The Occupation Times: Ofra, Migron, Hebron, Gaza and a Splash of Optimism

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,

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Is All Criticism Anti-Israel? A Question for NGO Monitor

Gershom Gorenberg

NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg’s group, which tracks human-rights groups for anti-Israel bias, sent me its annual report. I don’t claim the resources to monitor every detail of its monitoring. But a section in the report on B’Tselem helps illuminate an underlying bias in the work of the bias-hunter.

The report quotes B’Tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell as acknowledging

that Israel is held to a higher standard within the international community and “in some ways Israel is discriminated against and disproportionately criticized.” But she also stated, “Israel is a democracy that holds itself to a higher standard. And I think that’s appropriate,” a comment which denies the universality of human rights. [my emphasis]

Does holding Israel to a higher standard in fact defy the universality of human rights? Sometimes, depending on context. Some groups, especially foreign ones, notice only Israeli offenses, because they begin by being offended that Israel exists.

But there are three essential flaws in the NGO Monitor argument against B’Tselem on this point.

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Journey to Wadi al-Shajneh: The Illusion of Quiet

Gershom Gorenberg

Dov, the guy who owns the hole-in-the-wall computer lab, explained to Elliott and me that the operating system was only in English; he didn’t have Arabic Windows. As for service, he said, that would be no problem, "as long as he brings it here."

Unfortunately, Muhammad Abu Arkub, to whom we were delivering the computer, has about as much chance as getting a permit to enter Jerusalem for a computer repair as he does of getting back his wife’s gold. Dov wasn’t being snide. He’s the old-fashioned gruff kind of guy who curses about everything and then puts in twice the work fixing your computer that he planned and charges no more, and would be embarrassed if you mentioned it. But the village of Wadi al-Shajneh, in the South Hebron Hills, is beyond where he does service calls. He was surprised when Elliott explained why we were buying the computer. "And you with a kipah ," he said. Not that he objected to what we were doing.

Elliott read about Muhammad in a Ha’aretz article by Gideon Levy, a few days after we went to Hebron to give a washing machine to Ghassan Burqan. If you read my previous post (Journey to Hebron: Nightmares and Hope ), you’ll remember that Ghassan had bought his own washing machine and was carrying it to his home in the Israeli-controlled side of Hebron when he was stopped by Border Police, beat up and arrested. The machine disappeared. In memory of our late friend Gerald Cromer, Elliott decided we should bring Ghassan a replacement.

Muhammad’s home was searched by soldiers who arrived at midnight. They said they were looking for weapons. The search lasted two hours. Muhammad, his wife Lubna, their two small daughters, and Muhammad’s younger brother Rami were all kept under guard in Rami’s home – a single-room shack built onto the side of Muhammad’s house. When the search was over, and the family rushed back into the main house, they found their computer and television smashed. And, they say, the jewelry box where Lubna kept her gold was gone.

Read moreJourney to Wadi al-Shajneh: The Illusion of Quiet