Friday, July 10, 2009

Reading for the “Three Weeks” – How the Settlements Destroy the Soul of Israel

Veteran Haaretz reporter Amos Harel had a long article today about the settlements and their outposts. How appropriate that in this period of Jewish national mourning over the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple, we have articles like this one that chronicle the moral rot at the heart of Israel's settlement enterprise – an enterprise that manages to connect robbery, theft, and the destruction of lives under the name of ge'ulat karka, redeeming the land.

This is how Harel finishes the piece:

One of the most obvious things learned from every visit [to the Territories] is the extent to which things are done in a planned way, to this day. It is hard to miss the destroyed terraces in the settlement of Adam or the sight of the sewage flowing from Psagot, not far from the Binyamin regional council building, straight into the wadi that runs to the adjacent Palestinian town of El Bireh. But in those very same settlements live upstanding citizens, who would not cheat the grocer of 10 agorot and who would go out in the middle of the night to help a neighbor stuck on a dark road. In the outposts live scores of officers in the career army and the reserves, who serve in elite units and win citations for their courage. At the same time, according to the official state data, many of them have built their dream homes, a modest mobile home or a more luxurious villa, on land that has been stolen from someone else by force.

Much of Harel's piece is all-too familiar territory, but that does not make it less powerful. If you are a reader of this blog who cares about Israel and wants to see the settlement abomination stopped – do me a favor, and send this link, Harel's article, to members of your family.

If you care about Israel, Jews, or humanity, you will do all you can to stop the madness.

Here are some excerpts:

The outposts are a continuation of the settlements by other means. The sharp distinction Israel makes between them is artificial. Every outpost is established with a direct connection to a mother settlement, with the clear aim of expanding the takeover of the territory and ensuring an Israeli hold on a wider tract of land. Construction in the outposts is integrated into the overall plan of the settlement project and is carried out in parallel to the seizure of lands within and close to the settlements.

The outpost Migron is surrounded by a fence, guarded and connected to the necessary water and electricity infrastructures. Its "ascent to the land," even though it was done on private Palestinian property, and despite the fact that it was undertaken in a deceptive manner, has received backing and practical support from the state. The security establishment's declaration to the High Court of Justice this week that it would take more than a year to implement the compromise agreement, whereby the inhabitants of Migron would be moved to the adjacent settlement of Adam, shows that this backing is still in place.

The settler establishment's efforts are now aimed in other directions - building in the settlements and veteran outposts (often involving the smuggling in of parts of mobile homes, because the Civil Administration is now preventing the transport of such homes in their entirety) and taking over agricultural lands, some of which are privately owned by Palestinians. The advantage of the latter tactic is that maximum area is obtained with a tolerable monetary investment and a low profile is maintained. Dirt roads are being blazed, vineyards are being planted and the actual area of the settlements is growing, dunam by dunam.

Behind every settlement action there is a planning and thinking mind that has access to the state's database and maps, and help from sympathetic officers serving in key positions in the IDF and the Civil Administration. The story is not in the settlers' uncontrolled behavior, though there is evidence of this on some of the hilltops, but rather in conscious choices by the state to enforce very little of the law.

Palestinian lands have been swallowed up inside settlement fences, and their legal owners are being denied access to them. When the Civil Administration data on land ownership is superimposed by computer imaging onto aerial photographs of the settlements, a surprising picture emerges. Often, there are large enclaves. It is not at all difficult to identify them on the ground because in most cases private homes are not built on them. An inhabitant of a settlement is not going to want to risk having his home be on privately owned Palestinian land.

At the same time, veteran and well-established settlements are annexing, de facto, lands outside the fence. Thus, for example, vineyards have miraculously sprung up on lands owned by Palestinians around the settlement of Psagot.

Taking over the private property of someone who belongs to the neighboring people is a common phenomenon in the West Bank, even in recent years. We aren't talking here about things that happened back in 1948. It is possible, of course, to describe these moves as a necessary part of the life-and-death struggle between the two peoples, in the name of which nearly all means are justified.

It is also possible to call them old crimes that need to be dealt with, and the sooner the better. But the fact that Israel committed war crimes in 1948 and since, does not justify continuing the same crimes today. When a criminal is caught stealing a car, he can't reply that he has been stealing them for years and nobody called him on it. Is it wrong to steal somebody's land or not? That is the fundamental question. And if it is wrong, why are we still doing it?


