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A Second Gush Katif

For Jews living over the Green Line, the 2005 Gush Katif expulsion is a tragedy of the past and a warning for the future. What happened once can happen again. After all, the United Nations and most of the world regard every Jewish home on the West Bank as illegally built on stolen Arab soil. Right now, three West Bank settlements face imminent destruction. In addition, a number of outposts were destroyed.

This month, MK Menachem Moses of United Torah Judaism visited three Jewish communities in the West Bank that are home to 160 families. This was part of a desperate campaign to save them from demolishment. Migron, Givat Assaf, and the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El have been under order of demolition since September 12 when Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch of Israel’s Supreme Court rendered a novel and controversial judicial decision.

Henceforth, she said, all land in Judea and Samaria not appropriated by the government as state land will be considered ‘private [Palestinian] land’ by default. In the event that an Arab lays claim to such land, Jewish homes built on the ‘stolen’ land must be destroyed. Claim of ownership suffices to eject Jews even if there is little or nothing to support the claim. Due to Arab claims of ownership, Migron, Givat Assaf, and the Ulpana neighborhood face destruction unless Israel implements new laws to circumvent Beinisch’s decision.

 

In the course of his tour, MK Moses was shocked, saying he “had thought there were just a few decrepit caravans and I see a developed neighborhood that is just as developed as any neighborhood in northern Tel Aviv.”

 

The Yated spoke to Beit El resident Yisroel Wende, whose home above the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El is under threat. As an aide to MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzele) of the National Union party, he is closely involved in the political fight to save the settlements.

 

“The whole thing started when leftist organizations searched for Arabs to claim ownership on land where Jewish houses had been built,” he says. “In many places, the Arabs never proved ownership. In Migron, an Arab came along claiming ownership and when lower courts wanted to check the truth, the Arab disappeared. Yet such a story had no effect on the Supreme Court which has ruled that any place that is not government land is considered as belonging to Arabs and the government should destroy its settlements.”

 

Beinisch’s edict has far-reaching implications. About a half a million Israelis live over the Green Line that demarcates the territory Israel conquered during the 1967 Six Day War. Over 300,000 of them live in 121 settlements that include the huge, frum towns of Beitar Illit and Kiryat Sefer. The West Bank is also peppered with about one hundred outposts, which are generally smaller and sometimes comprise only a few houses or caravans. They are generally built with less official authorization and sometimes with none at all.

 

The United Nations also considers twelve of east Yerushalayim’s neighborhoods such as Neveh Yaakov and Ramat Shlomo as settlements, because in response to Israel’s Jerusalem Law of 1980, which declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel,” the United Nations Security Council unanimously (with U.S. abstention) agreed that Israel’s annexation was a violation of international law (Resolution 478).

 

In consequence of the world’s catch-all attitude to the West Bank, it can be argued that uprooting of any settlement is comparable to drilling a hole in one’s cabin floor while on a stormy sea.

 

The three settlements Beinisch condemned have been around for years. Givat Assaf, 2.5 miles from Beit El, was founded in May 2001 at a road junction much used by Jewish hitchhikers and named after Asaf Chaim Hershkovits, who was murdered there after numerous local terrorist attacks. Givat Assaf has 25 families, including almost one hundred children, and is blessed with a shul, mikvaohs, and kollel.

 

Migron (named after Migron in Yeshaya 10:28) lies about nine miles from Yerushalayim. Founded in 1999, it is the largest of the threatened areas with a population of about fifty families comprising about 300 people who live in about 60 mobile homes. Ulpana, a neighborhood of Beit El, is comprised of fourteen buildings with 84 apartments inhabited mostly by avrechim of Yeshivas Beit El. Only some of the buildings are threatened.

 

As mentioned, the crime of these locales is that they were not built on 900,000 dunams (352 square miles) of “state land” that Israel declared immune to claims of private ownership. State land comprises about sixteen percent of the West Bank and is home to about eighty percent of the settlements.

 

But according to a report from B’Tselem, the infamous organization devoted to fighting against the right of Jews to live in the West Bank, “by cross-checking data of the Civil Administration, the settlement’s jurisdictional area, and aerial photos of the settlements taken in 2009, B’Tselem found that 21 percent of the built-up area of the settlements is land that Israel recognizes as private property, owned by Palestinians.” According to this leftist estimate, tens of thousands of West Bank residents live on private Arab land and are potentially subject to expulsion.

