MK Avital: A Kinder, Gentler Eviction

A new organization seeks to offer compensation to Jews on the “other” side of the separation fence to leave their homes. LaborMK Colette Avital spoke with Israel National Radio about the initiative.

Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 22:25


After ambiguous signs reading "Don't Leave Israelis Behind the Fence" were set up along the main highway through Samaria, Israel National Radio's Eli Stutz & Yishai Fleisher interviewed Labor MK Colette Avital, whose name appeared on the web site printed on the signs.

The following is the interview with MK Avital, on topics ranging from her opposition to language describing the Disengagement as eviction, to her beliefs that the Oslo Accords were not a failure and that withdrawals will truly bring peace to the region:

Fleisher: MK Avital, maybe you can explain what Bayit Echad [the name of the organization –ed.] means to you…

MK Avital: It means "one home" - meaning we all have to live together in one big home – that is the philosophy. The reason for such an organization stems from the fact that a lot of people, in view of the Disengagement, are not living there [in Judea and Samaria –ed.] for ideological reasons, but for quality of life. Once the fence is completed, they will be outside - on the wrong side of the fence. They fear that they will not have the same level of security afterward and also do not know what their future will be – when they may be removed. They don’t know if they should continue their businesses and many of them want to move back within the Green Line [Israel's border before winning the 1967 Six Day War –ed.].

Fleisher: I am not sure how many people in Judea and Samaria are actually not there for ideological reasons. It happens to be that all the five biblical cities mentioned in this week’s Torah portion are within Judea and Samaria [and are wholly or partly cut off from mainland Israel by the partition fence – ed.].

MK Avital: I can distinguish in my own mind and heart between feelings and rationale. I know we are connected to these places historically and that our forefathers were there, but I belong to a group of people that have understood for many years that the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is to divide the land. Of course I would like our country to be as big as possible and to include all the places [where] we think we have roots, but realistically speaking I think that this is not going to happen…Where there are big clusters of settlements which we can include today into our borders, that will be done – but unfortunately there also are settlements in places that are very heavily populated by the Arab population. I believe in trying, even if I have to give up some of my rights. I prefer to know that these people will live within borders that are recognized, peaceful, and where they can live as a majority.

Stutz: What are you doing with Bayit Echad to help these people?

MK Avital: We are not going out and acting as missionaries - asking the people to leave or even asking to dismantle those settlements – that is not what we are doing now. We are coming to try to help those who say, ‘we do not want to be under pressure – our property now is going down the drain – we would like to take our own and lead our own lives and make the decision to come back…'

Stutz: How are you planning on helping these people?

MK Avital: First of all, we have tabled a proposal in Knesset, which would be more or less similar to the Evacuation/Compensation Law that compensated the people of Gush Katif. In other words, if someone comes to us and wants to move out, we are going to help him to get as much money from the government as possible.

Fleisher: Just a second. Before pushing ahead to get money for the Jews not yet evicted, how about helping out Jews who have already been evicted! I am amazed that Labor, which is a socially conscious movement, is not concerned that there are tons of people, still living in hotels, that have not yet received a penny.

MK Avital: I haven’t said that and I think that if these people didn’t get their money, it is a shame. We are working on it. Many of us meet with the people from the Disengagement Authority. You probably don’t know what we are doing, but we are doing. We visit some of these people in their hotels. We are working with them and speaking with them. I myself am speaking a lot with the Minister of Housing, who happens to be a member of my own party. So I am doing what I can for those people as well.

Stutz: How can it be explained that the government has not compensated these people yet?

MK Avital: I don’t think that this is true. I think that you are wrong. I think that many people have been compensated and I do not wish to get into this kind of discussion with you because that is not the purpose of the exercise. I would like to tell you that I am trying to see if today people want to move out - before it is too late, before they are under public pressure. And you know what – maybe I will connect this to what you are saying about those who have not been compensated. The truth is that from my angle, from what I have seen, for months the Disengagement Authority went to these people and said, ‘Please, let’s discuss it,' 'Where do you want to move?,' 'Where do you want to go?’ And people from the Ministry of Education did the same. But there was this kind of a feeling among the settlers that this is not going to happen and they pushed it away – they said this is simply not going to happen so it does not need to be discussed. So if some of the people would have discussed things earlier with the Disengagement Authority - maybe, maybe things would have looked different.

Yishai: You know, I wanna --

MK Avital: Many of them preferred – let us try to be objective for two seconds --

Yishai: Just one second --

MK Avital: Just a minute --

Yishai: Just let me make one little point. First, I want to tell you that I appreciate that you came on the show and I think we are having a civil discussion – we understand your perspective and I hope you understand ours somewhat. I think when you say that the Disengagement Authority approached people and that they weren’t responsive – that’s true. And when you say the settlers didn’t think it was going to happen – I know that for a fact to be true because I didn’t think it was gonna happen. But if the Disengagement Authority had a sense that it was going to happen, what is so hard to calculate that 8,500 people are going to need new houses? If you know it's going to happen, your responsibility is to make sure these people have a roof over their heads the next day. It doesn’t matter if they agree with you or not. You can understand their feelings – they didn’t want to be ripped out of their homes. They didn’t go shake hands with somebody to agree, ‘you can rip me out of my house and I will accept money’ - but so what? Shouldn’t you be prepared for that eventuality if you know it is going to come to fruition?

