A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against Jewish settlements in al-Mughayyir village near the West Bank city of Ramallah March 24. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/REUTERS.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian teen suspected of hurling firebombs


Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teenager they said was hurling firebombs at Israelis.

Three other teens were critically injured in the incident Thursday night in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan.

An Israeli army spokesman told Maan that “three suspects exited a vehicle adjacent to the community of Beit El, where the suspects threw firebombs at the community. In response to the threat, Israeli forces in the area fired towards the suspects, and several hits were confirmed. The suspects then fled the scene.”

Israeli troops dispersed a riot near Beit El after the incident by dozens of Palestinians who protested the shooting, hurling objects at the troops.

Palestinian sources identified the person killed as Muhammad Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Hattab, 17, who reportedly was shot in the chest and shoulder.

The four teens, all residents of the al-Jalazun camp, were transported to a Ramallah hospital, where al-Hattab was pronounced dead, according to the Maan report.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Five alternatives to designating separate states


This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “con” argument published in conjunction with Alan Elsner’s “pro” argument, “The Two-State Solution Won’t Die.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations of occupation and illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel inevitably answers, “We invented the cellphone” and “We have gay rights.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, always the answer is to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state on the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has managed to legitimize the proposition that the West Bank is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier there.

But for us settlers, the truth is different: The two-state solution was misconceived and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. We have a 3,700-year presence in this land, our foundational history is here, and we have reacquired control here in defensive wars. The world recognized our indigeneity in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo accords of 1920.

Additionally, as a result of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, when Hamas seized control and turned the strip into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in the hopes of getting peace in return. No Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the hilltops.

But as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong, and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel still mouths the two-state party line yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

Now, the time has come for a discussion of new options in which Israel would hold on to the West Bank and eventually assert sovereignty there. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.

At least five credible plans are on the table.

The first option, proposed by former Knesset members Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is called “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is estimated to be about 80 percent Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship.

A second alternative, suggested by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, proposes annexation of only Area C — the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords where a majority of 400,000 settlers live — while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Bennett’s, is promoted by Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are composed of separate city-based clans. So, he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven noncontiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza (which he considers an emirate already). Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside of those cities.

The fourth proposal is by journalist Caroline Glick, author of the 2014 book “The Israeli Solution.” She claims that contrary to prevalent opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel with Judea and Samaria. Alternative demographic research shows that due to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with the opposite trend among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza), and is projected to grow to 70 percent by 2059. On this basis, Glick concludes that the Jewish state is secure and that Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely similarly would annex and give the Palestinians residency rights — with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish state. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose 3.5 million residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and are actively vying to undermine the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it … there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative by former Knesset member and head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it, and given that the new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is not locked into the land-for-peace paradigm, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the bankrupt notions of the past.

YISHAI FLEISHER is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, home of Machpelah, the biblical tombs of Judaism’s founding fathers and mothers.

Let’s stop patronizing the new generation


In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.

Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.

Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.

Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.

Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.

To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”

It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.

Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?

To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?

If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.

That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.

It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.

Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”

It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.

Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.

Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

The two-state solution won’t die


This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “pro” argument published in conjunction with Yishai Fleisher’s “con” argument, “Five Alternatives to Designating Separate States.

Seldom has an idea been pronounced dead more often than that of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians through a two-state solution. Politicians, experts, pundits and columnists have lined up to deliver their eulogies, lay it to earth, fill in its grave and recite Kaddish over its remains.  

Except that it still lives.

Even President Trump, who last month said he had no preference between a two-state solution and a so-called one state solution, has apparently reverted to a fairly classic two-state policy. His envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week, was discussing reining in the Israeli settlements, presumably to preserve land for a future Palestinian state.

The reason even skeptics eventually come back to the two-state solution is that it remains the only viable, equitable and reasonable way of ending the seemingly endless conflict. Two peoples, who live side by side in the same land, can either fight over control of every square inch, denying the other side any ownership or control or dignity, or they can decide to share. The two-state solution does not pretend to give either side everything that they want – but it does give them everything that they need.

True, ultra-nationalists, who base Israel’s claim to the West Bank on their interpretation of God’s will, will never accept any solution that involves Israel relinquishing control over Judea and Samaria. Among this small group, various other “solutions” are regularly floated. A good example were the five “alternatives” proposed in a New York Times article last month by Hebron settler Yishai Fleisher (with whom I will debate at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills on the evening of March 30).

The five alternatives all have one thing in common: they do not treat Palestinians as equal to Jews and do not afford them anything close to equal rights. They do nothing to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations to control their own destiny in a state of their own. Fleisher himself recognizes this, stating that all his so-called plans have “potentially repugnant elements.”

The first of these alternatives — allowing Palestinians in the West Bank to become Jordanian citizens, while continuing to live in the West Bank under Israeli rule –would probably destabilize Jordan, a key US and Israeli bulwark against ISIS and al-Qaeda. And the plan itself is preposterous. Imagine if all the African-American residents of Michigan were suddenly told they were henceforth citizens of Canada and not the United States. They could send delegates to Parliament in Ottawa and help determine policies north of the border – but not where they live.

Two of Fleisher’s other so-called alternative solutions are based on Israel’s annexing most of the West Bank, leaving the cities as small Palestinian islands in charge of sewage collection and street lamps but not much else. They would be, in effect, Bantustans – a system attempted unsuccessfully by South Africa during the apartheid era.

The fourth solution suggested by Fleisher would give Palestinians full citizenship in Israel. They would have to swear loyalty to the Jewish state to earn this privilege. While this would not violate their human rights, it would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, if the Palestinians accepted the conditions. It’s hard to imagine any of the Zionist parties in Israel even pretending to consider this or many Palestinians signing on.

The final alternative in Fleisher’s list is the “voluntary” emigration of some 800,000 Palestinians from the West bank who would be financially “incentivized” to leave for their ancestral lands and rights. Where would they go? Jordan, which is already staggering under the weight of some  1.4 million refugees? Western Europe, where anti-immigrant populist movements are vying for power? Or perhaps Israel could persuade President Trump to accept a few hundred thousand Palestinians in the United States.

All of these false formulas, based on self-deception and fundamental injustice, should persuade us once more that the two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict. The moment the two-state solution really does dies, both peoples condemn themselves to a future of conflict without end, generation after generation – and that is a future too awful to accept.

At the core of this idea are the fundamental principles of peace and justice. With beautiful simplicity and economy, Psalm 34 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” With equal terseness, Deuteronomy 16:20 commands us, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”

Though current prospects are bleak, I believe that the moment for the two-state solution will come because eventually both sides will realize they have no other choice and that the status quo will become intolerable. The moment may come in five years, it may take longer. But ideas, unlike mortals, have the power to persist for generations, centuries and even millennia when they stand on the fundamental human principles of peace and justice. This is an idea that is too strong to die.

