Op-Ed: From "Occupation" to Sovereignty
Nadia MatarNadia Matar is co-Chairwoman of Women in Green (Women for Israel's Tomorrow), sharing the idealistic challenge with Yehudit Katsover.
This past Shabbat, the mass-circulation Hebrew weekly "Besheva"'s lead article and front page item was about our sovereignty conference , both written by well-known journalist Ofra Lax.
In addition to articles in the rightwing media, our conference also made a lot of waves in the general Israeli press, and was featured as the lead articles in Yediot, NRG Maariv, Ynet, Walla and others.
On the morning after the conference, the organizers received a call from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, asking to receive a link to all the lectures and their translation- . letting them know that the majority of the Jewish People oppose the creation of a Palestinian State in our Biblical Heartland and have started working seriously towards the application of Israeli Sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
The organizers of the Conference for the application of Israeli Sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, which was held this past Tuesday in Jerusalem, at first didn’t expect extensive response from the public. The original plan had been to have the event in the BibleLands Museum, but after seeing the ever increasing demand, the decision was made to relocate to a hall with almost 1,000 seats. Nonetheless, during the conference dozens of people had to settle for standing room only. So anyone who thought that the application of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria is the idea of a handful of delusional individuals, better think twice. The long list of speakers at the conference and the serious preoccupation with the issues involved in such a move will definitely help him do so. The next PM should take notice.
“Judea and Samaria” as opposed to “The West Bank”
Granted, the timing is less than 3 weeks before the elections, a time during which, as MK Aryeh Eldad said on the Knesset podium, MK’s will go meet an audience anywhere, even a bomb shelter. Still, it can not be ignored that the list of speakers that evening included 4 Likud members, some of them senior officials. Despite the attempt to label it as Radical-Right, the matter of the application of sovereignty will be presented to the next administration, at least as far as the Jewish Home (JH) party is concerned. JH representative Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan said at the conference that “no nation governs or has sovereignty over this land. I hope that the new administration will apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, by establishing it as a basic guideline and making it a part of the Coalition Agreement”.
The speakers throughout the evening were not content to simply make statements, they discussed the practical aspects of applying sovereignty: How it should be done, what the status of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria will be, and what are the anticipated reactions from the Arab and Western worlds. “The more we talk about it”, said Caroline Glick, who also brought along a special Latma production for the evening, “the more supporters it will gain, and thus become reality”.
The Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, also mentioned that even the application of sovereignty over Jerusalem, decades ago, did not make the world accept construction in all parts of the city, so there is no reason to worry about the international response. According to him, sovereignty must be applied gradually and in practical ways, and on this point he anticipates condemnation not only from the Left-wing, but from the Right as well. “Any step which is ‘merely’ gradual will encounter resistance from the Right”, he warns. “It may be boring, but I am always in favor of starting to move in the right direction, rather than sitting idly and not getting what I want”.
Edelstein called for a return to discourse on the rights to the land, from the historic aspect as well. He mentioned for example the fact that “we did not conquer a Palestinian state, because there wasn’t one. There are a lot of Foreign Ministers around the world who actually think that happened”. He also called for a change in the terminology used in discourse with the world, and using the title “Judea and Samaria” instead of “The West Bank”. Instead of “hit’yash’vut”, which translated to English is “settlement” and has a very strong connotation of colonizing and illegal settling, he proposes using the term “Jewish communities”.
Likud MK Yariv Levin also expressed support for a gradual application of sovereignty, but his proposal wishes to start off with a different issue: He wants to apply state law over the Jews who live in Judea and Samaria, both Personal and General laws, the first and foremost being Construction laws. “This will end the military ‘suffocation’ of the communities and allow them to grow. There has to be a clear message that building there is treated like building in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana or anywhere else”. Levin also suggested recognizing Higher Education institutes located in Judea and Samaria, as has already happened with the Ariel University, and he also looks towards future legislations: “Even today laws are passed that are not applied in Judea and Samaria without a Major-General’s ordinance. We need to make sure they are applied automatically”. Levin sides with gradual application of sovereignty in the “acre by acre” method as well, “but even if sovereignty is applied over the Jewish community blocs first, we can not allow that to become the final step”.
