For the sake of settlers
The expansionist Zionist project continues to enjoy immunity before Israeli law as settlers grab daily more Arab land, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
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Palestinian protesters with their hands chained during a protest outside Ofer prison near Ramallah in solidarity with hunger striking Palestinian prisoners
Resorting to a combination of legal tricks, repeated procrastination and brazen deceitfulness, the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu has been trying to legalise dozens of colonial outposts built on private Arab lands.
The manifestly malicious measures have raised the eyebrows of jurists and judges as well as media figures in Israel who have complained that the Netanyahu government is not only destroying the peace process with the Palestinians but also the rule of law in Israel.
Last week, the government petitioned the High Court of Justice to postpone the evacuation of Jewish squatters from a small colonial outpost named Ulpana near Ramallah. The evacuation ought to have taken place long time ago. However, heavy political pressure and intervention by government officials and influential Knesset members repeatedly delayed evacuation as the issue moved from the judicial to the political realm.
With instructions from Netanyahu as well as ministers on the panel for settlement issues, who include former Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, Defense Minister Ehud Barack and Benny Begin, the state attorney requested that the court "reconsider" its earlier decision to evacuate the illegal buildings. Surprisingly enough, the appellants argued that the evacuation was likely to cause "difficult ramifications" for settlers.
Some Israeli commentators described the Ulpana affair as "theft in broad daylight." Commenting on the subject, Haaretz newspaper spoke of an Israel government that shuts its eyes and ears to orders and rulings of its own courts.
"It is hard to imagine a foreign relations consideration that supports giving authorisation to robbing the property of a person living under the Israeli occupation. It must be hoped that elected officials are not implying that a majority of the Israeli public wants a government that violates orders and rulings of the Supreme Court. The pretext of 'operational considerations' gives rise to the proliferation of unauthorised outposts such Ulpana under the noses of the Civil Administration and the Israeli Defence Forces officers."
The paper criticised the attorney general for "teaching the Israeli public that some Israelis, e.g. settlers, are above the law and that it is permitted to spit in the face of the highest judicial body in the land on their behalf."
Nonetheless, such protestations from Haaretz and other remnants of liberal centres of influence are unlikely to have any meaningful impact on a society and government thoroughly gripped by jingoism and a virulent fascism.
The Israeli government and media often try to give the false impression that a majority of settlements in the West Bank were built legally. However, this is simply not true, says Khalil Tufakji, a prominent Palestinian cartographer and settlement expert based in East Jerusalem.
"There are hundreds of settlements and settler outposts that are built purely on private Arab land. The problem is that the occupation's laws were designed to serve the occupation's goals, namely the dispossession of non-Jews of their land and property. Thus, Palestinians can hardly have justice under Israeli laws.
"Besides, we don't have to make lengthy arguments about which came first, the egg or the chicken. We all know the occupation is an act of rape and an act of theft. This means that all settlements are illegal from the standpoint of international law."
More to the point, the Israeli government often pretends it is not aware of the existence and growth of "new Jewish communities," in order to give the powerful settler lobby the needed time to establish more facts on the ground.
When the government's prevarication tactics are exhausted, a "plea bargain" is often reached with the settlers enabling them to seize even more Arab land.
For example, the Israeli government recently approved offering Jewish squatters living in the illegal settlement of Migron -- also built on stolen private Arab land -- an alternative site for their homes. The approval was made on a personal initiative by Netanyahu himself. The new site is located north of Jerusalem and is costing the government tens of millions of dollars.
Israel's High Court of Justice rejected a government proposal to delay the evacuation by three and a half years in March and ruled that the Migron outpost must be evacuated by 1 August.
However, government officials and settlers leaders warned the judicial arm against "going too far in challenging the will of the people."
One of the advocates of giving settlers unfettered freedom to build anywhere and everywhere in the West Bank is former Defense Minister Moshe Arens. He has argued that building on private Arab land, while illegal according the law, is morally and politically right.
Writing in Haaretz, Arens -- an extremist even within the extremist camp -- argued that it was wrong to evacuate settlers from Arab homes they occupied or Arab land they stole since the settlers would suffer and the evacuation would impinge on their human and civil rights.
Likewise, he said that the evacuation of settlers from several settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005 justified the arrogation of Arab land in the West Bank.
Arens implied that as far as Jews are concerned, stealing Arab land and property is a civil right. Such a mentality is not the least challenge Palestinians must face if the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be brought to an end.