The author is Special Adviser to the President of J Street.

An aerial view of Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, March 12, 2008. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images.

Knesset committee delays vote on bill to annex large West Bank settlement


A Knesset committee vote on a bill that would annex the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim was postponed to avoid a conflict with a visiting Trump administration official.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation was scheduled to take up the bill, which would subject the settlement to Israeli law, on Tuesday, but delayed the discussion due to the visit by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, who is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to gauge attitudes on peacemaking.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, agreed on Monday to postpone the discussion of the bill shortly after a five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Greenblatt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Times of Israel reported. Greenblatt was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsors had initially rejected a request to postpone a vote on the legislation by three months, according to the news website.

Discussion of the bill had also been postponed in late January, following Trump’s inauguration, until after last month’s meeting between the president and Netanyahu.

The international community and the Palestinians argue that making Maale Adumim an official part of Israel will prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, since it would prevent territorial contiguity.

Some 40,000 Jewish settlers live in Maale Adumim, which Israel considers a settlement bloc that would become part of the nation under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. Feb. 27. Photo by Denis Bailbouse/REUTERS.

Trump invites Abbas to the White House


President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House.

Abbas and Trump spoke on Friday and a Palestinian Authority spokesman soon after reported the invitation, saying the meeting would be aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been dormant since 2014.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, confirmed the invitation later Friday but did not add details.

Trump met at the White House last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a meeting both leaders said would lead to improved ties after eight years of tension between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu, however, appeared taken aback at Trump’s request during a press conference that Israel stop settlement building for now. Israelis are also wary of U.S. leaders assuming an oversized role in peace-making, while Palestinians have traditionally welcomed it.

Trump has said he is open to outcomes to the conflict that don’t necessarily end in two separate states. The Palestinian Authority still embraces a two-state outcome, as does Netanyahu. Trump’s retreat from the two-state solution have led some Israeli Cabinet members on Netanyahu’s right to call for annexing portions of the West Bank.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Annexing West Bank will lead to ‘crisis’ with Trump administration, Liberman warns


Annexing the West Bank will lead to a “crisis” with the Trump administration, Israel’s Defense Minister warned.

“I am saying it as clearly as possible: We received a direct message from the United States saying that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration,” Avigdor Liberman said Monday during an appearance  before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Liberman called on the ruling government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “clarify very clearly, there is no intention to impose Israeli sovereignty.” Liberman is due to meet with top U.S. administration officials this week in Washington.

The warning came in response to an interview over the weekend with Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, who told the Israeli news channel i24 News that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible.

“The two-state solution is dead,” Zohar said. “What is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here as, not as full citizenship, because full citizenship can let them to vote to the Knesset. They will get all of the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset.”

Liberman said the interview raised red flags around the world. “I’m getting calls from all of the world wanting to know if this is the position of the coalition,” he told the Knesset committee. “As far as my opinion is concerned, we need to separate from the Palestinians and not to integrate them. The decision to annex Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) would mean the integration of 2.7 million Palestinians in Israel.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has not called specifically for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When asked about the topic last month during a news conference in Washington with Netanyahu, Trump said: “I like the one the two parties like … I can live with either one.”

Trump’s position diverges with that of previous U.S. presidents, who said two states was the only viable solution for resolving the conflict.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders asks envoy nominee David Friedman whether some funds for Israel should go to Gaza


Sen. Bernie Sanders asked David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, whether he would back using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Sanders in a letter he handed Friedman after they met Wednesday also asked whether he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that fundraise for settlers should be reviewed. JTA obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.

The questions in the letter are significant as they suggest the path forward for Israel policy among progressive Democrats.

Sanders has emerged as a de facto leader of progressives following his insurgent but unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. In perhaps the best-received speech over the weekend at the annual conference of J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, Sanders pushed the theme that pro-Israel Jews need not hesitate to criticize Israeli government policies.

His letter outlines three questions for Friedman: whether he supports a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the appropriateness of an ambassador having deep involvement in the settler movement as a fundraiser and advocate, as Friedman does; and regarding Israeli assistance.

Two states has long been Democratic policy and for 15 years was official U.S. policy until Trump retreated into agnosticism on the issue when he met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second two points, however, venture into areas that Democrats have yet to embrace.

“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders asked.

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

J Street has advocated for withdrawing tax-exempt status for groups that fundraise for settlements. Other pro-Israel groups – including some of J Street’s allies on the left – oppose the position, in part because it could trigger far-reaching consequences for all nonprofits on the left and right while turning tax-exempt status into a political battlefield.

Sanders also asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years under an agreement signed last year by former President Barack Obama “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.

Aid to Israel in Congress and the pro-Israel community has been sacrosanct, and no president has seriously proposed cutting it since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Subsequent presidents used short delays in delivery of assistance and the amount that the United States guarantees Israel’s loans as means of leveraging pressure on Israel, but assistance has been untouched.

Sanders cast the proposal in part as one that would help secure Gaza by stabilizing the strip. But it comes at a time that Republicans in Congress are proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinians as a means of pressuring them into direct talks with Israel and pushing the Palestinian Authority to end subsidies for the families of jailed or killed terrorists.

Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, did not reply to a request for comment. His ambassadorship is controversial in Congress and in the Jewish community because of his past involvement with settlers, and because of the rhetoric he has used to describe Jews who disagree with him.

A Jewish man covered in a talit, prays in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank on Dec. 18, 2016. Photo by Baz Ratner/ REUTERS

Poll: Americans nearly split over support for Palestinian state


Americans are nearly evenly divided over support for a Palestinian state, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Some 45 percent of Americans back the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 42 percent oppose it, according to the poll taken during the first week of February. Some 13 percent said they have no opinion.

One year ago, support for a Palestinian state was at nearly the same level, 44 percent, but a lower percentage, 37 percent, opposed it. At that time, 19 percent said they had no opinion.

Broken down by political party affiliation, 61 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Independents are in favor of a Palestinian state.

The results are from Gallup’s annual World Affairs poll conducted Feb. 1-5. A random sample of 1,035 Americans over 18 was polled. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The poll also asked respondents if their “sympathies” lie more with the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Some 62 percent of Americans said they sympathized more with the Israelis and 19 percent with the Palestinians in numbers that are similar to the past several years. Another 19 percent responded with no preference, broken down into 5 percent who say they sympathize with both equally, 6 percent who sympathize with neither, and 8 percent who responded that they have no opinion.

In the splits by political party, 82 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents said they sympathized with Israel.

