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Nothing Settled About Settlements

 

by Chuck Chriss
President, JIA

12-7-2002

There is a world-wide consensus that Israel’s so-called "settlements" are a bad idea. Here are some typical quotes, clipped from the news in the last few days:

"[Settlement activity] severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope. It preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations and in doing so cripples chances for real peace and security. The US has long opposed settlement activity, and, consistent with the report of the Mitchell Committee, settlement activity must stop." (US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, reported in Jerusalem Post, 12-4-02)

"[Israeli] settlements are widely viewed as illegal under international law, which prohibits military forces from establishing their own communities in the areas they occupy." (Boston Globe, 12-5-02)

"I must also make it clear that (Britain) has long considered such settlements illegal and an obstacle to the peace." (British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Jerusalem Post 12-6-02)

WHAT ARE THE SETTLEMENTS?

The word "settlements" has become a code for whatever Jews are doing about living in areas claimed by Palestinian Arabs. These are actually communities — some small, some large — where Jewish people have chosen to live. Most of them are found hugging the Green Line, the cease-fire lines established at the end of the War of Independence in 1948-1949.

Settlements include neighborhoods in Jerusalem, expansion of existing communities across the Green Line, or new communities in areas of the disputed territories. There are a few large communities, such as Ariel in Samaria; those larger towns hold about half of the settlement population of 200,000 plus, not counting another 170,000 or so who live in areas of Jerusalem annexed to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War.

This is nothing new — since the first Jews returned to Hebron in 1967, both Labor and Likud governments have permitted settlements, sometimes encouraging them and sometimes trying to throttle them for political reasons. The communities continue to grow and population figures are up even in the face of increased terrorism in the last few years.

ARE SETTLEMENTS ON "ARAB LAND"?

The areas seized by Israel in 1967 from Jordan and Egypt are called the "West Bank" and the "Gaza Strip" respectively. In all of history before about 1950 they were Judea, Samaria and Gaza, part of Eretz Yisrael. The ancient history of Judea and Samaria as the setting for the Bible, the homeland of the Jews starting with Abraham, is well known. But also Gaza, where Samson brought down the temple, has deep roots in Jewish history, as Michael Freund writes in the Jerusalem Post this week:

"After the Exodus from Egypt, when the tribes of Israel were apportioned various parts of the Promised Land, Gaza was given to the Tribe of Judah (see Joshua 15:47 and Judges 1:18) as its share of the eternal inheritance. Since we are celebrating the festival of Hanukka this week, it is worth recalling that the Hasmonean king Yochanan, brother of Judah the Maccabee, retook Gaza in 145 BCE and his brother, Shimon, sent Jews to settle there, hundreds of years before the advent of Islam. In the fourth century, some 1,600 years before the establishment of the PLO, Gaza served as the primary port of commerce for the Jews of the Holy Land."

But, some will say, that’s all ancient history; in the modern world this is Palestinian Arab land. Sorry, but that is true only if you accept the topsy-turvy, stand-history-on-its-head version created for propaganda purposes. The web format of this memo explores the whole background of the issue and shows why Israel and Jews have as much right to the land as anyone else.

ARE SETTLEMENTS ILLEGAL?

The current borders are a result of the series of wars since 1948. The last sovereign ruler of the disputed land, with internationally recognized borders, was the Ottoman Empire before 1918. The only definite borders are those established by treaties between Israel and neighboring countries — the West Bank and Gaza are not defined as any country’s territory by any of the treaties. The land of the West Bank and Gaza is disputed territory and Israel has the right to occupy, administer, or withdraw to negotiated borders based on the defensive wars forced on Israel by its hostile Arab neighbors. Various UN resolutions that have addressed the issue — such as the famous UN Security Council Resolution 242 — only require Israel to negotiate a settlement. No UN resolution requires Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the disputed territories.

All land that settlements occupy was land that was legally acquired or belonged to the state, not private individuals. There is no stolen land. Anyone who thinks their land was not legally acquired can go to court in Israel for compensation, fair courts that frequently find in favor of Arab plaintiffs. Some land has been taken by process of eminent domain, for public works, or has been cleared for defensive military purposes, but always with compensation and with due process. (Of course, there was never compensation for land and valuables taken from Jews who were expelled from other countries.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

There is, to me, a larger issue. Why can’t Jews (and Christians and others) live where they want in Islamic countries? The refusal of Islamic countries to allow Jews to live there is scurrilous racism of the worst kind. In any civilized country behavior like that would be denounced and, in many places, would violate the law. But in all the Arab and Islamic countries they shout from the rooftops "No Jews Allowed" and this is accepted by the world.

Specifically, regarding the areas in the West Bank and Gaza, let’s suppose for a moment that it was exclusively Arab land (remember, not true). Even if it was, why is it a "war crime", "atrocity" or an unacceptable affront for Jews to want to settle there? In the United States we see Mexicans, Japanese, Muslims from all over, and many others come here in large numbers and establish communities. If anyone dares voice some concern (just voice concern, not actually do anything) it causes an uproar about racism. Why no uproar about racist, antisemitic, outrageous speech and behavior by Islamic/Arab countries who refuse to admit even one Jew and actively incite violence against Jews outside their borders? Why is it OK that Isreal cannot even stamp the passport of anyone who expects to go to an Arab country at a later date?

If I, as an American Jew, decided to buy a farm across the border in Canada, not only can I legally do so but I would probably be welcomed by my friendly new neighbors. There would be an expectation of peaceful relationships by all parties. If a dispute arose, there are courts and arbitration available for settlement, almost the definition of civilization. But if an Israeli Jew steps across the Green Line and buys land, he can expect to be the target of killers. Any Arab who sells land to a Jew will be branded a collaborator and is in danger for his life. Where is the world outrage at such an abomination? Where are the leftist groups who range the world looking for problems to solve while Jews are excluded under pain of death from their own traditional lands?

As we look forward to a post-Iraq and post-Arafat world, some see new opportunites for peace in the Middle East. I think you can measure the prospects for real peace between Israel and its neighbors by one criterion: when a Jew can buy a farm from an Arab and live there in harmony with his neighbors, then there will be real peace in the region.