Monday, April 09, 2012
When one begins to discuss Israelis in the areas of Samaria and Judea, otherwise known as the West Bank, this writer has to admit to mixed emotions.
First is the age-old position from Bible times that the land is, indeed, part of Israel. That is not a particularly modern idea, but as one who embraces the Word of God, it’s where my heart is.
Then comes the head. I am well aware that there are age-old enclaves of Arab populations. The 1947 UN proposal to divide the land did so with a sensible awareness of this reality. That the Arabs in the land were “hornswoggled” into following the leaders of Arab lands surrounding them cost them their own “Palestinian State” back then.
You likely know the history. Instead of pushing the Jews into the ocean, God (I believe) pushed back, and the Israelis got their nation back. To say there was peace afterwards is nonsense, but things worked out to some degree until the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel took the West Bank away from Jordan, Gaza from the Egyptians and the Golan from Syria. Two of the three made treaties with Israel, and in 1993 then King Hussein of Jordan gave his claim of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat and the PLO.
In between both liberal and conservative Israeli governments drove Israeli settlements in the areas. All three of them.
At the same time there were leftist Israelis who wanted nothing to do with such efforts and have worked tirelessly to undermine any Jewish presence there.
Since 1993 the governments of Israel have not promoted the settlement movement in the West Bank. In 2005 Ari Sharon pulled out all Israelis from Gaza.
In between there have been what I would call “radical” Jewish settlers have put little trashy trailers atop some hill tops and claimed it as a new “settlement.” Some have moved into houses, as in this case, in Hebron, or other locations.
Come today and the Defense Minister – who is tasked with dealing with the issue – decided to get the people out of their ill-gained digs.
He’s catching all sorts of trouble, but if they took over the place illegally, then kick them out, is my read on the situation.
In swift surprise, Barak evacuates Hebron house
As government debates fate of Beit Hamachpelah, defense minister pulls rug out from under everyone's feet • Vice Prime Minister Ya’alon demands authority over Judea and Samaria settlement be removed from Barak's hands.
Yori Yalon, Shlomo Cesana and Mati Tuchfeld
Security forces outside Beit Hamachpelah on Tuesday. An ultimatum to evacuate the building passed with the settlers still inside.
Israeli security forces in large numbers evacuated a disputed building in the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron Wednesday afternoon shocking the Israeli political system, which was under the uniform impression that the evacuation – initially planned for Tuesday but consequently postponed – had been delayed until the end of the month.
The evacuation was carried out swiftly after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his position that the house had to be evacuated immediately. In a statement, Weinstein said there was no need for a governmental decision to evacuate the building, as its evacuation was a necessary condition if law and order were to be upheld. In a statement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the order to evacuate came from him, after the "infiltrators" were given eviction notices.
The inhabitants of the house in question – settlers who had entered the home in the dead of night at the beginning of the week without obtaining the proper authorization from the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration – cooperated with the evacuation and no significant clashes were reported.
"I will continue to safeguard democracy and the rule of law, as well as the government's authority over its citizens," Barak said. He added that the legal examination of the residents' claims of legal purchase would continue, but that he would "not allow illegal acts that present the government with facts on the ground."
A government official had originally told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the disputed property would be evacuated in three weeks – exactly one month after the settlers moved in. The source made the remarks following a meeting of cabinet ministers on Tuesday night, at which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak and Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon were present, which ultimately resulted in an impasse. The ministers were expected to continue discussing the issue in the future.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to quit the coalition if the residents of the Hebron house were forcibly removed from the premises, as Barak had threatened to do. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party holds 15 Knesset seats, and could send the coalition into a crisis if it were to withdraw.
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told Israel Radio immediately after the news broke that "I really hope that the prime minister knew about the plan to evacuate," suggesting that perhaps Barak, who had issued the initial evacuation order, had acted of his own volition.
"I heard the prime minister, I spoke with the prime minister, this kind of behavior is crossing every line," Edelstein said. "Anything would have been preferable to the kind of surprise we are experiencing right now. I call on the government to put an end to this once and for all."
Earlier Wednesday, Ya’alon called on the government to remove Barak from his position of authority over settlements in Judea and Samaria, and hand the authority over to a ministerial panel. The call came on the heels of Barak’s efforts to evacuate the Jewish settlers from the disputed property.
