Ofrah is illegal. Not just under international law, like all settlements – but also under Israeli law. The evidence is piling up.
Ofrah, near Ramallah, was the first bridgehead of the Gush Emunim movement in West Bank hills north of Jerusalem. Recently human-rights activists have succeeded in prying information on the settlement from government repositories, relying on the Freedom of Information Act. The evidence shows that most of the settlement is built on land owned by other people.
The latest report was published today by B’Tselem. Using land registry documents, the organization found that most of the land on which the settlement stands is registered as the property of individual Palestinians. Besides that, the settlement lacks any of the basic town planning approval necessary for construction. Built on stolen land, without permits, the comfortable bourgeois neighborhood is in fact a crime made tangible – and a prime example of how the settlement effort has corroded the rule of law.
In 2001,26 years after Ofrah was founded, the next generation of settlers set up the outpost of Migron. As AP’s Matti Friedman reported a few days ago,
It was never officially approved by Israel’s government, but the government nonetheless provided security, an access road, and infrastructure for electricity and water.
Settlers claim they bought the land three years later. But Friedman’s careful investigative work reveals that the sale is not just a forgery, but a sloppy one at that.
The sale by one Abdel Latif Sumarin supposedly took place in California in 2004. But:
There’s no evidence Sumarin ever visited America, his family says he couldn’t write English, and public records show he died in 1961. The notary in California says he did not sign the paper either.
Indeed, the signature on the document doesn’t match the notary’s, and the name of the seller is misspelled. The Israeli company that supposedly bought the land isn’t located at the address listed for it in court documents. I could go on, but it’s simpler just to refer you to Friedman’s detailed report.
Full disclosure: Friedman is a friend and former colleague of mine from the Jerusalem Report. At a time when too many newspapers are closing up their bureaus in Jerusalem, it’s some comfort that AP is picking up slack with investigative reporting.
Another AP reporter, Amy Teibel, complements that report with a look at the eviction of settlers from the House of Contention in Hebron, and the violence that followed – intended to deter the government from future evictions. (More disclosure: Teibel quotes me. Nonetheless, it’s a solid piece.) She writes:
An increasingly alienated minority of the 275,000 Jews who have settled in the West Bank since Israel captured it from Jordan in 1967 is taking matters into its own hands. They are attacking Palestinian civilians and Israeli troops every time the government acts against settlers, and calling the operation “price tag” — meaning the toll they would exact in resisting evacuation.
So they break Israeli laws, fight Israeli troops, and claim to be Zionists. Right.
Meanwhile, politicians are again egging each other on for a ground assault in Gaza. The resumption of rocket fire at Israeli towns is indeed unbearable. But the logic of an invasion seems to follow an Israeli saying, usually used sarcastically, “What won’t work with force – will work with more force.” It ignores tough questions, like what we’d do with the territory once we conquered it.
As Daniel Levy recently wrote in Ha’aretz:
Israel’s overall approach toward Gaza is dangerously mistaken. A siege designed to depose Hamas rule (a problematic goal in itself, but that’s another story) risks triggering a social collapse that would have devastating consequences for all concerned. Anyone in search of a cautionary tale, and a peek at a possible future scenario for Gaza, should look at Somalia – which has the dubious distinction of having reintroduced piracy to the daily news lexicon, and from which Ethiopian troops are now planning to withdraw following an ugly two-year occupation.
All this makes a depressing picture. So I’ll end with a splash of optimism from afar, provided by New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin in a discussion group (and quoted here with his permission):
Rahm’s middle name is Israel. And Barack’s is Hussein. I mean, the U.S. should get some kind of cosmic credit for that pair.
Yes, that is a nice symbol. May they cash in their cosmic credit for some wisdom about how to pursue a diplomatic solution to all this.