December 8, 2007
Young Israelis Resist Challenges to Settlements
By ISABEL KERSHNER
SHVUT AMI OUTPOST, West Bank — For two months, Jewish youths have been renovating an old stone house on this muddy hilltop in the northern West Bank. The house is not theirs, however. It belongs to a Palestinian family. And their seizure of it, along with the land around it, for a new settlement outpost is a violation of Israeli law. The police have evicted the group five times, but they keep coming back.
Yedidya Slonim, 16, one of the renovators here, who grew up in another West Bank settlement, Tzofim, said of the police: “We come back straight away, as soon as they’ve gone. They come every week for half a day. It doesn’t bother us so much.”
The cat-and-mouse contest here lays bare a key dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: Israel has pledged that it will permit no new settlements in the territory it has occupied since the 1967 war, no more expropriation of Palestinian land and dismantle unauthorized outposts — like this one — erected since March 2001, but it has never applied the muscle needed to do so.
“Shvut Ami is a chronicle of failure of law enforcement,” said Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who represents the Palestinian owners of the house on behalf of Yesh Din, an Israeli volunteer organization that fights for Palestinian rights. In this respect, he said, the area is “a jungle.”
So the settlers continue building a patchwork of communities to try to preclude the drawing of a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state. At the vanguard are the hilltop youth, teenagers like Yedidya, who work to complicate the demographic map ever more.
A settler organization called the Land of Israel Faithful has promised to set up seven more outposts over the eight-day Hanukkah holiday, which began Tuesday night — and to “strengthen” Shvut Ami.
According to Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group that tracks settlement activity, most of the hundred or so outposts already in existence are built at least partially on private Palestinian land.
Shvut Ami sits across a valley from Mitzpeh Ishai, a new neighborhood of the Jewish settlement of Kedumim. Kedumim was established in the 1970s between the Palestinian villages of Funduk, Kadum and Imaten, about seven miles east of the 1967 lines.
Most of the world considers all Jewish settlement in the West Bank a violation of international law. But Israel asserts that the territory is disputed, and the hilltop youths believe it was promised to them by God.
Sometimes, a price is paid in blood. On Nov. 19, a 29-year-old local settler, Ido Zoldan, was shot dead in his car by Palestinian gunmen at the entrance to Funduk. Mr. Zoldan, who grew up in Kedumim, had worked in his father’s construction company, which builds settlement homes all over the West Bank.
The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militia affiliated with the mainstream Fatah movement headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, took credit for the attack.
Five nights after the killing, hundreds of settlers converged at the entrance of Funduk in protest. They rampaged through the village, smashing house and car windows.
Villagers said the Israeli soldiers and police accompanying the protesters mostly stood aside while the settlers ran wild.
Military officials said the Funduk protest had not been authorized by the army. Soldiers and police officers had dispersed the riot, they said.
For years, the settlers have exploited the ambivalence displayed toward them by the Israeli authorities.
The Shvut Ami outpost sits on private Palestinian land inherited by the two wives and children of Abd al-Ghani Salah Amar, of Kadum, according to ownership records produced by the family.
Mr. Amar built the stone house in 1963, 10 years before he died. The roughly 17 acres of land are planted with hundreds of olive and almond trees, some figs and some vines. The estate is managed by one of Mr. Amar’s daughters, Badriya Amar, a 61-year-old widow who still lives in Kadum.
Mrs. Amar filed an official complaint with the Israeli police in early October for trespassing on her family land. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said the ownership documents were being examined by the authorities for authenticity. [hint, hint]
In the meantime, the site has been declared a closed military zone. Behind the settler youths who are building here are the guiding hands of adults. One of the leading ideologues of the outpost movement is Daniella Weiss, a former mayor of Kedumim.
Yedidya says that “someone” from Kedumim connected them to the water mains, and local supporters bring food and raise funds. Nachman Zoldan, Ido’s father, helped out a lot in the beginning; Ido also provided equipment and advice before he was killed.
Based on experience, there is no guarantee when Shvut Ami, Hebrew for “my people’s return,” will be restored to Mrs. Amar.
Another illegal outpost, Migron, was established on private Palestinian land in 2002. More than 40 families now live there in trailer homes. Peace Now successfully petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court in 2006 to order its removal, but in Migron, nothing has changed. At the latest hearing, on Nov. 1, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, asked for a two-month extension to allow him to formulate a comprehensive plan for the removal of illegal outposts.
Mrs. Amar last visited her orchards in early November, to try to pick a few olives. She was chased away by the settlers, she said.
Yedidya suggests that Mrs. Amar could move to Jordan or Egypt or one of the other Arab states. “God gave this to us,” he said. “Now that we’re here, I don’t think we’re going to move.”
and there goes...Jerusalem?
Rice Criticizes Israeli Settlement Expansion Plans
By VOA News
07 December 2007
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Israeli plans to build more than 300 new homes in a disputed east Jerusalem neighborhood will not help efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians.
Rice made the comments in Brussels Friday following talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on the sidelines of a NATO meeting. Rice said she made it clear that the goal is to build maximum confidence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Negotiators from both sides are due to meet next week for a first round of talks since agreeing to revive negotiations at the recent Mideast Peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
...The status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Mideast war, but that annexation is not internationally recognized. Palestinians have called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to create.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that Israel's move to invite bids for the construction of 300 new homes is, in his words, "not helpful." Mr. Ban also noted that the U.N. considers such settlements to be illegal.
Israeli minister rebuffs Rice on settlement homes
JERUSALEM, Dec 8 (Reuters) - An Israeli minister on Saturday rebuffed criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of Israel's plan to build new homes on occupied land in the Jerusalem area, saying nothing should prevent the project.
Rice, who masterminded last week's Annapolis conference to press for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord before the Bush administration leaves office, on Friday criticised the planned construction, saying it "doesn't help to build confidence".
Responding to the rare public U.S. censure, Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Boim reiterated Israel's position that it can build anywhere in Jerusalem, the Arab east sector of which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. "Secretary of State Rice should be congratulated for her efforts in relaunching the peace process," Boim said in a statement. "But this cannot constantly be linked to the cessation of construction in Jerusalem."
Palestinians consider East Jerusalem part of the occupied West Bank, which they want for a state and where Israel is obliged to freeze Jewish settlement activity under a 2003 peace "road map" championed by the United States.
Boim said the controversial project, known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Abu Ghneim, "is within Jerusalem's municipal borders, where Israeli law applies. There is thus nothing to prevent the construction there, just as there is nothing to prevent construction anywhere else in Israel."