian community, the solidarity and collectivity, the author suggests that this is an idealized vision and it overlooks the use that Palestinians have done of private property, narrowing the present and idealizing the past. His claim is that land defence is carried out through private property as well, starting in the 70s and 80s and then having a turn after 2007. First of all, he draws attention on the proletarization of the Palestinian countryside on the one hand, with the contextual emergence of real estate agencies such as TABO, framing land defence in a market-oriented fashion, as a commercial land defence project. While land defence is a process that seeks to postpone the seizure of the land by the settlers, there raise the problem on how to effectively carry out the defence, needed to reassert indigenous ownership and to recreate indigenous society. Nevertheless, settler colonialism works through expropriation, through law and policies, which are out of reach for the Palestinians who do not have political and economy sovereignty and thus the capacity to implement laws. The evolution of land defence and land use is understood necessarily through the relationships between the Palestinian and Israeli economy. Around the 70s and 80s in fact, the proletarization of the Palestinian society and the daily labour migration to Israel or Israeli industries, offering higher salaries, determined a widespread neglect of the land, especially of the olive crop. Contextually, started being used in different forms by Israel to favour private companies and industries purchase of Palestinian lands. In an attempt to protect their lands, the access to which was more and more problematic, Palestinians converted the use of their lands in order to maintain productive control over their lands. With the Oslo agreement, the expulsion of Palestinian labour from Israel combined with the fact that the Palestinian society had increased since the 70s had devastating effects on the Palestinian social fabric and economy, with unemployment reaching peaks as high as 40%. Meantime, the oil production halved within the time span of 10 years. in this context, the emergence of companies like TABO, combined the rhetoric of land defence, with private property, attacking the commonly owned land system of maliyya as a risk to be replaced with tabu property. Tabu not only offers registration of the land, but also other services such the clearing of the land, construction of walls from local stone, offers harvesting services and to ship oil across the globe. Meantime, the rhetoric is that tabu can counteract the agricultural backwardness of farmers injecting new knowledge and technologies in the agriculture. Tabu also connects Palestine with other indigenous struggles around the world that have counteracted settler-colonialism practices through the use of private property. While it allows indigenous nations to hold onto territory that otherwise most certainly would have been lost, it also eliminates certain social relations, introduces new distributions of ownership and transforms indigenous subjectivity. At the same time though, local farmers are afraid that private property will become another means for the expropriation of land and for colonisation. This case study, sheds light on the importance of recognising practices of land defence that are not necessarily progressive or leftist, but that rather insert themselves within the settler-colonialism and accumulative capitalism while using the notion of land defence, that historically refers to practices of leftist defence.  

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Journal of Palestine Studies