Y. Ben-David said...

I am surprised that you, of all people, are saying these things. You are one of the few "progressives" who understand what it is that is eating the Palestinians...the source of their grievances. As you have put it so well in the past, "the trouble is NOT 1967 (Israel coming into control of Judea/Samaria), and not even 1947 (the UN Partition Plan and the creation of the State of Israel), but 1917 (the Balfour declaration) and 1897 (Herzl founding the World Zionist Organization). You yourself have said IT IS NOT THE SETTLEMENTS IN JUDEA/ is the Jews coming to Palestine in the first place with the intention of building a state.
You know very well that it is the Arab land that was stolen in 1947-8 (Baka, German Colony, Givat Ram...all in Jerusalem, Ramat Aviv/Sheikh Munis, Ashdod, Ashqelon,Yafo, Lod, Ramla, Beersheva, etc, etc) that was the cause of ALL the subsequent wars, including the war that brought Israel into control of Judea/Samaria. So instead of 'progressives' whining about what the settlers are doing, why don't they take the initiative themselves AND BEGIN THE PROCESS OF RETURNING THE STOLEN ARAB LAND THEY ARE SITTING ON THE ARABS. Have the 'progressive' professors at Tel Aviv University track down the Arabs whose land they are sitting on and at least start raising millions of dollars of compensation for them if not lobbying outright for the return of the land to them, and to move the University to a place that was not stolen from Arabs (if their indeed is something like that in present-day Israel). Perhaps the "Zochrot" organization which is dedicated to restoring the original Arab identity to all the places in Israel can take the lead it this. THIS ADDRESSES THE REAL GRIEVANCES OF THE ARABS, not running after a few tiny outposts in Judea/Samaria.

Amos Elon and the others decided to be Tzadikkim on somebody elses account. They did NOT own up to what they did to the Arabs as you pointed out in your piece about the memorial ceremony for him. So to go on and on and blaming the "settlers" for everything is simply trying to shift the blame off their "progressive" shoulders on to the "hated" Orthodox/religious settlers which Elon and his ilk despised for reasons other than their deciding to settle Judea/Samaria. That is simply a cheap shot.
It is time the "progressives" (or what you call "the Liberal Zionists") admit their own crimes.
The bottom line is that Zionism and "progressivism" are inherently irreconcilable and maybe Obama will be the one to wake up the "progressives" to this fact, he pointed out in his Cairo speech that Israel was an historical abberation that the US supports it merely due to internal political pressures. This is the wake-up call!

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David, we have had this discussion before, and you know where I stand. But I really want to press you again on this.

Say, I live next to a Native American reservation in the United States. The land on which I lived was annexed to the US after a war a hundred years ago. Now, I go ahead and start farming land on the reservation. They lodge a complaint against me and we go to court.

Now, according to you, this is what I should say to the judges:

"You are a bunch of hypocrites. The land that this courtroom sit on was stolen from the Indians a hundred years ago. In fact, all the lands that your homes are on in this town were stolen from the Indians. If I don't have a right to farm where I want to, then you don't have a right to any of these lands -- especially if there are still Native Americans who don't recognize that right."

Now this, of course, is a lousy argument, and I would lose the suit. But isn't that the argument you are making? True, there are no recognized borders, but that's not your argument. Your argument is that there is essentially no difference between benefiting from what happened then and benefiting from what happens now. But nobody buys that.

I may require somebody who today bought a painting confiscated by the Nazis years ago to return it, or to pay the owners. But that is not the same as stealing the same painting now from the owners.

Even I, who say that Israel has to make reparations for stolen land (with interest) in 1948, recognize the difference between the status between what one can do with land within one's sovereignty, and what one can do with land outside one's sovereignty.

And finally, the idea of a statute of limitations, and direct responsibility, has to be relevant to your moral calculus. Isn't there a difference between using something that was stolen generations ago, and using something that you yourself stole? I am not saying that both are right -- but are both equally wrong?

And doesn't it makes sense that one starts with the crimes that are going on now and works backwards, especially when the ongoing crimes are directly affecting people and making them suffer?

Note that I do not use Harel's argument that what happened in war is what happens in war. Although one can point out that from an international law standpoint, the fourth geneva convention dates from 1949, and should not be considered binding retroactive. So the prohibition of acquiring land by force of arms would not, I assume, apply to the 1948 war.

Mike said...

Y. Ben-David, perhaps you have a special divine access to some parts of Obama's speech unknown to me, but where did you read that he said: "Israel was an abberation"?

Here, a few excerpts of the speech I read:

"America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."


"But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."


"The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past."


"The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek - a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own."

Y. Ben-David said...


You quoted:
"America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."


This is the "Islamist" view of Israel...a state essentially created as some sort of compensation for the Holocaust. This leads to Ahmedinejad's question about why the Palestinians have to pay for Germany's crime. Also, you must look at this quote within the context of the rest of his speech....
Obama did not mention any historical connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel. He also referred to the "holy Qur'an", the "holy (Christian) Bible", but then he referred to the Talmud without the term "holy". He also did not quote the Jewish Bible (the TANACH), and he certainly wouldn't if he was trying to please political Islamism because they hold that the Bible is a fraud and that the Jewish people have no historic connection with Eretz Israel.
The bottom line is that Obama was very careful to phrase everything in terms of the Islamist world view.

Tamar Orvell said...

