Israeli panel backs legalizing settler outposts


A government-appointed committee on Monday proposed granting official status to dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank, challenging the world view that Israeli settlement there is illegal.

The non-binding legal opinion, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought, could be used by the right-wing leader to address criticism at home and abroad of his declared plans to build more homes for Jews on land Palestinians want for a state.

Three months ago, his governing coalition drew Palestinian and international condemnation when it retroactively legalized three West Bank outposts built without official sanction.

But the panel, chaired by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice who has written pro-settlement opinions from the bench, reaffirmed Israel’s long-held view that the West Bank is not occupied territory and that settling Jews there is legal.

The opinion, yet to be formally accepted by the government and swiftly disputed by the Palestinians, flew in the face of a World Court ruling that all settlements are illegal because of their location on occupied land.

The Israeli committee disputed that ruling, arguing Israel’s control of the West Bank does not constitute occupation as no country had sovereignty over the territory when it was captured from Jordan in a 1967 war.

“Therefore, according to international law, Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal,” it said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

Jordan captured the West Bank, which had been part of British-mandated Palestine, in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it in a move that never won international recognition.

Israel has built some 120 settlements in the West Bank. Dozens of unauthorized outposts, which past Israeli governments had pledged to remove, have also gone up in the territory.

PALESTINIAN ANGER

Palestinians say the enclaves will deny them a viable and contiguous state, a view that has won wide international support. Their peace talks with Israel collapsed in 2010 over the settlement issue.

“All settlements are illegal according to international law and international resolutions,” Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said of the committee’s report.

“The Israeli government must cease settlement activity and curb settler attacks and adhere to international resolutions if it wants to achieve peace,” Abu Rdeineh added.

Addressing the issue of unsanctioned settlement outposts, the committee echoed a 2005 government report in determining that they had been established “with the knowledge, encouragement and tacit agreement of the most senior political level”.

But unlike the 2005 document, which said quiet government support and funding for unauthorized settlements were illegal, the new report recommended expanding them.

The time had come, it said, to complete formal “planning and zoning procedures” and to set the “municipal jurisdiction” of each outpost, taking into consideration their growing populations.

“Pending completion of those proceedings and examination of the possibility of granting valid building permits, the state is advised to avoid carrying out demolition orders,” the panel said.

Yariv Oppenheimer of the anti-settlement group Peace Now said the panel had “delivered the goods” for the Israeli right.

“The legal world is a wonderful one, just choose a position and you will always be able to find a legal expert who can defend it,” he said on Army Radio. “The committee has forgotten that there are 2.5 million stateless Palestinians under Israeli military rule.”

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Tragedy in Sudan Spurs Local Action


 

On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave a sermon on the tragedy of Sudan and what the Jewish community needs to do about it.

His proposed remedy: Start the Jewish World Watch (JWW), a commission of caring men and women that will monitor atrocities around the world by organizing educational evenings with international relations experts and raise money to help societies being ravaged by genocide.

“We wish to be educated, to know what atrocities lie out there and where they are,” Schulweis said in his sermon. “We wish to raise our voice, because we global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable.”

After the sermon was publicized, clergy from different congregations, such as Sinai Temple, Kol Tikvah and Stephen S. Wise, contacted Schulweis and asked if they could get involved, too.

The result was the Inter-Synagogue World Watch Council, which is co-sponsoring JWW’s first event — a talk by Jerry Fowler, chair of the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., on “Genocide Emergency Sudan: Who Will Survive?” Fowler is an expert on Sudan who has traveled there several times.

In addition to the speech, JWW is also raising funds to build a medical clinic in Chad for Sudanese refugees. The clinic is expected to cost about $45,000 to build and will also serve as a rape counseling center and a food distribution center. After that, the JWW will raise money to dig a well in Chad, which is expected to cost about $3,000.

“The fact that it costs so little to build [the clinic] is probably a statement on the economy, as well as the medical conditions there,” said JWW Chair Janice Kaminer Reznik. “It’s a small amount of money for such a huge impact.”

Currently VBS has 100 of its members involved in JWW. In addition to raising funds and organizing functions, they have initiated letter-writing campaigns to the United Nations, which they say is ignoring the tragedy in Sudan; established a youth division that will provide speakers to youth groups; and started the sale of green ribbons to be worn as a symbol of solidarity with the people of Sudan. They are also planning a trip to Chad in 2005.

