Farm Splits Unity Government
October: The stormy controversy that erupted over a Jewish farm
set up near Nablus in memory of Gilead Zar, who died in a terror
attack on a West Bank road, bares once again the deep seam running
down the middle of Ariel Sharon’s national unity government.
This seam the prime minister consistently papers over at whatever
cost to national assets and his credibility as a consensual leader.
This time might be harder than usual, although, if Sharon runs true
to form, he will tuck this crisis too out of sight.
by now, he has perfected his technique of give and take for the
sake of specious amity, he knows he has no majority in his own Likud
party for accommodating Labor on the settlement and other national
issues. This fact he must keep in mind in relation to his rival
the heart of the Zar farm controversy are two grave issues over
which the Likud-led and Labor-led camps will never see eye to eye.
concerns the (Labor) defense minister Binyamin bin Eliezer’s
decision to dismantle by hook or by crook some two dozen unauthorized
outposts that have sprung up on West Bank hilltops.
have been voluntarily evacuated. But a thousand settlers massed
last week to block the dismantling of the Zar Farm. An understanding
was reached to work the farm by day and leave no human habitation
there by night. But then, on Saturday, October 19, troops and police
were sent in to forcibly remove makeshift farm structures, thereby
raising the second issue: The legitimacy of deploying troops and
security personnel for this purpose on the Sabbath day.
Saturday’s confrontation, some 30 were lightly injured on
both sides. As the men in uniform dragged struggling settlers out
of the sheds, more nipped back in. Others vandalized the bulldozer.
The set-to went on into the small hours of Sunday.
Sunday morning, October 20, as the cabinet prepared to review the
crisis at its weekly session, fresh troop reinforcements arrived
with a large crane to finish the demolition of the last buildings
standing in the site. Another 41 were injured – 24 servicemen
and police, 17 protesters. Nine arrests were made.
prime minister, as is his way, condemned the event out of both sides
of his mouth. He blasted the settlers for resisting security forces,
while “deeply deploring” the unnecessary desecration
of the Sabbath forced upon hundreds of servicemen.
The defense minister has vowed to pull down all the illegal outposts.
Although left-wing anti-settlement spokesmen speak of a hundred
or more, they are most probably puffing up the figure by adding
various building projects and extensions gradually added to the
existing 150 Jewish communities living in theWest Bank and Gaza
Strip. The first outposts went up at the end of the Clinton-Barak
era, when various final-status and ceasefire plans were in the air.
The next wave was a response to the almost daily attacks on Israeli
vehicles on West Bank highways, in one of which Gilead Zar, northern
West Bank regional security officer, lost his life. Many disappeared
as the armed forces took over hilltop firing positions. Some furled
their flags when the highways became safer. A few determined to
stay for good.
Labor leader, Binyamin Ben Eliezer has faced constant criticism
in his own party for inaction on the remaining outposts, particularly
since his rivals, in the coming leadership election, Haim Ramon
and Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna, are increasingly left wing and opposed
to any form of Jewish habitation in territory they regard as belonging
to a future Palestinian state. The Likud charges him with underhandedly
paving his way to the Labor primaries through the ruined outposts.
main difference in the case of the Zar farm is that, whereas the
other 230,000 Jewish inhabitants set up their communities on previously
uninhabited state land, this farm was established on private property
that Moshe Zar purchased for cash from its Arab owners.
Zar was a close friend and comrade at arms of Ariel Sharon. He now
funds the diehard fringes of the settler movement who are disenchanted
with their old champion’s performance as prime minister. They
accuse Sharon of selling out the Jews’ biblical birthright
for the sake of political survival. These factions, including the
“the youth of the hilltops”, no longer accept the authority
of the heads of the settlement movement whom they regard as living
inSharon’s pocket. It is a fact that settlement activity,
never accepted by the international community but approved by one
Israeli government after another (Labor as well as Likud) since
1967, has virtually petered out. The Zar farm would have been the
kernel of a new community, a center for the movement’s regeneration,
which is why its supporters streamed from all over to save it from
being torn down. That too is why the government nipped the project
in the bud, just as former governments prevented a similar project
rising south of Hebron at the Maon Farm, in memory of former terrorist
victim Dov Driben.