Asked about their opinions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, some 49 percent of respondents said they viewed him favorably and 30 percent unfavorably — both figures the highest recorded in the poll — with 13 percent saying they never heard of him and 8 percent saying they have no opinion.

Broken down by party, 32 percent of Democrats viewed Netanyahu favorably and 41 percent unfavorably, and 73 percent of Republicans viewed Netanyahu favorably and 11 percent unfavorably. In 2015, before Netanyahu spoke against the Iran nuclear deal in Congress, a speech that was boycotted by several Democratic members of Congress, 31 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably and 31 percent unfavorably, and 60 percent of Republicans favorably and 18 percent unfavorably.

People walk near houses in the Israeli settlements of Ofra, in the occupied West Bank Feb. 6. Photo by Baz Ratner/REUTERS

U.S. has no official reaction to passage of controversial Israeli settlement law


The United States refused to comment on Israel’s passage of a bill that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land, saying the Trump administration was suspending judgment.

The White House’s immediate response to the controversial “regulation law” passed on Feb. 6 was to refer to its statement from the previous week that said the expansion of West Bank settlements “may not be helpful” to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace.

The Knesset passed the bill by a vote of 60-52 in a raucous late-night session, applying Israeli law to West Bank land for the first time. All but one of the lawmakers present from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing ruling coalition supported the bill, while most of the opposition voted against. The law may still be overturned by the High Court of Justice.

The U.S. State Department said, “At this point, indications are that this legislation is likely to be reviewed by the relevant Israeli courts, and the Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling.”

A State Department official also told the French news agency AFP on condition of anonymity that the Trump administration needed “to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.” The official added that Washington still hopes for a peace deal but understands the law will face judicial challenges.

The United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process said the regulation law crossed a “thick red line” toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank, France called on Israel to “take back” the law, and Jordan and Turkey condemned it. Great Britain condemned the legislation hours after Netanyahu visited Prime Minister Theresa May, the European Union postponed a planned summit with Israel and the Palestinians called on the world to take punitive action.

The Palestinian delegation to the U.N. also denounced the measure, saying it was a clear violation of international law, including the recently adopted Security Council Resolution 2334.

“Adoption of this law is a clear sign that Israel is not interested in committing to the two-state solution nor in bringing about peace and stability to the region,” the statement said.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home party first put forward the legislation in an effort to save the West Bank outpost of Amona, built without government authorization on private Palestinian land, from a high court-ordered demolition. But the clause that would have circumvented the court ruling was nixed following coalition infighting, and Amona was evacuated and demolished.

Even without the Amona clause, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he would not defend the law before the high court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts said.

Speaking after the vote, Bezalel Smotrich, a Jewish Home lawmaker known for his fervent support of the settlements and inflammatory statements, thanked Americans for electing Donald Trump president, “without whom the law would have probably not passed.”

Smotrich added that it was a “historic day for the settlement [movement] and for the State of Israel.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Lavin of the ruling Likud party said on Israeli radio that judges should not have the authority to overturn laws.

“The situation in which everyone waits until a handful of judges who are self-selected behind closed doors decide whether they like the law or not is not democratic and not correct,” he said, calling for “soul searching” by the bench. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to the media in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2015. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land


Germany condemned a controversial new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Berlin said Wednesday that the “regulations law” undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

The law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

Censure of the law has come from governments around the world, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinians. The United States has refused to comment. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that it “will be obviously a topic of discussion” when President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet later this month.

Most of Israel’s political opposition and even members of the governing coalition oppose the legislation. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

“In view of the many reservations which the Israeli attorney general, among others, has affirmed once more, it would be good if the bill could soon undergo a critical legal review,” the German statement said. “We hope and expect that the Israeli government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party was the law’s staunchest supporter, is meeting Wednesday with her German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Jan. 10. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

Israel approves additional 3,000 homes in West Bank


Israel has approved plans for another 3,000 new homes in the West Bank.

The approvals by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman were announced Tuesday, ahead of the evacuation of the Amona outpost, and are seen as an effort to placate the government’s harder right wing and settlers angry over the evacuation.

While most of the approvals are for areas in the settlement blocs that Israel believes it will keep under a future peace deal, several of the approved housing units are located in other areas deep in the West Bank.

Some 2,000 of the approvals are for immediate construction, and the rest require various stages of planning, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The statement said the approvals are “part of a return to normal life in Judea and Samaria, as well as conduct which provides real solutions to housing and living needs.” Judea and Samaria are biblical designations for the land now called the West Bank.

The approval comes a week after Netanyahu and Liberman approved 2,500 housing units in both settlement blocs and in other areas, and the approval by a Jerusalem municipal committee of 566 housing units in Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city.

Palestinian man who attempted to stab soldiers in West Bank shot, killed


A Palestinian man who attempted to stab an Israeli soldier at a West Bank checkpoint was shot and killed during the attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The incident occurred Tuesday afternoon in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian city of Tulkarm.

No Israeli soldiers were injured in the incident, the IDF reported.

The attacker drew a knife and began running at soldiers manning the checkpoint, who called for him to stop. When he did not stop, one of the officers shot the attacker, killing him.

The attacker was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as Nidal Daoud Mahdawi, 44, a married father of five. He held an Israeli national identification card.

On Monday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teen during clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops near Bethlehem.

The teen, identified by Maan as 17-year-old Qusay Hassan al-Umour, was shot in the chest with live ammunition, according to the news agency.

The soldiers used live fire after being surrounded by what the IDF said were hundreds of rock-throwing Palestinian demonstrators.

2 soldiers killed in Jerusalem truck-ramming attack are US citizens


Two of the four Israeli soldiers killed in the truck-ramming attack in eastern Jerusalem were American citizens.

The soldiers were buried Monday in separate cemeteries a day after the attack on the promenade in the Arnon Hatnatziv neighborhood.

Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem was an American citizen, Haaretz reported, citing a U.S. Embassy official. He holds U.S. citizenship through his mother, according to the newspaper, citing a family member. Orbach was the oldest of six brothers.

Shira Tzur, 20, of Haifa, had American-born parents, according to Haaretz, which cited a soldier in her unit.

The others killed were Yael Yekutiel of Givatayim and Shir Hajaj, 22, of Maale Adumim.

The soldiers were on an educational trip along with several other groups. They had just gotten off a bus in the promenade when the driver of the truck, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, drove into them, reversing back over the bodies after he had hit them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited some of the injured soldiers on Monday morning. One reportedly remains in a life-threatening condition, breathing with the help of a respirator and facing more surgery.

Enemies and economics: Doing business at the Israel-Gaza border


In his disquisition on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Dec. 28, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the “dire” humanitarian situation in Gaza. On this point, he was accurate, noting that “Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities.” 

