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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The Paper Trail: Settlement Land Theft

The legal battle over settlement building on privately owned Palestinian land is heating up. Yesterday, the Supreme Court barred settlers from taking up residence in houses at Beit El. The court was responding to a petition by two Palestinians from the village of Dura a-Kara, who say the buildings are on land they own. (The Supreme Court order in Hebrew is here; an AP story on the decision is here.)

In honor of that decision, I’m adding a new document to my online archive of settlement history. The mimeographed Hebrew flier, from the flagship settlement of Ofrah in 1976, shows how aware settlers were at the outset that they were using land that belonged to someone else, how intentional the theft was.

First, some background on the latest legal case.

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At a Settlement, a Battle Over Both Law and Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

The Israeli Supreme Court today took a small step toward restoring the rule of law. It issued a temporary injunction against continuing to build nine new homes in Ofrah, the flagship settlement of Gush Emunim in the area north of Jerusalem.

Ofrah, as I explained in The Accidental Empire , was established in 1975 without government permission but with lots of government help, especially from then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Most of the settlement is built on private Palestinian land. It’s an embodiment of the settlement paradox – half rogue operation, half national project. The petition to the Supreme Court by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din against the latest construction is a bid to make the government live up to the principles of a state based on law.

My new article explaining the legal fight and what’s at stake  politically just  went up at The American Prospect.

There’s another facet of what’s happening at Ofrah that I didn’t mention in the Prospect:

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30 Years after “Now”

I can remember precisely what the weather was on Israeli Independence Day in 1983: Horrid. On the mountain near Nablus where Peace Now was demonstrating against the establishment of a new settlement, the rain was coming down in big cold drops that soaked through my ‘rain-proof’ shell and down jacket and sweater and shirt and skin. By Independence Day, the rainy season is supposed to be over. The sun is supposed to shine on picnics.

Thousands of settlers and their supporters were expected to come to the mountain to picnic that day and hear Housing Minister David Levy speak at the formal dedication of the settlement of Brakhah, which would be one more statement that Israel would rule “Judea and Samaria” forever. Only a few hundred showed up. The Peace Now demonstrators came by the busload and surrounded the ceremony, with very soggy soldiers separating the rings of people. The peace activists had not planned on a day of fun, and they by the thousands came despite the weather. So David Levy gave his speech inside a prefab structure – that’s what it looked like over the heads of the soldiers – and peaceniks rode home cold and soaked, but happy that they’d dominated the field that day.

Except that 25 years later, according to Peace Now’s excellent settlement monitoring effort, Brakhah has about 1,200 residents. The demonstrators were there for an afternoon,

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