Update: Kfar Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Law

Gershom Gorenberg

The last week has been rather packed, and not just because of two days of Rosh Hashanah. On the first night of the holiday, while my wife and kids and I were at the synagogue praying, our kitchen caught fire. By the time we got home, the fire crew had been and gone. A cop was standing in the dark, smoke-filled, wet apartment to calm us – and to tell us we’d need to find someplace else to stay. Thank God for my friends and especially for my congregation, Kehillat Yedidya. Generosity has turned this from a crisis to an inconvenience.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been remiss in putting up the links to two new articles.

In the Washington Post, I wrote this article on a recurring pattern: Poorly implemented diplomatic initiatives on Israeli-Arab peace have actually spurred settlement construction. A prime example is Ma’aleh Adumim, born of the failed talks with Jordan in the mid-70s. It was also born in flagrant violation of international law:

The government’s method of acquiring land for the settlement was audacious — and, until now, well hidden. After a tenacious freedom-of-information legal battle, Israeli human rights activist Dror Etkes of the organization Yesh Din recently received data from the Israeli army’s Civil Administration on West Bank land expropriations. In April 1975, Israel expropriated 11 square miles east of Jerusalem “for public use.” In 1977, another square mile was taken.

On his laptop, Etkes showed me an aerial photo of the settlement today, superimposed on a map of the expropriation. Most of the built-up area of Maale Adumim lies inside the land that was confiscated.

This is a prima facie violation of international law. Under the 1907 Hague Convention, an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking private West Bank land for Israeli use is therefore barred.

Meanwhile, my article on the 41st anniversary of Kfar Etzion went up at the Ha’aretz site – in Hebrew, and in English translation. As I explain there, the long-standing Israeli consensus on settling at the Etzion Bloc is based on some lazy and dangerous thinking:

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Kfar Etzion, the Meron Opinion and the Illegality of Settlement

Gershom Gorenberg

Today, according to the Hebrew calendar, is the anniversary of the founding of the first Israeli settlement in the West Bank following the Six-Day War. (Settlement had already begun in the Golan Heights.) In honor of the anniversary, I’ve decided to begin a project that’s been on my mind: An online archive of important historical documents dealing with the history of settlement.

The archive is located here. The first document is Theodor Meron’s legal opinion on civilian settlement in the occupied territories.

Meron was legal counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in September 1967. He was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office for his opinion on the legality of civilian settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a cover note to his opinion, he summarized his conclusion: “…civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

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Israeli Right Supports Right of Return

Gershom Gorenberg

One of the bizarre ironies of Israeli politics is revealed once more in a response by NGO Monitor* to Nicholas Kristof’s recent column on Hebron and the price of occupation.

Kristof wrote of the particular burden imposed on Palestinians – and on Israel itself – by maintaining Jewish settlers inside Hebron:

The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.

For anyone who has visited Hebron with open eyes, Kristof’s description will appear accurate, even understated. (My own account of a recent trip to that town is here.)

However, NGO Monitor was not happy.

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