Kerry added that “1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance. … Most have electricity less than half the time and only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink.”

He rightly blamed Hamas, which, instead of building economic infrastructure and taking care of its people, “continue to re-arm and divert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate.” 

What Kerry failed to mention — though he made a passing reference to the “closing of crossings” that have choked off supplies from Gaza — is that for the past decade, Israel has consistently and judiciously provided for Gaza’s needs, through an import-export nexus at their border, known as Kerem Shalom.

Since 2006, when Israel imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Gaza — a response to Hamas launching rockets into southern Israel — Kerem Shalom, nestled on the border between Israel, Gaza and Egypt, became a lifeline for the 1.8 million living in the strip. Much of the time, Israel is solely responsible for the flow of goods going in and out of Gaza. This is not either country’s wish, of course; but Israel took measures to protect itself, and ever since, has had to face the unique predicament of providing for her enemy.

Over the past decade, Israel and Egypt tried sharing responsibility for this effort, but Egypt has proven a temperamental partner and often closes its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, shutting down trade completely. 

When this happens, Israel finds itself — sometimes for months— totally responsible for Gaza’s civilian needs. 

Imagine bearing sole responsibility for stimulating your enemy’s economy — for providing its civilians with water, gas, electricity, medical supplies, building materials, even butter. Imagine also, the task of operating an import-export point in which you cannot trust your trade partner, your trade partner does not trust you, and you must ensure that the tons of goods that pass through on nearly a thousand trucks each day do not contain materials that can kill you.

Welcome to Kerem Shalom, ground zero of this operation.

“We don’t want any photographs of dogs, scanners or soldiers with weapons,” the Israeli official managing Kerem Shalom on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense warned me when I visited there last month at the invitation of the government.

“This is a special mission to support an enemy people,” he declared, and for security reasons could not divulge his name. “Most [Gazans] are innocent, but Gaza is occupied by Hamas terrorists.”

He pointed to a collection of mortar shells and rocket parts that sit on a table at the back of his office — strewn about like collectibles. “We’ve been hit by Gaza; we’ve been attacked by Gaza; and we have to serve Gaza,” he said.

Each day, 200 people work at Kerem Shalom, including 75 Palestinians from Gaza, paid by the Palestinian Authority. “There’s no trust between sides, but we have to work together,” the official said.

In this tense operation, workers on either side unload each truck and the driver is sent away. Goods are loaded onto a second, on-site truck, and put through a series of security inspections — massive scanners capable of scanning 100 tons of goods in seven minutes, then Malinois wolf-dogs and, finally, human beings. After goods pass inspection, they are loaded onto a third truck belonging to whichever side is their destination. “Everything here is risk management,” the official said. “Nothing that can hurt Israel can come through here.”

Part of that risk management — for Israelis — includes deciding how many “dual-use” materials they should allow into Gaza. Seemingly innocent items such as cement, for example, can be used for building housing or building tunnels. 

Last August, Israeli authorities intercepted a shipment of commando knives hidden among tools. Other checkpoints in Israel have intercepted electrodes (hidden in butter), ammonium chloride (disguised in table salt) and wet suits (believed to be for a seaborne attack) — all on their way
to Gaza. 

Nevertheless, business at the border is booming: In 2012, 69,000 trucks delivered goods through the crossing; in 2016, that number rose to 190,000, according to statistics from the Ministry of Defense. 

Kerem Shalom hardly makes Gaza perfect. Residents have electricity for only eight hours per day (though those infamous Hamas tunnels were powered 24/7). There’s also high unemployment, inflation and a black market that makes regular goods unaffordable for most people.  

Kerem Shalom is a bittersweet compromise for both parties, wherein the risks are high and the benefits, measured. In a better world, it wouldn’t have to exist at all, and the blockade would end. 

It would have been nice if Kerry had acknowledged Israel’s delicate balancing act between security and civility. Israel’s policies toward Gaza may not be charitable, but they are compassionate; something the world never sees when foreign journalists only swoop in to cover conflict. The situation is not ideal, but it is humane.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Israel again faces world’s rejection of settlements


Ahead of the unknowns a Donald Trump administration will bring to American Middle East policy, President Barack Obama’s administration allowed a bracing reminder on Dec. 23 that the international community does not recognize the validity of Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The U.S. abstention on the U.N. Security Council vote was hardly unprecedented, but neither was it entirely consistent with recent U.S. policy. The Obama administration did not quite endorse Resolution 2334, but its abstention ensured the resolution, reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in lands captured by Israel in 1967, would be adopted. As one of the five permanent members of the 15-member council, the U.S. could have exercised its veto power. Instead, the resolution passed, 14-0.

For 24 years, the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama insulated Israel from an international community that, since 1967, has sought to exact consequences for its continued presence in disputed lands. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, those three administrations considered the isolation of the Jewish state at the United Nations to be counterproductive to encouraging Israel to take bold steps for peace.

By 2004, George W. Bush had effectively recognized the large settlement blocs bordering 1967 Israel as “realities on the ground” and suggested that the Palestinians would be compensated for the territory with land swaps. Obama’s apparent message to the world is that incentives did not work in slowing settlement expansion. The carrot having wilted, the president reintroduced the stick.

Obama administration officials have said plainly that the expansion of settlements absent a peace process led to the decision to abstain. Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in her explanation of the abstention, listed the considerations that made the administration hesitate to allow the resolution — chief among them the historic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and Palestinian intransigence. But she also noted that since the Oslo Accords, the settler population has increased by 355,000.

As much as the language in the resolution has stirred cries of “unprecedented” in Israel and in some pro-Israel precincts in the United States, it is broadly consistent with resolutions that the United States allowed from 1967 at least through the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in January 1981.

The recent U.N. resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity,” and constituted a “flagrant violation” of international law. Resolution 465, passed in March 1980 under Carter with a U.S. vote in favor, determined that “all measures” that would change the physical or demographic character of the occupied lands, including Jerusalem, “have no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It further called on countries to “distinguish” between Israel and the West Bank.

Under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the council did not explicitly reject settlements as illegal, but referred to earlier resolutions that did so while continuing to assail the occupation as untenable. 

The practical consequences of the resolution passed Dec. 23 seem limited. If there was an unprecedented element to the affair, it was in the response by Israel’s leadership and some in the American pro-Israel community. 

“The Obama administration carried out a disgraceful and anti-Israel trap at the United Nations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the lighting of the first Chanukah candle.

Statements by mainstream pro-Israel groups were relatively temperate — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the abstention “particularly regrettable.” On the right, the responses were more unleashed.

