October 02, 2007
Lords of the Land
I attended a briefing this morning with Akiva Eldar, political columnist for Ha'aretz and coauthor of Lords of the Land, one of the first comprehensive histories of the Israeli settlers movement published in either Hebrew or English. I haven't read the book yet, but it certainly sounds interesting, and the topic is crucially important. I've long been confused, given the settlement's moral indefensibility and their obvious spoiler effect on peace deals, why the government allows for their construction. According to this review of the book, it may not be that simple:
Consider, for example, one incident at the movement's beginning, told in detail in the first section of the book: In the spring of 1968, less than a year after Israel acquired new territories in the lightning victory of the Six-Day War, a group of young men, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, approached the military administration of the occupied territory with a modest request. They asked to celebrate the Passover Seder in Hebron, the newly occupied city of our biblical forefathers and foremothers.
Armed with a military permit signed by commander of the Eastern front General Uzi Narkis, they arrived in the ancient town on the night of April 12, and rented rooms in the Park Hotel. It later turned out that they neglected to keep their promise to leave the city when the holiday was over. The government had already rejected plans, submitted by Minister Igal Alon, hero of the War of Independence, to create a Jewish neighborhood in Hebron. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was not happy with the whole Seder affair, but he failed to grasp the full meaning of this little bridgehead, and he did not put his foot down...His minister of defense, Moshe Dayan, another war hero, came up with a compromise: to move the group temporarily to the military administration's building, until a permanent solution could be found. The settlers took this to be a kind of official recognition. They were already busy creating an improvised school for their children (inside the Park Hotel), followed by a yeshiva.
When the issue was brought up in Cabinet again, rather than deciding on creating a Jewish settlement, the government first decided not to evacuate those already there. By and by, a settlement sprang up. A fact on the ground. The army mobilized to protect it. And since it was there already, by September of the same year, a government that never intended to settle any of the territories approved construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the city. This would become a pattern: Facts on the ground are created, army and bureaucracy follow, and finally the government grants retroactive approval.
Of course, even rogue elements require some sort of government support, less future settlements be left in the cold. And on this, it seems that there were always powerful enough groups within the Israeli government willing to exert pressure on behalf of the settler's. The book explains "how land grabs were disguised as military zone restrictions; how new settlements were disguised at first as "neighborhoods" of existing ones; how legal terms were twisted and devoid of meaning, creating double standards and lax enforcement; how government funds were diverted in clandestine, roundabout ways; how bureaucratic hierarchies grew strange humps to bypass regular procedures, and so forth." And once the settlement was constructed, the government couldn't, politically, leave it undefended. So at the end of the day, "a small group of zealots, a mere 2% of Israel's population, managed to exploit the nation's inability to decide the fate of the territories to an extraordinary extent. With various degrees of sympathy and antipathy from different governments, they were able to drag a whole country into a state it never really debated, let alone decided on." It's like the worst Mircotrend ever.
From my memory, the account you've described in regard to the starting of the settlements sounds about right, but fails to mention that certain ministries within the Israeli government (varying by ministry over time, depending on who was the cabinet minister) used funds intended for other purposes to support directly the settlements.
As for the Prime Minister's and cabinet's overall responsibility, I think there can be little question that looking the other way or tacit (rather than explicit) support was the continuing informal policy.
To state this baldly, the Israeli government has supported the establishment and expansion of the settlements in Palestinian territory from the beginning, in direct contravention to international law on the duties of occupying powers following a war. This is more than a legal defect, this is a moral failure that reflects very badly on the leaders and people of Israel. They can't claim that they had no idea what was going on (as many of the German people did so claim in WWII).
"Facts on the ground" are not a legal, or moral, claim that can be upheld by civilized people anywhere. To do so is to grant authority for a hideous menu of things that cannot be excused.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 2, 2007 2:40:32 PM
but fails to mention that certain ministries within the Israeli government (varying by ministry over time, depending on who was the cabinet minister) used funds intended for other purposes to support directly the settlements
Yeah. This is the shadow twin to the presidential system's "unitary executive" tendency towards overcentralization of power - the need to form governing alliances in a parliamentary system, and the distribution of portfolios as a means to that end, means that occasionally a branch of the government is captured by a niche party and sets off doing things that the vast, vast majority of the country isn't interested in. There's no system what was or what ever will be that's immune to the abuse of power, the different details just condition the directions it can go.
Posted by: Senescent | Oct 2, 2007 3:43:15 PM
Actually, "abuse" is a bit harsh and pejorative there - the issue is really that these kinds of patterns don't represent violations of the system, but merely misfortunate results of said.
Posted by: Senescent | Oct 2, 2007 3:47:45 PM
This may well be true for settlements in Hebron, but in much of the West Bank settlements were part of a conscious, state sponsored effort that was intended eventually to lead to annexation.
