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,

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.

4 thoughts on “The Occupation Times: Ofra, Migron, Hebron, Gaza and a Splash of Optimism”

  1. There is a death penalty on the books in Jordanian law (which I think still applies in Judea/Samaria) for any Arab who sells land to a Jew. No wonder Arabs deny they sold land to Jews. The question is then “did they receive money for the sale they claim never took place”? This is what happened in the case of the House in Hevron. The Arab seller was filmed receiving the money and acknowledging the fact. I don’t know the facts about Ofra but it is probably similar…either the land was bought from private Arab owners or it was state land.
    Regarding your repeated claim that all the settlements in Judea/Samaria are “illegal”, I can only restate that that is your opinion. It is also the opinion of a lot of other people, but there are counter opinions. A friend of mine who is studying law points out numerous Israeli legal experts who are Leftists as a matter of fact, say they are NOT illegal. If it was so obvious, why hasn’t the Israeli Supreme Court, which, as a body, is no less hostile to the settlers than you are, ruled that they are “illegal”?

  2. Why doesn’t the Israeli Supreme Court rule that all the settlements are illegal at international law? As I understand it, and others may certainly correct me, the Israeli S/C does not regard the applicable convention (Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949) as part of Israeli domestic law and so cannot conclude that the settlements are illegal at Israeli domestic law. And, of course, the Israeli S/C does not sit as a court of (abstract) international law.
    We have the same problem in the USA. Most treaties and conventions purport to create a legal regime but are regarded (in USA law) as “non self-executing” meaning that merely signing and ratifying the convention does not of itself make the convention part of USA domestic law.
    Unless the USA Congress passes enabling legislation, a treaty is not binding on USA courts.
    It is, of course, a shame that Israel has never passed a suitable statute in the Knesset to make international humanitarian law part of Israeli law, for that would have allowed the Israeli courts to rule on the question of the legality at international law of all the settlements (and the wall), as the international court of Justice did in July 2004 (declaring both the wall and the settlements illegal).

  3. pabelmont: “Unless the USA Congress passes enabling legislation, a treaty is not binding on USA courts.”

    I’ve never understood how this squares with the supremacy clause of Article VI of the Constitution and Art. III Section 2 as well.

  4. Print this

    this is not a war about rockets its about the cultural genocide and apartheid used by Israel in the west bank (of which not one cm2 is theirs by international law) to segregate and destroy Palestinian social unity Israel has strangulated the spirit- life and dignity of Palestinians and Gazans by inhumane and draconian controls of the inflow of goods and services now less than 20% of 2005 level. It is the Gazans who now use their flesh and bone as their quill to bring this human disaster and Israeli hypocrisy to the world. The Arabs have the means to stop this disaster- in the oil- gas-US treasury bonds -withdraw these from the US and it clones until Israel withdraws. But the fat Arab sheiks in their nepotic fiefdoms are as ill feeling and hypocritical as their Israeli counterparts The world in the future will see this Israel control of Palestinians as a crime against humanity no different from Somali or Serbia. When does human rights start for the poor- downtrodden and dispossessed – or is it only for the fat western world and legal system to ponder over their cafe lattes – The rest of the worlds allowance of Israel less than 1/1000 of the worlds population to pummel kill at will and destroy under guise of self protection a human social fabic and infrastructure 1000’s of years old is the real crime here Since when has Israel offered an Olive branch of peace–from the terrorist days of the Hagana to now “Never”

    And we intend to save the world from effects green house gas– LOL


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