“Obama’s an anti-Semitic Israel-hater sympathizing with radical Islamic terrorists,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, in his first-ever tweet.

Netanyahu and his ambassador to Washington, D.C., Ron Dermer, said they were counting on the Trump administration to reverse course. Dermer said in multiple interviews he had evidence that the Obama administration did not simply abstain but colluded in framing the resolution, an accusation strongly denied by administration officials.

Israel is now looking ahead to a new American order. At the Chanukah ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of “our friends in the incoming administration” — David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador designate, is an active supporter of the settlement movement.

Will Trump usher in that era? His pronouncements after the resolution were relentlessly critical, promising in one tweet that “things will be different” at the U.N. after he assumes the presidency, and lamenting in another that the council’s action “will make it much harder to negotiate peace.” 

In total, the statements appeared to regret the passage of the resolution — but stopped well short of pledging to reverse its effects.

Israeli soldier guilty of manslaughter in shooting Palestinian attacker


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

An Israeli military court convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier of manslaughter after he shot dead a seriously wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron ten months ago. The shooting was filmed by the dovish Btselem organization, and ignited a furious debate in Israel. Azaria will be sentenced at a future hearing in several weeks.

Azaria did not show any emotion as the verdict was delivered, although he walked into the courtroom smiling, and hugged his mother.  After the verdict was delivered, one of Azaria's relatives was kicked out of the courtroom for screaming at the judge.

“Tomorrow there is no IDF,” she yelled, referring to the army. “The IDF is over.”

Another relative screamed “disgusting leftists” at the court and stormed out.

After the judges left the room, Azaria's mother screamed, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Azaria tried to comfort her and calm her as she screamed and cried.

In her opinion, Central Command Chief Justice Maya Heller said that Azaria had changed his story several times and that his version of events, that he believed the terrorist posed a threat to him, was “not credible.” She also said that it was Azaria's shooting that killed the terrorist, Abed al Fatah a-Sharif, who was lying wounded on the ground after he tried to stab a soldier.

“He opened fire in violation of orders, the terrorist did not pose any threat,” the judges wrote.

Before reading the verdict, Judge Heller read out claims of both the prosecution and the defense. She said that Azaria offered different version of what happened last March, first saying that the terrorist moved while he was lying on the ground, and Azaria thought his life was in danger. Later he said that the terrorist was already dead before Azaria opened fire.

During the trial, another soldier, named only as TM, testified that Azaria asked him, “How is it that my friend was stabbed and the terrorist is alive?” She said that statement had “significant weight in the decision.”

About 400 protestors gathered outside the military court to support Azaria. Waving Israeli flags, they accused the army and the government of unfairly targeting the soldier. They chanted “Death to the Terrorists” and “Free Elor.” Several protestors were arrested when they tried to block the street in front of the military court.

“I'm here for Elor – he should be freed,” Yardena Arbel told The Media Line. “Every terrorist should die. He (the terrorist) came to kill. Elor is the son of all of us. He entered all of our hearts.”

In Israel, there is universal conscription and most men and women serve in the army, with the exception of most Arab citizens of Israel, who can volunteer, and most ultra-Orthodox men. Soldiers are popular in Israeli society, and widely supported.

The case of Azaria deeply split the Israeli public. Some, like the demonstrators and others, believe that Azaria was unfairly targeted.

“They preferred the version of Btselem over the version of an IDF fighter,” Sharon Gal, the Azaria family's media advisor said. “They didn't give any weight to the evidence. It was like the court was detached from the fact that this was the area of an attack. I felt that the court picked up the knife from the ground and stabbed it in the back of all the soldiers.”

Some in Israel felt that the verdict was a victory for the rule of law in Israel, and a reminder that there are strict rules about when a soldier can open fire.

“Today's conviction is a positive step toward reining in excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians,” said Sari Bashi, Israel advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. As Human Rights Watch has documented, however, the problem is not just one rogue soldier but also senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill.”

The shooting in Hebron came amid a wave of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks that have killed 42 soldiers and civilians in the past 15 months, and wounded dozens of others. 

Ayman Odeh, member of the Israeli parliament’s Joint List political bloc — representing parties led by Arab citizens of Israel in the Knesset — told the Ma’an News Agency  that the “main difference in this case was the presence of cameras which documented the crime thanks to Btselem.” 

Palestinians said that while the court did rule that B’Tselem’s videos were authentic and admissible, many other crimes against Palestinians are never investigated. The dovish Israeli Yesh Din organization issued a report that of the 186 investigations the Israeli army opened in 2015 investigating offenses against Palestinians, just four yielded indictments. Human Rights Watch criticized Israel's “shoot to kill” policy.

Many Israelis seemed torn about Azaria's verdict.

“I am afraid that after the verdict, soldiers will be afraid to shoot Palestinian terrorists and they will just run away,” Roni Yitzhayek, a Tel Aviv taxi driver told The Media Line. “I think he should be convicted, but sentenced only to time served.”

Yitzhayek's daughter is currently serving in the army as a combat soldier at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. He said that after watching the Azaria trial, he told his daughter that if a Palestinian ever tries to attack her, she should shoot at her legs, not try to kill her.

Last week, he said, that is exactly what happened. A female terrorist tried to attack soldiers at the checkpoint with a knife. His daughter opened fire, wounding the women in the legs.

Israel’s top security experts redraw West Bank map for the Trump era


Israel’s leading security think tank has published a plan to redraw the map of the West Bank in a bid to consolidate major settlements and prevent the spread of others.

The plan, presented Monday to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as part of the Institute for National Security Studies’ yearly strategic survey, calls for the government to allow construction in West Bank settlement blocs and Jerusalem. At the same time, it recommends a halt to construction in the 90 percent of the territory outside the major settlements.

In laying out the plan, researchers Assaf Orion and Udi Dekel argue that negotiations with the Palestinians are unlikely to lead to a final-status agreement. With relations deadlocked, they warn, Israel is drifting toward a single binational state with the Palestinians, which threatens its democratic and possibly Jewish identity.

It is an analysis that echoes one put forth in a speech last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, although unlike Kerry’s plan it would proceed without direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians intended to reach a final-status agreement and without resolving what Kerry called “all the outstanding issues.”

To preserve Israel’s options, including the possibility of a Palestinian state, the researchers say, the government should implement their plan in coordination with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, which has already signaled that it will not pressure Israel on the settlements or negotiations.

Amos Yadlin, the director of the institute and a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, told JTA that he endorsed the plan, saying Israel had a “window of opportunity” with Trump.

“Israel should take this chance of a new administration with a new approach to promote the bottom-up independent shaping of its borders, even if the Palestinians are still holding their extreme position,” he said.