 

Beinisch demanded the expulsion of Givat Assaf’s residents by the end of 2011, the destruction of nearby Migron by March 2012, and the destruction of Givat HaUlpana in Beit El by April 2012. So far, aggressive campaigning has deferred, but not abrogated, her edict.

 

Her unexpected decision is part of a wider problem of Israel’s left leaning, activist judiciary, which is also known for its anti-Torah bias. Her ruling had a precedent in March 2005 when Talia Sasson (former State Prosecutor of Israel, who later ran for elections as part of the leftist Meretz party) published a government report claiming that settlements are only legal if set up through government resolution. Her report concluded that since “I have not found a single government or committee resolution, since the beginning of the nineties, to establish a new settlement in the territories, or to expand a neighborhood of an existing settlement,” all settlements established since that time are illegal and subject to destruction. Her conclusions were disputed.

 

It is no secret that Beinisch and many of her colleagues are leftist, and like her predecessor Aharon Barak, she is also an activist, pushing the government to do what she thinks should be done. According to her decision, if an Arab claims that Jews are living on his land, the Jews are automatically guilty unless they can prove otherwise, and as the highest legal authority, her word is law. The only escape from her iron fist is for the Knesset to outmaneuver her with new legislation. But so far, Netanyahu has been uncooperative.

 

“The government initially decided to go along with her decision,” Yisrael Wende says. “But now there has been pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu from his Likud party and from many Knesset members. Government ministers and MKs have been invited to visit the threatened locations. Everyone who comes is shocked and says: ‘What! Is this what the government wants to destroy?’

 

“This Sunday, Rav Moses was also shocked when he visited Beit Ulpana a neighborhood of Beth El, Migron, and Givat Assaf. In Givat Assaf, he was shown how Arabs are building illegally a few hundred meters away and was shocked that the government plans to uproot a Jewish neighborhood while Arabs build illegally nearby without hindrance. He promised to speak to the Prime Minister about not destroying these places.”

 

Harel Kohen, a resident of the Ulpana neighborhood, told the Yated that it was ironic that the same government that encouraged his family to move to the Ulpana neighborhood thirteen years ago now seeks to throw them out. Years ago, to encourage people to move to the West Bank, the government gave most projects there the status of National Priority Area A, which gave them many benefits.

 

“We were a young couple at the time with three children,” Harel says. “The government gave us a grant of about $20,000 contingent on remaining there for fifteen years, and a mortgage with good terms.

 

“Arabs did not come to complain to the Supreme Court,” he maintains. “The leftist Yesh Din organization searched for Arabs, who then fraudulently or innocently made the claim to settlement lands. Arabs living in the village below never said a word beforehand.”

 

It is worth remembering that the Yesh Din organization receives funding from the Europe-based New Fund organization, which has also been a prime financer of Israel’s anti-religious campaigns of the past few months.

 

Beinisch’s ruling puts many West Bank Jews at risk of losing their homes.

 

“Most of Beit El is built on land bought from Arabs,” Harel says. “If an Arab comes and says ‘its mine,’ the Supreme Court will believe him. This is our argument with MK Benny Begin. When he talks of Migron, he says, ‘Let’s build a new neighborhood and then we don’t need to be involved with court.’ We say to him, “Let’s assume we agreed with you, even though we do not. What will you do when an Arab comes along and says some location belongs to him? The Supreme Court won’t even check the facts and will order people to move out. There will be no end to the matter. Begin admitted he had no answer.”

 

This, indeed, is the attitude of Migron’s residents regarding Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for a proposal of MK Benny Begin to provide them with new housing a few hundred yards away on “Yekev Hill.” The sentiment behind their refusal is announced on huge posters along the town’s streets which state: “Migron is the defending wall of Israeli settlement.”

 

This Sunday, anxious to clear away this ideological obstacle with primaries for Likud leadership primaries starting next week, Netanyahu repeated his offer.

 

“The government is calling on Migron residents to agree to the compromise under offer and to enable the government to approach the High Court soon for its approval of the deal,” he said. “This is a good offer that does not solve all problems, but is able to solve the problem of Migron.”

 

So far, the government has only implemented delays in plowing down the settlements; it has not abrogated Beinisch’s decision.

