Obama administration calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation


The Obama administration formally called on Israel to reverse its appropriation of West Bank land for settlement building, saying it was counterproductive to peace efforts.

“We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building,” said the statement Tuesday from Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” Psaki said. “We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

While U.S. governments have expressed concern about settlement activity in the past, direct and public calls for Israel’s government to reverse a decision are rare.

“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” Psaki said in the statement emailed to reporters.

The Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration on Sunday said it would appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the Gush Etzion bloc and convert it to state land.

Centrist ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have opposed the appropriation, saying it would damage peace efforts.

“Yesterday’s announcement, which wasn’t brought to the Cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in Gush Etzion harms the State of Israel,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday while addressing a conference organized by Calcalist, an Israeli business publication.

“We are after a military operation and facing a complex diplomatic reality,” said Lapid, referring to the aftermath of Israel’s most recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?”

Gaza’s Ties to Jewish History


Modern Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip resumed only after the 1967 Six-Day War, but even with those settlements set to be evacuated, Jewish roots in the sandy strip of land where Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea meet run deep.

Opinions differ on whether the area was or was not included in the Land of Israel conquered by the ancient Israelites in the Bible.

Samson is the only biblical Israelite noted for having set foot there. In the 17th century, false messiah Shabbatai Zevi gave the area a bad name when he launched his movement from its shores.

After a contentious debate, Israel’s Knesset voted last year to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and evacuate the 9,000 or so Jewish settlers who live in suburban-style communities there, where sprawling green lawns and playgrounds are protected by wire fences and military towers.

The settler population is dwarfed by the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in densely populated Gaza, which is 25 miles long and just 6 miles wide.

During biblical times, Gaza was part of the land promised to the Jews by God but never part of the land actually conquered and inhabited by them, said Nili Wazana, a lecturer on Bible studies and the history of the Jewish people at Hebrew University.

Wazana, who is currently writing a book on the borders of the biblical Land of Israel, said there are contradictory references to Gaza in the Torah. One passage in Judges — often cited by Jewish settlers and their supporters — says the tribe of Judah took control of the area. But other biblical stories contradict this — a pattern typical of the Bible, she said.

“On almost everything, you will find an opinion and an opposite opinion. It was not a homogenous text. It was not written at same time, and there are competing ideologies,” Wazana said.

Most Israelis saw neither historic nor strategic reasons for staying in Gaza. But to Yigal Kamietsky, the rabbi of Gush Katif, the main Jewish settler bloc there, Gaza is an integral part of biblical Israel.

“Gaza is part of the Land of Israel, no less than Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak,” he said. “There is no doubt it is part of the borders.” He said that not only was it considered a mitzvah to settle there, but that “if we were not here, I am not sure the State of Israel would still be there.”

Kamietsky said Jews in the Gaza settlements act as a buffer for those Jews living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

He added that historically Gaza was often caught in the crossfire of war.

“Always in history, Gaza seemed more problematic,” he said, pointing to the fabled enemies of the Israelites, the seafaring Philistines, who controlled the area in biblical times.

The one period when Jews appeared to have sovereignty over Gaza was during the time of Hasmonean rule, when the Jewish King Yochanan — whose brother was Judah Maccabee — captured the area in 145 C.E.

Haggai Huberman — who has written extensively on the history of Jewish settlement in Gaza over the centuries and is writing a history of the Jews in Gush Katif — says that Jews have lived on and off in Gaza since the time of Roman rule, their settlement following a pattern of expulsion during times of war and conquest and return during more peaceful periods. The remains of an ancient synagogue found in Gaza date to around 508 C.E. Its mosaic floor, unearthed by archeologists, is now displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

There reportedly was a large Jewish community living in the area when Muslims invaded in the seventh century. The Jews were noted for their skills as farmers and for making wine in their vast vineyards.

After the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, some Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled to Gaza. They abandoned the area when Napoleon’s army marched through but later returned.

When the first wave of Zionist settlers arrived in the region at the end of the 19th century, a group of 50 families moved to Gaza City. According to Huberman, they established good relations with local Arabs.

The settlers stayed until they were expelled in 1914 — along with Gaza’s entire Arab population — by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. The Jews returned in 1920. But tensions simmered with Arab and Jewish nationalism on the rise, and the relations with local Arabs began to sour, Huberman said.

The major Jewish presence in Gaza on the eve of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 was a kibbutz called Kfar Darom, set up in 1946. It was evacuated during the war and was among the first places to be resettled by Jews after 1967. Initially inhabited by Israeli soldiers from the Nahal brigade, it soon evolved into one of several civilian settlements established in the 1970s as the settler movement gained strength. Present-day debates over territory mirror those in the Torah, said Wazana of Hebrew University.

“Descriptions of borders reflect different ideologies even back then,” she said. “People have put words in the mouth of God even in biblical times. If you have an ideology, you will find the right words to support it.”