The main changes under the institute’s plan would be to Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control per the 1993 Oslo Accords. Besides carving out 17 percent of the area for the settlement blocs, where 86 percent of settlers live, Orion and Dekel suggest using up to 42 percent for development on behalf of the Palestinians and up to 33 percent for protection of “vital” security sites, including the Jordan Valley.

The rest of Area C would keep its current status, and settlers would be encouraged to relocate to the settlement blocs.

The Palestinian Authority would administer the major Palestinian population centers in Areas A and B, which comprise 40 percent of the West Bank and are home to 99.7 percent of Palestinians, as it already largely does. But the Israeli military would retain the right to act as needed.

The status of Jerusalem, which Israel governs as its capital but the Palestinians also claim as theirs, would not change. Most of the world considers all Israeli building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem illegal, but Israel disputes this.

Orion and Dekel recommend that Israel and the world promote security and development in the West Bank. This could bolster the Palestinian Authority’s declining legitimacy on the West Bank street and help prepare the society for eventual final-status negotiations, they say. An alternative, they say, would be for Israel to take “independent steps” to politically separate from the Palestinians.

The Hamas-governed Gaza Strip would be handled separately, ideally with a combination of military deterrence, border security and development.

Amos Yadlin, left, the chairman of the Institute for National Security Studies, presenting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with the 2017 strategic assessment at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, Jan. 2, 2017. (Mark Neyman/Israeli Government Press Office)

Yadlin said the Institute for National Security Studies had long preferred a negotiated final-status agreement with the Palestinians, but this year concluded that the prospects for success had gone from “very low” to “zero.”

The plan has elements that could appeal to the political right and left, said its architects.

Despite a rightward shift in recent decades, Yadlin said, the Israeli public was “ready to consider” the institute’s plan because the left had given up the “illusion” that there was a Palestinian partner for peace and the right no longer supported the status quo. He cited Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s proposal that Israel annex Area C as an example of new thinking on the right, but said the Palestinians would need part of that territory to create a viable political entity.

Israelis “basically want to see a two-state solution, with a Jewish, democratic secure country, but not according to the Palestinian parameters,” Yadlin said.

Ideally, he said, the Palestinians would cooperate with the institute’s plan and eventually return to negotiations for a two-state solution. The government should leave open that possibility anyway to fend off international condemnation like the United Nations Security Council’s anti-settlement resolution that the U.S. allowed to pass last month, he said. But if the Palestinians would not budge, Yadlin said, Israel could unilaterally draw its borders to exclude most of them.

“I’m not among those who are terrified by the demographic threat [of Jews being outnumbered by Palestinians in a single state]. I think this is the biggest mistake of Kerry,” Yadlin said, referring to the Kerry speech, in which he warned that without relinquishing control of the Palestinians, “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both.”

Shlomo Brom, the head of Israeli-Palestinian research at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JTA that he saw no chance the current Israeli government would accept the plan backed by Yadlin. Every right-wing government since 2000 has avoided drawing a line around the settlements, he said, and “none were as right wing as the one we have now.”

Nor would the Palestinians be likely to cooperate if the plan were carried out, Brom said, since they would see their potential future state shrink with no real gains. He added that it would be problematic from the point of view of international law for Israel to change the terms of the Oslo Accords without Palestinian consent.

The best hope to shake up the status quo and save the two-state solution, Brom said, was the rise of a viable centrist alternative to Netanyahu’s government and increased international pressure on Israel.

The simplest option for a government that wanted a two-state solution would be to make the security barrier Israel’s provisional border — allowing settlement building to the west and prohibiting building to the east of it, Brom said. Israel could then begin taking steps toward a Palestinian state, unilaterally and in coordination with the Palestinians, hopefully culminating in a final-status agreement, he said. Brom recommended trading the Oslo principle of “Nothing is agreed until everything agreed” for “What is agreed and can be implemented will be carried out.”

Like Yadlin, Brom said he did not think the end of the two-state solution would spell demographic disaster for Israel. But he said terrorism would probably force the state into indefinite militarily rule over a stateless Palestinian population, which the world would view as a form of apartheid.

Unfortunately, Brom said, this was the most likely outcome.

In about two weeks, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and other senior security officials are expected to lay out their national security assessments at an international conference hosted by the institute.

3 Palestinians arrested on suspicion of setting West Bank fires


Three Palestinians were arrested on suspicion of carrying out arson attacks in the West Bank during last month’s forest fires.

The three men were arrested on Nov. 26 in a joint operation of the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service, the Shin Bet said in a statement released on Sunday. The arrests had been under a gag order.

The three men, Hamdan Tzakar Hamdan Lami, 19; Jouad Muhammad Fayiz Daher, 19, and Vizid Ahmed Hamdan Lami, 24, are residents of the West Bank village of Iskaka, and are suspected of carrying out arson attacks near their village and near the southern approach to the city of Ariel in the northern West Bank.

The IDF investigation determined that the three had committed arson with nationalistic motives.

Three suspects were filmed by security cameras on Nov. 25 attempting to start a fire outside of Ariel, according to The Times of Israel.

Police officials have said they suspect arson in 29 of the 39 major fires, and in about one-third of the 90 total fires they investigated. There are no suspects in the large fires in Haifa and Zichron Yaakov, nor clear proof of arson.

Amona residents approve last minute deal for peaceful evacuation


Residents of the Amona West Bank outpost approved a last-minute deal to stave off a large-scale forceful evacuation by the Israeli government.

The residents voted 45 in favor and 25 opposed with two abstentions to approve the deal.

Late on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home political party, met with Amona families to offer them a deal that would build 24 homes on the same hilltop where they currently live and assist the other 16 families in finding homes nearby.

The offer comes after residents early Thursday morning voted 58-20 against a deal that would have seen about a dozen families relocated to another plot on the hill and the rest resettled in the nearby settlement of Ofra. A representative of the Amona residents said that deal offered no commitments and described it as “Swiss cheese.”

The new deal would require the Supreme Court to give the Israeli government an extra month to prepare living spaces on the new plot of land, which Israel has declared abandoned by its previous Palestinian residents.

The Supreme Court determined that Amona was built on Palestinian-owned land and ordered the residents to be removed by Dec. 25. It has turned down two requests by the government to extend the deadline for evacuation, but is expected to be amenable to the new request.

The Amona representatives had told Israeli media they thought the new deal would be a tough sell to fellow residents. The Amona residents were set to vote on the deal Sunday.