 

“There have been quite a few proposed bills to prevent the destruction of these places,” Yisrael Wende says. “The main problem is the Prime Minister. MK Zevulun Orlev proposed making legislation that if a neighborhood of ten families lives in a neighborhood on Arab land and someone claiming ownership said nothing for four years, the land will belong to those who built the houses. Obviously, a person who proves prior ownership will be recompensed.

 

“MK Yaakov Katz proposes that if a person builds a house not knowing the land belonged to someone else, the law should be the same as inside the Green Line, especially if the government was involved with the building as happened in Migron and other places. If this bill passes, the land would belong to the builder and the prior owner would be recompensed for his land. We prefer to pass the bills before it is too late. Meanwhile, the person stopping this from happening, strangely enough, is the Prime Minister despite a lot of pressure from the Likud and the government. There is supposed to be a meeting next Sunday about the matter and then we will be clearer about what will happen next.”

 

Meanwhile, the threatened settlements are aggressively fighting their cause. The Givat Assaf Action Committee published a pamphlet suggesting calling ministers and MKs and urging them to prevent the town’s destruction, and being ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to rush to Givat Assaf’s defense with bare hands in the event troops try to destroy the place.

 

Last April, Givat Assaf residents set up a tent city in Haifa near the home of the Minister of Science, and in December dozens of Migron residents together with their children, surprised government ministers in their homes one Motzo’ei Shabbos. They appealed to them to prevent their community’s demolition and urged them to urge Netanyahu to legalize their settlement.

 

As the threatened settlements struggled to survive, the government demolished a number of outposts. Early Thursday morning last week, police evicted five families from Yisa Bracha, a new neighborhood of the town Mitspeh Yericho. As its name suggests, this town overlooks the ancient town of Yericho just north of the Dead Sea. To prevent interference by protesters, the neighborhood was sealed for three hours beforehand and access roads were blocked. Dozens of protesters arrived and clashed with the police during the demolition, throwing stones and burning tires, and nine protesters were injured and three hospitalized with head injuries. Recently, the police have begun using Arabs for this demolition work. Protesters reported that they cursed and laughed at the Jews as they ripped away roofs, ceilings and walls.

 

The evening before, police and border guards also evicted the Slonim family in the Oz Tzion outpost next to Givat Assaf and bulldozers swiftly tore down their home. The week before, police destroyed three outposts, Mitzpeh Avichai near Kiryat Arba, and Gal Yossef Givat Aryeh next to the town of Itamar near Shilo.

 

Itamar Mayor Moshe Goldshmidt discussed the recent demolitions and the unique story behind the Givat Aryeh outpost founded in memory of the Fogel family members who were murdered almost a year ago.

 

“Basically, the government is not thrilled about any new outpost communities as it doesn’t want to make waves with the Americans and world,” he said. “That’s why they are attacking the new places set up recently. Givat Aryeh was named after the Fogel family; the name Aryeh is the initials of the members of the family [Ehud, Ruth, Yoav, Elazar, and Hadas]. It was a response to the terrible massacre as it looks over the village the attackers came from, the ancient village where the kevorim of Elozor, Isomor, Pinchos, and the seventy zekeinim are located.

 

“For the first few months the government left it alone, and unfortunately in the last couple of months we knew they were planning to dismantle it. They came in the middle of the night, the first time a couple of weeks ago, and destroyed a house and a shul with a Sefer Torah. Living there was a husband and wife with five or six single people helping. They were moser nefesh for the community as the Arabs could have easily attacked them.

 

“They went back the next day, hoping the army would leave them alone, but the army returned the next night and destroyed it, and later they destroyed it a third time. Hopefully, they’ll go back, but no one is living there presently as the army is manning the place as a closed military zone. Let them watch the hilltop. We just want our community to be safe and secure.”

 

MK Moses’ visit to the West Bank this month was a continuation of his visit to the Gush Katif Museum in Yerushalayim two years earlier. At that time, Moses spoke of the Prime Minister’s reluctance to build religious housing over the Green Line and commented, “What will happen to Alon Moreh, Itamar, Givat Olam, and dozens of other settlements? Will soldiers again be taught to drive away Jews who invested all their toil in these settlements?”

 

After his visit to the museum, he wrote in its visitor’s book: “The sweet illusion that removing Jews from the inheritance of our forefather will bring peace or imaginary quiet is doubly difficult to tolerate following the bitter disappointment of places that flourished with spiritual and physical success being turned into a land of emptiness and desolation. This harsh expulsion should warn policy makers to not repeat the mistake of pursuing false illusions.”