brother, Oren Zar lamented: “This place was the answer to
my brother’s murder. The Arabs want us out of here and we
will strengthen our hold on the land. The land is our life.”
of Israel’s right wing thinkers and politicians dispute the
link between Jewish habitation on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and
Palestinian terror, pointing out that Palestinian terrorist attacks
by far predated the 1967 capture of these lands. They argue that,
now as then, the real aim of Palestinian terror is Israel’s
destruction and the obliteration of the marks of Jewish history
and heritage in the land. “Jewish occupation” is but
a useful term for making their violence acceptable to the international
community. It does not cover the conversion of Joseph’s Tomb
in Nablus into a mosque, the torching of the ancient synagogue in
Jericho, or the destruction of Jewish Temple relics on TempleMount,
to which Jewish access is denied.
left side of Israeli politics, which once accepted Jewish settlements
on ownerless, uninhabited land, has veered round to the view of
most foreign governments, that the settlements are an impediment
to a peaceful solution of the Palestinian issue. They would urge
the removal of most – though not all. The ones that must go,
in their view, are the communities in the Gaza Strip and the northern
theme is not entirely black and white. As Labor prime minister before
Sharon, Ehud Barak offered much more than the most dedicated leftists
ever contemplated. Overseas, the Bush administration has never subscribed
to the majority international view urging the dismantling of Jewish
settlements. Some overseas observers argue that Israel would be
unwise to reward terrorism with the concession of land.
the Israeli foreign ministry seriously faulted the European Union.
Even the pro-Oslo accord foreign minister Shimon Peres angrily protested
at the message European Union diplomats are systematically conveying
to their Palestinian interlocutors: Stop the terrorist attacks inside
Israel – and only inside Israel. In other words, killing Jews
outside the old Green Line, military and settlers, is allowed.
Sabbath issue may produce less fallout internationally than the
settlements, but it runs as deep if not deeper at home. Most observant
Jews serve in the armed forces. They are enabled to perform their
duties on the Sabbath and festivals by the common acceptance of
the precept that “saving lives takes precedence over the Sabbath”.
When in doubt, the army’s Chief Rabbi is there to make a ruling.
This status quo has never been challenged in any branch of the military
Saturday, the soldiers called up to dismantle the farm were told
that the chief military rabbi, Rabbi Col. Weiss, had authorized
their mission. Later, he denied having been consulted. The defense
minister then denied he had ordered the troops to go into action
on Saturday. Someone else had issued the order, he said, and went
on to accuse the settlers of mounting a rebellion.
National Religious Party leader, Ephraim Eytam, riposted by calling
him a liar and fool and demanded his dismissal.
October 20, Israeli Chief of Staff. Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said
it was a mistake to mobilize troops to remove the outpost on the
Sabbath. He promised an inquiry.
Sabbath argument pours extra fuel on the already incendiary settlement
question. It also leaves the army at sea for the first time over
their conduct on the Jewish day of rest, sowing new controversy
in a fighting force engaged in day to day combat on one or more
fronts. The troops must also digest the fact that their superiors
lied to them, that their defense minister uses his job to play party
politics, and that he has lost the respect of the top army command,
which pays little heed to him in operational decisions. Ben Eliezer’s
insistence on pulling the army out of Bethlehem (following Labor
party criticism) has turned the town next door to Jerusalem into
a sanctuary for Palestinian terrorists on the run; his latest drive
to remove the army from Hebron will award them a second sanctuary.
Nonetheless Sharon sanctioned the move in part.
Washington, he is not officially welcome. Last week, Ben Eliezer
traveled to Paris to persuade French leaders to use their influence
in Damascus and Beirut to dissuade the HIzballah from escalating
its cross-border violence. The following day, ceremonial pumping
began under Hizballah protection on the Wazzani scheme to divert
Israel’s water supply from the Jordan River. Friday, October
10, President Jacques Chirac publicly invited the Hizballah leader
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who declares Israel has no right to exist,
to sit in a place of honor at the Francophone nations’ summit
the prime minister continues to give him more and more rope, a situation
that cannot be lost on Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Palestinian
headquarters in Ramallah.