“We have done the maximum,” Netanyahu said at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Now I can only hope that the residents of Amona, who are now discussing the proposed outline among themselves, will accept it and this would be the right decision for them, for settlement, for the entire people of Israel and for the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu also said: “In recent months, especially in the past few weeks and the last few days, and yesterday, we have been making very great efforts to reach an agreed-upon solution in Amona. We have held dozens of discussions and submitted very many proposals, some I would say out-of-the-box, very creative proposals. We did so out of goodwill and love for settlement; love for settlement, indeed so. There has not been a government that showed more concern for settlement in the Land of Israel and no government will show more concern.”

Some 1,000 people gathered in Amona Saturday night to show support for the outpost and to hunker down to block the evacuation. Israel Defense Forces soldiers also reportedly have arrived in the area in preparation for the evacuation, which reportedly will take place this week.

In an open letter to the Amona residents that also was posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu on Friday called on the families to refrain from violence against the security forces that will be sent to evacuate the outpost and to remove their children from the site prior to the evacuation.

Crossing a ‘red line’ on the West Bank


For years, I have been warning that the ongoing Jewish settlement in the predominantly Arab West Bank will lead to one, bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, where Jews might eventually become a minority. In that case, Israel might lose either its Jewish character or its democracy.

In theory, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University, seemed to have recognized that when he said that he endorsed a two-state solution. Except that the current Israeli government under his leadership, pressed by the ultra-right wings of his coalition, is leading us in the opposite direction.

While I oppose these policies, I recognize the right of a duly elected government to pursue them. I never thought I’d subscribe to a mood of “Not My President,” which surfaced among some Americans who couldn’t swallow Republican Donald Trump’s victory.

Yet this week, for the first time, I had second thoughts. On Dec. 12, the Israeli House of Representatives, the Knesset, passed the first reading of a law that will legalize Jewish settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land. This, to me, is crossing a red line.

The legal status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has been debated extensively over the past five decades since the Six-Day War. Opponents lean on the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) regarding military occupation of a territory: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Supporters of settlements, on the other hand, argue that the treaty, established after the horrors of World War II, barely carries any relevance to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This way or another, all Israeli governments from 1967 on tried not to take private Arab land in the West Bank, except for security reasons. In 1979, the Israeli Supreme Court didn’t accept the arguments of the Israel Defense Forces that the expropriation of Arab private land near Nablus to build the Elon Moreh settlement had been based on security reasons, and ruled that the land be returned to its owners. Menachem Begin, then-prime minister and a proponent of Greater Israel, bowed to the decision of the court.

Which reminds me that in the 18th century, when Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, built his rococo “Sanssouci” Palace in Potsdam, Berlin, a windmill stood in his way. He offered to buy the mill but the owner refused, to which Frederick supposedly threatened: “Does he not know that I can take the mill away from him by virtue of my royal power without paying one groschen for it?” Whereupon the miller is supposed to have replied: “Of course, your majesty, your majesty could easily do that, if — begging your pardon — it were not for the Supreme Court in Berlin.”

Indeed, since Israel doesn’t have a constitution, the Supreme Court remains the last protector of civil and human rights. Except that the Supreme Court has been under continuous attacks, for presumably interfering in the affairs of the executive branch. And this week’s law, which is aimed at legalizing the acquisition of private Arab land for Jewish settlements, will further weaken the Supreme Court’s resilience to obstruct such moves.

But with or without a constitution, the Bible warns Jews to treat the Stranger (Ger in Hebrew) fairly, because we were ourselves strangers in the Land of Egypt. Those Israelis who went to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria in our Jewish heritage) out of religious motivation, to implement God’s promise to give the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants, should be the first to know. So should evangelical Christians who support Israel, who can surely cite the warnings of the prophets to the Israelites not to oppress the Stranger: “Do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger” (Jeremiah 22:3).

And it was Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, the mentor of Menachem Begin, who advocated 80 years ago that in the future Jewish state, Arabs will enjoy the same rights as Jews. This is definitely not what the new law implies, and no wonder that Knesset Member Benny Begin — who, like his father, Menachem, believes Jews have the right to settle in the West Bank — refused to vote for this “very bad law,” in his words.

In his own Likkud Party, which once prided itself as being true to Jabotinsky’s ideals, Benny Begin is today in a tiny minority.

But being in the minority doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong.

This column was originally published in the Miami Herald. 


Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. He served as spokesman of the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments from 1992 to 1996, during the Oslo peace process.

4 Palestinians detained by own police after visiting West Bank mayor’s sukkah


10/21/16: Four Palestinians who attended a Sukkot celebration alongside Israelis in the home of a West Bank mayor were arrested by Palestinian security forces.

[UPDATE 10/25/16: The Palestinians have been released]

The celebration took place without incident Wednesday at the home of Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement. Revivi had invited several dozen Palestinians living near Efrat to join 30 Israelis in celebrating the Jewish harvest holiday.

But four of the Palestinians who attended were arrested late the next day. The reason for their arrest was not clear, but their relatives suggested it was because they were photographed with prominent Israeli army and police officers, The Washington Post reported.

One relative of the detained men accused Revivi of “tricking” the Palestinians.

“Instead of helping us, he destroyed us,” Asad Abu Hamad told The Washington Post.

Revivi denied the accusations and said he had urged for the four men to be released.

“I understand they are upset. I understand what the relatives are saying,” he said. “But was this a trap? This was no trap.”

Palestinians arrested for visiting sukkah of West Bank mayor released


Four Palestinians who were arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces after they visited the sukkah of a West Bank mayor were released following Israeli intervention.

The men who visited the Efrat sukkah of Oded Revivi were from the nearby Palestinian village of Wadi Al Nis. They were released from PA custody on Sunday evening after the intervention of COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

The men had joined several dozen other Palestinians living near Efrat in visiting the sukkah along with about 30 Jewish Israelis during the harvest holiday as part of a peace event.

Earlier on Sunday, Revivi had issued a statement calling on the PA to release his guests. “It is absurd that having coffee with Jews is considered a crime by the Palestinian Authority. Initiatives that seek to foster cooperation and peace between people should be encouraged, not silenced,” the statement had said.

In a Sunday afternoon Facebook post, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastized human rights organizations for their silence in the wake of the arrests, calling it the organizations’ “great shame.” He called on the international community to intervene.

“I call on the international community to work to help free these innocent Palestinians whose imprisonment is yet another proof of the Palestinian refusal to make peace,” Netanyahu wrote.

Khaled Tafish, a parliamentarian in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said on Palestinian television, according to the Jerusalem Post, “If they knew that there would be a punishment and that they will be pursued for doing that, then the incident would not have happened.”

Palestinian Authority Deputy Governor of Bethlehem Muhammad Taha said the incident was under investigation and the men will be held accountable under Palestinian law, according to The Jerusalem Post. He also said Palestinians “condemn” the visit and that “visiting settlers is completely unacceptable.”