MK Avital: You are right. I am not sure that the Disengagement Authority did all the right things. I cannot come and say on this show that they were perfectly right and perfect in terms of how they worked and what they did, but I can say another thing. I don’t think – and I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the settlers. I would not have wished this to happen to me. And I am trying to put myself also in the shoes of the people of the Disengagement Authority and to see, quite frankly, that it is not that simple to plan 7,000 [sic] buildings or houses or apartments if they are not telling you where. I remember seeing on Israeli television some kind of show where they showed people who went to the Galilee to look for houses. So what I am trying to say is, let us try to learn some kind of lesson – and this is what I am trying to do now. If the Israeli government will decide that more people will have to abandon some of the settlements and move into other settlements, etc. – there will have to be much more planning with many more possibilities that will give people much more choices and much more time. But if there are people today who are already willing to move of their own free will, it will save everybody lots of trouble.

Stutz: The question is whether this is a humanitarian project where you want to help these people who are in a troublesome situation, or whether this is political activism with a main motivation of ridding Judea and Samaria of Jews.

MK Avital: I think that it is first and foremost a humanitarian, pragmatic movement. It is neither left nor right. It does not belong to any particular political party. You are speaking to me – I belong to Labor – this is true. But there are many people who do not belong to Labor, from the center of the political scene. So it is not that we are doing some kind of political activism. There is political thinking in it – it is not devoid of political thinking - OK. The thinking is that we live in a certain political situation, let us see how we can best benefit without creating problems for some of these people.

Fleisher: Now, one of the things that I hear from Labor MKs is this word “pragmatic.” It is said that the right lives in a world of messianism and the left lives in a world of reality --

MK Avital: I did not say that - don’t put that in my mouth. I think there are people on the left and the right who are pragmatic. You are either born pragmatic or you are not. That is all I am trying to say, and please don’t put the labels, because yes, I think there are more people who traditionally act according to realpolitik – this has been the trend in the Labor Party. We have our dreams, but we know the difference between dreams and reality. But I do not wish to say who is the dreamer and who is not. The person who used the word messianic on this program was you and not me – let’s make this clear.

Fleisher: In my dictionary, messianic is not a bad word.

MK Avital: Very good, so please go ahead and be messianic. I am trying to live in this world --

Fleisher: OK, well I have a simple question. I have a simple question. Those pragmatic, realpolitik ideas that the Labor Party has promoted - Oslo, the Disengagement – have all led to an escalation in terror. Everything you guys have put forward has brought more bloodshed. So your pragmatism – what peace has it brought? Here is another idea – kick the Jews out of Judea and Samaria and we will draw a line between Judea and Samaria and the rest of small Israel and there will be peace. Then when the bombs start falling on Israel and Tel Aviv --

MK Avital: You know what, I am starting to be very sorry for engaging. Will we speak seriously, or you are going to throw at me all this crap --

Fleisher: What crap?

MK Avital: 'You people brought us bloody Oslo' and want to 'kick all the Jews out' – those are not expressions that we are using and if you want to speak seriously, please do --

Fleisher: I think it is very serious --

MK Avital: If you don’t want to engage in a serious conversation then I am not going to --

Fleisher: Hold on a second MK Avital, hold on one second. I am being serious and I am not using --

MK Avital: No, you are not. You’re not! You’re not! I am not kicking Jews out of anywhere! I don’t like this vocabulary --

Stutz: I think we need to learn to have a discussion here between you, Yishai and myself, together with the fact that we don’t necessarily like each other’s vocabulary, but we will still have a discussion.

MK Avital: I have not used any abusive vocabulary towards you.

Fleisher: It wasn’t abusive --

MK Avital: Those were abusive words.

Fleisher: So, what happened in Gush Katif? What do you call that?

MK Avital: I call that Disengagement --

Fleisher: OK, but what about those people that lived there. How did they feel personally? Were they 'disengaged'? What happened to them?

MK Avital: I think that they had to leave their homes and they were made to leave their homes against their will, but I don’t think that this is the kind of vocabulary --

Fleisher: Fine, so let’s call it “kicked out of their homes” – can we use those words?

MK Avital: Yes.

Fleisher: What about Oslo? Was that a Labor initiated peace plan?

MK Avital: I don’t happen to think that this was a fiasco, and I don’t happen to think, by the way, that it was Oslo that brought terrorism, but the fact that people didn’t fulfill their obligations on both sides – because if the agreement would have been respected, we wouldn’t have reached terrorism.

Fleisher: Do you believe - and I am using your language - if we disengage from Judea and Samaria that there will be peace with the Arabs, that there will be peace in the Middle East? Do you believe that? Don’t tell me you want to give it a try – but yes or no, do you believe this is going to work?

MK Avital: Yes, I do believe that. I believe it very sincerely. Maybe not peace in the Middle East, but I think it will dramatically reduce terrorism, I think it will dramatically reduce friction or any kind of possibility of having a real conflict. Yes, I do believe that. I think the only way to reach a solution is to separate from the Palestinians. I don’t think we should live in their midst. I think we should live in a Jewish country, with a Jewish majority. Let them live where they live and let us live where we live.

Click here to listen to the entire interview on Israel National Radio, which also touched on the Labor Party primaries and other issues.



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