“This whole project was born out of the notion that ‘never again’ is supposed to mean ‘never again,'” Kaminer Reznik said. “But there have been other genocides since [the Holocaust], and it seems it just went over our heads. One of the main objectives of JWW is educating people in our position that there is this terrible thing happening that we can’t separate ourselves from, and that is what being Jewish is all about.”

Fowler will speak on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

For more information about Jewish World Watch visit www.vbs.org or e-mail jkreznik@aol.com.

 

Survivors Sue Claims Commission


Survivors are suing the commission on Nazi-era insurance claims, a commissioner has called for the resignation of its chief and Jewish officials handling the claims acknowledge serious problems.

But they also say there probably isn’t a better way to dole out the claims.

The anger and frustration some lawmakers and survivors feel toward the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims peaked last week when several survivors filed suit, claiming the organization was delaying payments.

California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, a member of the commission, later joined the suit and called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Survivors Jack Brauns, Manny Steinberg and Si Frumkin, all Los Angeles-area residents, charged that the ICHEIC improperly delayed or denied payments totaling more than $1 billion on policies held by the survivors or heirs of those who perished under Nazi rule.

"This is a commission that is supposed to help survivors," said William Shernoff, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. "But from what we see, they are helping the insurance companies more than survivors."

They also are seeking Eagleburger’s resignation, saying his salary — which they estimate at over $300,000 — is paid for by the insurance companies. The plaintiffs believe Eagleburger is working in the insurance companies’ interests.

"This is blood money stolen from survivors," said Frumkin, chair of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jewry.

For his part, Eagleburger says he has no intention of resigning. His aide, Anais Haase, said that time and resources planned for investigating claims would be diverted to defending against the lawsuit if the survivors persist in fighting them.

"We don’t believe we are mistreating survivors or their heirs," Haase said. "We offer the only option available at no cost to survivors and their heirs."

The plaintiffs are asking the ICHEIC to place more pressure on Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to divulge more unpaid life insurance policies. The ICHEIC has published 9,000 names of Generali policyholders, but the claimants suggest the list could exceed 100,000 policies.

Shernoff said Holocaust survivors and their heirs should also maintain the right to use litigation to gain money owed them, rather than working through the ICHEIC.

The suit was filed under California’s Unfair Business Practices statute, but it’s unclear whether the ICHEIC can legally be defined as a business.

A Generali official in New York called the lawsuit baseless and misleading, saying that thousands of claimants "have and will continue to be paid and offered generous amounts through ICHEIC, which is supported by leading Jewish Holocaust restitution organizations and the State of Israel."

Stuart Eizenstat, a special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said the lawsuits could wreck the ICHEIC system if the suit nullifies the agreements the commission has reached with the insurance agencies.

"It continues to cast a cloud of debate over the exercise," he said. "It diverts energy and attention from filling claims."

Eizenstat said he appreciates that the suit is an expression of frustration over the slow process of paying claims. But he and others contend that the insurance companies, not the ICHEIC, have made the process more difficult by withholding names.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There is no bad faith here," he said of the ICHEIC. "There is bad information after 50 years."

Singer acknowledged that the organization has had trouble completing its mission.

"ICHEIC has a mammoth task, and it’s bigger than we ever thought it was going to be," Singer said. "We couldn’t have known it at the time."

He suggested an ombudsman might be able to bridge the gap between the ICHEIC and the Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC, founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has had some problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign last year after difficulty securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

Congressional representatives and others also have chastised Eagleburger and the commission for its slow progress, especially considering the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC also has been criticized for spending $56 million in five years, and Eizenstat agreed that the organization cannot be considered a model of efficiency.

But both Eizenstat and Singer defended Eagleburger.

"Larry has earned every nickel and then some," Eizenstat said. "He’s had to undergo hell to bring the parties together."

California Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Saturday accusing the ICHEIC of "not meeting its mission.

"The system does not work, claims are not being investigated and survivors are not being paid,” Davis said in the statement.

Edwin Black and Tom Tugend contributed to this report from Los Angeles.