In the years after the founding of the state in 1948, Israel had developed a model for settling the southern half of the country, which is mostly barren desert. Special army units would be sent to areas selected by the government as a site for settlement. Living in tents, they would construct housing, dig wells, build roads, plough fields, and the like. Once the infrastructure was established, civilian settlers would take over - often composed of demobilized soldiers from the very unit that had built the settlement. This model proved successful in creating small population centers in remote areas.
The model was transferred to the Jordan Valley after the '67 war. Between '67 and '69, five such military settlements were established. Eventually twenty-six settlements were built in the Jordan Valley. These quasi-military settlements, filled with citizen-soldiers, were viewed as defensive outposts in the event of a future war with Jordan, and as the first step to a permanent claim. Under what was known as the "Allon Plan," after the Labor politician Yigal Allon, it was contemplated that parts of the Jordan Valley would eventually be annexed. Recall that the West Bank was conquered from Jordan, and that claims for a Palestinian state were not taken seriously by either the Jordanians and or the Israelis. The prevailing view in Israel was that either the West Bank would be annexed, or that eventually some but not all of it would be returned to Jordan, and that in time Jordan would become the state of the Palestinians.
Israel has rejected the Allon Plan and accepted that the Jordan Valley will someday form part of a Palestinian state. Most people living in these settlements accept that at some point in the future they will have to evacuate them. But it's not accurate to say that Israel fell into placing settlements on the West Bank solely to placate religious extremists.
Posted by: Bloix | Oct 2, 2007 3:48:21 PM
i It later turned out that they neglected to keep their promise to leave the city when the holiday was over.
Interesting twist on the original Passover story -- there, people who promised to come back didn't, and here people who promised to leave didn't.
Posted by: Molly | Oct 2, 2007 3:59:26 PM
Bloix: "that claims for a Palestinian state were not taken seriously by either the Jordanians and or the Israelis."
Oren says the archives show there was an offer by the Israeli govt to give the WB to the local leaders just after the war, but that those leaders couldn't accept given the stance of the Arab states on the question.
JimPortlandOR: "They can't claim that they had no idea what was going on (as many of the German people did so claim in WWII)."
Israel's settlement activities have been awful from many standpoints, but this is sad. Well, repulsive.
Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 5:19:28 PM
No, rilkefan, failure to see direct historical parallels between repulsive, criminal, ugly behavior in one era with another is, well, repulsive. 'Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.’ (A. Lincoln)
I don't buy that no current phenomena can ever be morally compared to the holocast genocide of the Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in Nazi Germany and its occupied countries. There are differences of degree, but not of motive and effect. The Turkish genocide again Armenians has lessons today for treatment of the Kurds, as another example. Those who are persecuted have a claim on history and current affairs, but not an exclusive claim.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 2, 2007 5:32:48 PM
'Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.’ (A. Lincoln)
A favorite quote of Goebbels.
See how that goes? Next I'll go on to baselessly claim that there only "are differences of degree, but not of motive and effect" in your use of rhetoric. You're taking the route of the anti-abortion fanatics who talk about our indifference to the holocaust of the babies or Rush Limbaugh in using "feminazis" - or some Israelis who denounce all Palestinians as Nazis for countenancing terrorism.
Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 6:32:03 PM
The history quote was by the philosopher Santayana.
Isn't it against UN rules to annex new territory by military conquest, whether the land was gained either through attack ot defense?
Posted by: BillCross | Oct 2, 2007 9:19:46 PM
Posted by: verybig08089 | Oct 3, 2007 5:00:03 AM
"Isn't it against UN rules to annex new territory by military conquest, whether the land was gained either through attack ot defense?"
Sure. And this is acknoledged by governments all around the globe who refuse to recognize any Israeli settlement on occupied grounds as a legal part of Israel.
But so what? Israel never accepted a single UN resolution about the territory problem, and the US always vetoed any resolution that would have resulted in dire for consequences for Israel. So, what shall be done about that? The world still can't act against the US, and the US won't change their stance in the foreseeable future. The solution can only come from the Israelis. But there isn't any strong leader with a real plan, and no widespread public support for any painful compromises. It's hopeless.
Posted by: Gray | Oct 3, 2007 6:53:33 AM
Posted by: FARBABINDENCE | Oct 3, 2007 9:04:27 AM
Posted by: fatmann | Oct 3, 2007 3:20:38 PM
Posted by: PenAdopt | Oct 3, 2007 8:33:54 PM
Posted by: verybig08089 | Oct 4, 2007 3:55:08 AM
Posted by: Hymngenny | Oct 4, 2007 7:42:53 AM
dates set for wootton day out.
I am from Verde and too bad know English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: "Southwest airlines vacations provides complete vacation packages to las vegas, orlando, los angeles and many other domestic destinations."
Thank you so much for your future answers ;). Delores.
Posted by: Delores | Apr 3, 2009 4:54:20 PM
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