 

Santa Monica Tries to Tread Lightly


How many trees does it take to absorb the emissions from your car’s commute? How much land does it take to feed and raise the beef you eat for dinner? How much space on earth does your trash take up?

The city of Santa Monica has taken up the task of answering those questions in “Santa Monica’s Ecological Footprint, 1990-2000,” released in March. The report measures the amount of land used to produce everyday products and services like electricity, transportation, garbage disposal and housing. That land use is called the ecological footprint, and it can be measured individually or citywide.

“If we are taking more from nature than can be provided indefinitely, we are on an unsustainable track,” the report notes.

“[The footprint] seemed to us it would make an educational tool to help people understand how to visualize their impacts on the face of the earth,” Brian Johnson, manager of the environmental division of the city of Santa Monica told The Journal.

Jewish environmental activists are extremely pleased.

“The city of Los Angeles and cities across the country could learn a valuable lesson from the city of Santa Monica,” said Lee Wallach of the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life. “They truly do make a real effort.”

The report found that between 1990 and 2000, Santa Monica managed to decrease its footprint by 5.7 percent, or about 65,000 acres. That decrease notwithstanding, Santa Monica, a city of 8.3 square miles, still has an ecological footprint of 2,747 square miles, an area approximately the size of Los Angeles County.

“Now that we have [the footprint], we must ask what lessons are learned and how can we implement them in a manner that’s good for residents, business and the economy,” Wallach said.

According to Johnson, the gains came from the city’s efforts to be more environmentally conscious between 1990 and 2000. He noted one area where government has taken the lead and business may want to follow: All public city facilities in Santa Monica are now based on 100 percent renewable energy, which is in large part where the 65,000 acres in savings came from.

“I think the experience the city had during [the California energy crisis] further confirms the decision the city had made in looking for opportunities for alternative energy generation,” Johnson said.

Those resource savings from alternative energy sources (in Santa Monica’s case, the city purchased geothermal energy) are particularly important: Energy and recycling are actually the only two categories of its footprint that the city managed to significantly shrink.

Nevertheless, Santa Monica has shown that it can make progress toward “sustainability,” which is that enlightened scenario where humanity does not consume any more than the earth can replace.

To compare, Santa Monica’s new per capita footprint is 20.9 acres. The U.S. average is 24 acres per person. A sustainable level would be a far more modest 4.5 acres per person.

To reach that goal, Wallach emphasized the importance of community working with politicians and businesspeople to create an environmental vision that is not overly idealistic.

“It takes a combination of political and communal will,” he said. “It can’t happen with only one and not the other.”

Doing that, Wallach said, is part of the Jewish duty to future generations, to leave the world in better shape than we inherited it. Santa Monica’s footprint is a tool designed to help measure progress in that endeavor.

Santa Monica is a relatively small place, and its report indicates that it has a significant, albeit shrinking, footprint. One cannot help but imagine what the ecological footprint for the city of Los Angeles would look like.

“There have been presentations and discussion at the Westside Council of Governments about sustainability and Los Angeles has been a part of that dialogue,” Johnson said. “As of yet we don’t have any direct relationships with their programs or planning, but we’re certainly hoping that the 800-pound gorilla comes along with us,” Johnson said of the second-largest city in the United States sitting next door.

To measure your “footprint,” take the quiz at

For the Kids


Being Green

Do you have a backyard? Is it green and full of flowers and trees?
In Matot-Masei, we learn that God believes green space is an absolute necessity. God tells the Israelites: “Set aside some of your land for the Levites, so they can build towns. Make sure that there is lots of pasture surrounding the town. No one may build in the area that has been assigned for green.”
It is God’s commandment for us to keep the spaces around our homes green. So, let’s keep it clean and let’s keep it green!

Summer Scramble

Until July 18, there will be an HIBXETI at the KIBLLASR Cultural Center about EJSW in ancient YPGTE. If you go there on July 17, you can also participate in an HEOCALARCLOGI dig.
Solve the scramble and visit there this weekend! And even if you don’t make it, send in the answers to abbygilad@yahoo.com for a prize.

Time to Go


This week we start a new book of the Torah — Shemot or Exodus. The word shemot means names, because we start out by naming all the descendants of Jacob who came down to Egypt. But the word exodus means going out (just like the word exit). In this book we will learn about how the Israelites leave Egypt and spend 40 years in the desert before entering the Land of Israel.

Why must they spend 40 years wandering, you may ask? Why couldn’t God just take them straight to Israel? The answer is this: Sometimes you are not ready to go on to the next level. If you try to take a fifth grade math test when you’re in fourth grade, you may fail. In the same way, the Israelites had a great deal of growing up to do. They were used to being slaves. They needed to learn how to become responsible citizens before they could be allowed to possess their land.