“Second class citizens”
The words of Yossi Dagan, Deputy Head of the Samaria Regional Council, gave further urgency to the immediate necessity to apply state law to the Jews living in Judea and Samaria. He presented a rather gloomy lifestyle situation which is the share of the 360,000 Jewish residents in these areas and defined them as “second class citizens”. He spoke of electric infrastructure that is insufficient for the communities, and that in order to expand them the Minister of Defence has to approve it. He told of the mother who went out to warm her sick baby in the car because there was a power outage, while her husband who is an officer was on reserve duty in the Golan Heights. He described the Minister of Defence’s policy which does not supply state-built communities with the necessary authorizations, leading to demolition orders for kindergartens.
Dagan compared the treatment given to criminals and crime families from the Merkaz area, who aren’t banned from the area they operated in, while Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria who are so much as suspected of something can be banned from their homes and farms for extended periods of time. Dagan continued and told of special orders issued against the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria such as the “Interfering Use Warrant”, which means that if a Jewish farmer plants an orchard but an Arab issues a complaint and claims the land is his, the Jew must stop cultivating the land. These orders and warrants, which are “the invention of some female officer”, in Dagan’s words, cause great pain and the loss of hundreds of thousands of shekels to the Jewish farmers.
Dagan joined the call to go back and reinforce the internal awareness of the state’s right to the land, a right that originates in the Bible. As far as he’s concerned, the security rationales should be marginal. “We must not accept the narrative of the international discourse. The State of Israel must reinforce the awareness, both in the international arena and internally, that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel, and that is why we apply sovereignty to it”.
Legal expert Alan Baker, who was a member of the Edmond Levi Committee, explained the Committee’s conclusions and lingered on the fact that “the Jewish People have rights on the ground. These are the rights of an indigenous people. No one can deny our right on this matter”. He added and explained: “We came to the conclusion that there is no ‘occupation’ occurring in Judea and Samaria as defined in international treaties and laws. The Jordanians never sat there as recognized sovereigns. The claim we hear every day, all day, that the ‘settlements’ are a form of occupation and a violation of the 4th International Geneva Convention, is a distortion of what is written in the accords, yet the drafters and writers themselves say it”.
Baker expressed his grievance against the Israeli Public Diplomacy approach and said: “It’s our PD - instead of being apologetic, we should be explaining our rights and we don’t do it”. He shared that ambassadors came to him and asked for an explanation of the [Edmund Levi] Committee’s report, and when it was given to them they were very surprised. “They don’t know these things, because they aren’t in our PD approach”.
Baker said the Arab population living in the region must be treated with respect and not be deprived of their rights, “but the discourse regarding ‘occupied Palestinian territories’, which is the conception of all the ambassadors these days, is in fact a dire misconception”.
Baker further noted that the Oslo Agreement, which Israel signed and is still obligated to uphold, does not allow for a unilateral move for application of sovereignty by either side. Therefor, in his opinion, sovereignty cannot be applied on the ground “unless one of the sides decides it is irrelevant”.
Head of Coalition, Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, who spoke next, explained that the Arab side has already broken the commitment not to make unilateral moves “by going to the UN twice in a row, requesting recognition. Therefore, I find it difficult to take the Oslo Accords into consideration”. Elkin said that in recent years the concept that the final decision on what is ours and what isn’t will be decided “in the days of the Messiah”, and until then we continue to give away parts of the Homeland, has taken hold in Israel. According to him, it was the Arabs who ended up changing his mind over the last 20 years. Up until then they had operated with a “all or nothing” mentality, but since then they’ve been willing to take anything the State of Israel gives them. “And that whets their appetite. In the past, the capital of Palestine would have been Abu Dis. Today Abu Mazen would never agree to that”.
Elkin suggested we learn from the Arabs and adopt the ‘Salami method’. “It will be difficult, and we in the Right-wing must be prepared to take it step by step”. Elkin also emphasized that changing the Israeli and international discourse from focusing on withdrawal to focusing on rights and application of sovereignty may take time, because currently it is still perceived as delusional Right-wing discourse. “But the withdrawals were also a fringe idea that eventually took over the arena. It will take a long time to change awareness, but I believe it will trickle down to the Israeli public and make the difference”.