Back to Jerry's suggestion "...If you are a reader of this blog who cares about Israel and wants to see the settlement abomination stopped – do me a favor, and send this link, Harel's article, to members of your family...."

Jerry, they send me links to Charles Krauthammer, Caroline Glick, and the like. And you know what I do with them. Surely my family would do the same with the link to Harel's article or to any of your posts (that I forward to friends and list on my blog under "Blogs I read").

I don't think swapping links neither party cares to read is helpful. Yet I don't know what is... short of mediated dialog...

You say?

Jerry Haber said...


Good point! Two comments:

1) I was thinking of my own immediate family (brothers, step-sisters) who are your every-day American Jewish liberal types and who don't really follow Israel that much. But I didn't follow my own advice, since it is indeed annoying to get links.

2) But that brings me to the second point. I bet that if you would start sending Gideon Levy, Amos Harel and Akiva Eldar to the folks who send you Krauthammer and Glick, you wouldn't change their minds, but they would stop sending you the links. That is what happened with my friends and me during the Second Intifada. Any time they would send me something I would shoot back with a link. At least it cleaned up my email!

Tamar Orvell said...

Thanks for replying, Jerry. And I say, yes... but...

I neglected to specify that my family is Israeli... born, bred, and resident. Not akin to yours in the USA. And I love and respect them too much to play link games. I simply don't comment on their links (unless they make sense to me). Ultimately, the link forwarding stops. During wars (Leb 2 and Gaza), the links fly, as you know, cyberspace-wide. And that is different because most everyone gets crazed, and for good reason.

I have a wonderful thirtysomething Israeli cousin with whom I openly exchange differences on email or in person: We say what we really think, then move on to other topics. We each "clear the throat" as an exercise in not stuffing thought (nor expecting any interest or agreement), and then return to topics that are mutually interesting AND noncontroversial.

So I continue to ponder: How to discuss with loved ones and respected fellows positions that are diametrically opposed? I started an interfaith group some years ago in Jerusalem, and then had to leave due to internal squabbles... power issues, ego issues, blahblah.

TIA for your or sage commenters' constructive, respectful thoughts.

Jerry Haber said...


"I neglected to specify that my family is Israeli... born, bred, and resident"

The Israeli side of my family has never heard of Caroline Glick and Charles Krauthammer, so I am more fortunate than you are.

I am not so sage when it comes to constructive dialogue. My idea of constructive dialouge is talking with a like-minded individual who doesn't share my views, but is very close (like a labor Zionist.) There are, however, professional facilitators who know how to bring people together. I think that is particular good when people don't have a strong ideology.

One of my problems is that I trained in philosophy departments, where discussions are often focused about how cogent arguments are. That's not a great way to dialogue (as Socrates probably would have said.)

In my case, I really try to avoid confrontation, and I seek middle ground. But then when one of my partners starts in with something that seems to be dumb or wrong, I usually can't not control myself.

Not sage at all....

Mike said...

Y. Ben-David,

Obama mentioned "The holy Qur’an" not because he is a Muslim nor that he believes in its message but just as a token of respect. He was speaking to the Muslims and notably to the moderate ones, trying to convince them America wants peace in the region.

In other words, he said “The holy Qur’an” because it is the sacred book of the people to whom he was speaking.
He said “The holy Bible” because the Christian Bible is sacred to him.
He was not supposed to say “The holy Talmud” because he was not speaking to the Jews. Besides, would you say the Talmud is “holy”? It is not a sacred book but a book of commentary.

About your other point, Obama is not Bush. Bush believed in the “historical connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel” because he was an evangelist and he believed the Jews had some sort of special mission (don’t forget, in their mishigos, Jews disappear in the 4th act of a 5th act play).

Obama has a better ground, which is international law and recognition. If he gives credit to the “historical connection” and the “law of return” thesis then he should also accept Jewish legitimacy on what you call "Judea-Samaria” and of course, he cannot abide to that philosophy, because he knows the land belongs to the Palestinians, who lived on it before the Zionists came and was part of the land given to them in 1947.

Y. Ben-David said...

Thank you for emphasizing my point. As you say "Obama knows the land belongs to the Palestinians". That is what I was trying to say. You yourself said it: he shows respect for Islam and for Christianity, Jews, on the other hand, he goes out of his way to show he doesn't have the same level of respect for (and, yes, the Talmud is considered holy to Jews, just not to the same degree as the Torah) and as you say, he doesn't believe Israel has a right to exist. What is important is that the people of Israel realize this and they will not let our goverment be led by the nose by him, as it did Clinton and Bush.

Mike said...

Y. Ben-David,

I only said Judea-Samaria, as you call it, belongs to the Palestinians according to the 1947 UN Partition Plan and is internationaly and unanimously accepted as such.

You remind me the joke about the drunken driver who is going the wrong way on the highway and yells "What are they all doing? They're drunk or what?" :-)