Israeli law does not apply over the Green Line in Judea and Samaria, and the sovereign in these territories is the IDF Commander in Judea and Samaria, OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who answers to the IDF chief of general staff and the defense minister. The law dictates that all real estate transactions beteen Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria, regardless of their legal nature between the transacting parties, must be approved by the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, which is under the authority of the OC Central Command. It is this authority that Ya'alon is essentially demanding be stripped from the defense minister.
The settlers moved into the disputed property a week ago, and were immediately ordered to leave by the IDF for having failed to obtain the proper authorization from the Civil Administration in advance. The settlers have provided documents indicating that they had legally purchased the property, but the eviction order remained in place.
“Barak doesn’t solve problems, he starts fires,” Army Radio quoted Ya’alon as saying in a private conversation on Wednesday. According to reports, he proclaimed that Barak’s actions were not representative of the government’s policies. “The defense minister is supposed to represent the government,” Ya’alon told Israel Radio. “But Barak represents the views of only one faction.”
Barak’s associates issued a response to Ya’alon’s calls, saying, “It is unfortunate that Ya’alon is incorporating his own cheap political needs, for the purpose of winning primaries, into defense establishment decisions, undermining the government’s authority to protect democracy and the rule of law.”
Netanyahu tried to calm the attacks on Barak, saying, “There is no need to exaggerate. We are talking about just one house, not a sweeping policy. Let us not jump to conclusions about policy. We are enacting responsible policies regarding the settlement enterprise and we will act with thoughtfulness and moderation in this case too.”
Netanyahu stressed that he was maintaining ongoing dialogue with Barak on the issue in efforts to coordinate a resolution to the situation. “I asked him yesterday to wait with the evacuation so that we could examine the facts, both legal and on the ground, and that is what was done,” Netanyahu said.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to find a solution for the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El that would obviate the need for its demolition. Netanyahu added that, on the recommendation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he would soon be submitting the necessary permits providing for permanent status of the Bruchin, Sansana and Rechalim settlements.
Earlier Tuesday, Lieberman harshly criticized the issuance of the eviction order, saying, “I see a dissonance between Migron and Hebron. The absurdity is that Migron is a settlement with dozens of families who will be evacuated due to the [Palestinians’] right to own property. And what will we do in Hebron? Despite the residents’ right to own property, they too will be evacuated. If both cases are based on the same right, there can’t be a decision by the defense minister without the support of both the government and cabinet. Considering what is happening in Migron, the decision on Hebron is even more infuriating.”
“From a coalition perspective, this is a grave mistake, and I’m choosing my words carefully,” he added.
Before Wednesday afternoon's evacuation, occupants of the disputed home, located directly next to the Cave of the Patriarchs – holy to both Jews and Muslims -- displayed a business-as-usual attitude on Tuesday, busying themselves with preparations for the Passover holiday. “We will remain in our homes. The deal is sealed and the ball is now in the political court,” resident Shlomo Levinger said.
“It’s not a question of politics or security,” Levinger said. “Ehud Barak is trying to lead a right-wing government by the nose into the realm of the extreme Left. We’re lucky that Ehud Barak wasn’t alive at the time of our forefather Abraham. He would have issued an order prohibiting the purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs. We are glad that Netanyahu demonstrated leadership and put a stop to Barak’s political bullying. We hope he will allow Jews to return to their heritage in Hebron and strengthen their hold on the city of our patriarchs.”
The occupants of the disputed property asserted that they had filed the necessary paperwork and hoped that Barak would now step aside and allow the authorization of their continued stay there. “We hope that Barak will be stripped of excuses to further delay the authorization,” one resident said.
Visitors continued to frequent the contentious building in a show of support for the residents. Among the visitors were Communications Minister and Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud), Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), Deputy Minister for Advancement of Young People, Students and Women Gila Gamliel (Likud), MK Tzipi Hotoveli (Likud) and MK Uri Ariel (National Union).
Katz affixed a mezuzah, the traditional doorpost blessing, to the entrance of the building and said, “There is no unique security situation here that warrants an evacuation. As long as everything is done in accordance with the law, the Israeli government, headed by Likud, must encourage settlement throughout the country. A decision on this matter must be a governmental decision, and not a decision made by a particular ministry.”
Katz said he intended to expedite construction of an access road to the Cave of the Patriarchs. “This is our way of encouraging settlement in Hebron,” Katz said.