“Sovereignty in Lod as well”
Middle Eastern scholar Dr. Motti Keidar, who was asked to talk about the expected reaction from the Arabs to the application of sovereignty, started off by ‘blaspheming’ the very issue: “Did they ever agree to the application of sovereignty in Tel Aviv and in Haifa? The haven’t acknowledged that either. Even Egypt and Jordan, who signed peace treaties with us, did not recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state. In their opinion, it has no a priori right to exist, only a posteriori, because it forced it’s way in and won the wars”. Keidar, who also supports applying sovereignty inch by inch, expects disorderly incidents in Judea and Samaria “but not an Intifada (Uprising). The Intifadas happen for their own internal reasons and not because of a move Israel makes”. Keidar continued and said that we should expect the UN and it’s affiliated organizations to condemn us, and maybe even have the Jordanian and Egyptian Ambassadors retracted to their countries for consultation, but not severing ties, because that would be problematic for both of those countries. Keidar spoke further about the expected legal battle and warned of an Israeli Public Diplomacy failure, for not maintaining English and Arab television channels. He signed off by saying that “everyone wants peace. But in the Middle East, only the invincible can obtain it. It’s time we become so and then the peace will follow, Inshallah (G-d/Allah willing)”.
When future MK Moshe Feiglin took the stand, he prefaced by bringing examples of the weak Israeli sovereignty in the Temple Mount, in Lod and in Afula, and called for it’s application in these places as well. Later on he presented his plan, which was completely different from everything that had been presented until then. In summary, his plan suggests voluntary transfer. Feiglin, a Likud member, explained that since the Oslo Agreements came up and they cost Israel 10% of the National Income annually, that sum equals the 500,000 dollars that will be offered as an ‘encouragement grant’ to every Arab family in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, allowing them to start off “a brighter future”. This solution, says Feiglin, is both simple and economically efficient, but isn’t raised because “we don’t believe strongly enough that this is our land”.
During the panel which brought the evening to an end, MK Aryeh Eldad asked all those present to demand immediately from the Knesset candidates to make the adoption of the Edmund Levi report a condition to joining the next administration. “Now is the time”, he said, “because in a month from now you won’t have anyone to talk to”.
Women in Green: From hilltops to conference halls
The 3rd Conference for the Application of Sovereignty over Judea and Samaria was initiated and organized by Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover of ‘Women in Green’. Matar explained that after the Disengagement [from Gaza], a certainty planted itself in their minds, the certainty that the next battle would be for Judea and Samaria. They changed the arena to an ‘in the field’ one, and they were successful in protecting the Shdema and Adoraim former military camps, located in Gush Etzion, from falling to the Arabs’ takeover attempts, for example. “But then we realized”, said Matar, “that we can not be on every hilltop, because we don’t have the billions [of dollars] the Arabs have. Yehudit, who is the real powerhouse, said that the issue runs much deeper and that the root of it lies in the fact that we still haven’t applied sovereignty over Judea and Samaria”.
The two decided to push forward on the matter, and were surprised to find out that there were quite a few supporters for such a move. The first 2 conferences were held, symbolically, in Hebron. Last week's conference was held in Jerusalem, during which journalist Eran Bar Tal said that the aspiration is to have the next conference at the ICC [The Jerusalem International Convention Center / Bin’ya’ney Ha’U’ma].
“For 20 years, the minds of the People of Israel have been poisoned with the idea that peace requires relinquishing land, signing agreements and establishing a Palestinian state, but the truth is to the contrary”, says Matar, “all of the Left-wing’s plans of withdrawals lead to ‘national suicide’. Judea and Samaria are the heart and brain of the People of Israel. Just as a doctor would never tell a patient ‘I’ll just take your heart and brain out and you’ll be fine’, so must we treat politicians who wish to give away Judea and Samaria”.
Translated by Abayiss for Women in Green