HBO to co-produce drama series about kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens


HBO will produce a drama series about the kidnapping of three Israeli teens from a West Bank bus stop that riveted the attention of Israelis and Jews around the world for more than two weeks in 2014.

The cable network has given a 10-episode series order for the as yet untitled drama, which will be a co-production with the international arm of Israel’s Keshet Studios, the U.S. entertainment website Deadline reported Wednesday.

The series, which is set to be filmed on location in Israel next summer, will be directed by Joseph Cedar, an Israeli who has won several international awards. His films “Beaufort” (2007) and “Footnote” (2011) each were nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film.

The creator is Hagai Levi, co-creator of “The Affair” and “In Treatment,” and Noah Stollman.

Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shear and Eyal Yifrach were abducted on June 12, 2014, and their bodies were discovered 18 days later following a massive search in a shallow grave in a field near Hebron. A recording of an emergency call made by one of the teens to police and the interior of the car used to abduct them indicated that they were killed shortly after being taken.

According to Deadline, the show will focus on an idealistic investigator for Israel’s Shin Bet security service as he deals with the violent reactions on both sides of the escalating conflict over the teens’ disappearance. A new command places him in a situation that undermines his faith and worldview, and leads to a conflict between his values and the actions of those around him.

Deadline did not report whether the teens’ parents have given their blessing to the production.

Obama officials blast Israel’s settlement announcement as betrayal of friendship, Peres legacy


The Obama administration cast Israel’s plan to build 300 units deep inside the West Bank as a betrayal of U.S. friendship and of Shimon Peres’ legacy.

The statement Wednesday by Mark Toner, the deputy State Department spokesman, was unusually lengthy and emotional in tone.

Toner cited a $38 billion defense assistance agreement with Israel reached last month and President Barack Obama’s eulogy last week at the funeral for the late Israeli president and prime minister.

“It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long-term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians,” Toner said.

“Furthermore, it is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the U.S. and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two-state solution that he so passionately supported.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, only sharpened the rhetoric when he was asked about the settlement plan.

“The recent announcement from the Israeli government does provoke strong feelings in the administration,” he said, his voice rising. “We did receive public assurances from this government that contradict this announcement. I guess when we’re talking about how friends treat each other, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”

Earnest said the placement of the planned housing was of special concern. The units are meant to replace an unauthorized outpost, Amona, deep in the West Bank – but would also be deep into the West Bank, and would use lands Palestinians and groups like Peace Now have said are privately owned. Israeli authorities say the lands are mostly state-owned.

“All of those factors, the location of the settlement, the timing of the announcement, the recent announcement of the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, all of that combined would explain why the United States is so disappointed and even sharply critical,” he said.

Earnest and Toner both said the plan was especially egregious because of its potential effect on a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

“This settlement’s planned location is deep in the West Bank, in fact the settlement location is far closer to Jordan than it is to Israel, and it could effectively link a string of outposts that could divide the West Bank, and it would make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,” Earnest said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the media as saying that the building would take place within an authorized settlement, Shiloh. The United States does not distinguish between authorized and unauthorized settlements, although the Bush and Obama administrations have said some settlements are likely to remain in Israel under a final status agreement. Shiloh is not among them.

The emphasis by the U.S. officials on the viability of the two-state solution will lend credence to recent speculation that the Obama administration in its final months will back a bid at the United Nations to outline what a two-state solution would look like.

John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, has suggested that the Obama administration could make a final push for a two-state solution, but Obama has seemed unenthusiastic.

FIFA urged to nix Israel’s West Bank soccer games


A human rights group called on FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, to quit sponsoring matches in the West Bank held by Israel’s soccer association.

“By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director for Human Rights Watch, said Monday. “FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules.”

Human Rights Watch said it had conducted an investigation of the Israel Football Association, a FIFA member, and found that the group holds games in West Bank settlements “on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians.”

Also, the Palestinian Football Association has accused its Israeli counterpart of violating FIFA rules by holding games without permission on the territory of another member group. A FIFA committee is set to submit recommendations on the issue by Oct. 13, according to the statement.

Human Rights Watch said a legal adviser for the Israel Football Association dismissed the relevance of its claims.

“[T]he purpose of the IFA is to benefit football. That is its sole concern. Political issues are not part of our ‘playing field,'” Efraim Barak told the group, according to the statement.

FIFA’s human rights manager, Andreas Graf, said he did not have time to respond to the investigation before its publication, but told Human Rights Watch that he would “endeavor to reply at a later date,” the statement said.

Israel’s best kept secret (weapon) is a tour guide


Our group’s infatuation with Michael Bauer began in a small conference room at Tel Aviv's Carlton Hotel, where he stood at the front of the room armed with a set of maps and taught the history of Israel — from Abraham to Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Gaza war — in 45 minutes.

It deepened in the Golan Heights, when he stood atop a bombed-out Syrian bunker captured by Israel in 1967 and explained the modern history of Syria — from Assad I to the rise of political Islam and ISIS — as the distant thrum of explosions rocked our consciences for 17 heavy minutes.

On a Jerusalem promenade overlooking the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Bauer offered Bible passages and Koranic stories to illustrate why the magical city sparkling beneath us has remained for thousands of years the most ardently loved and hotly contested real estate in the world.

Each time he finished, our group would erupt in cheers.

“I’m a bit like a performer,” Bauer, 43, admitted when I met with him separately one evening in Tel Aviv. “I enjoy the drama.”

For us, members of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation’s “Reality Storytellers” trip last month, Bauer, our tour guide, was a highlight among highlights. What began as a light infatuation eventually morphed into something resembling rock-star obsession, as our group frequently chanted his name and compared him to the fictional Jack Bauer from “24.” (Ever the on-guard Israeli, Bauer sometimes carried a gun.)

In case you’re thinking we were easily impressed, allow me to disavow you of that notion. We were about 50 people familiar with excellence – among us were prominent political speechwriters, screenwriters, actors, entrepreneurs, executives and foundation directors; some who call the Obamas and Clintons their bosses, others who work for prominent media companies including the New York Times and Facebook. Part of why Bauer was so effective at telling Israel’s story is because he spoke to all of us — Jews and non-Jews; Israel veterans and Israel first-timers; those already highly educated about the country and the conflict and those just beginning to understand how Israel ended up with the West Bank and Gaza to begin with. Bauer refused to oversimplify; rather than present “two sides,” he’d instead offer multiple competing perspectives that sometimes contradicted each other. “Teaching these topics is so complex, and if you do not understand the complexity, you miss the whole thing,” he told me.

Bauer has spent more than 20 years guiding groups through Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and Turkey, as well as Poland and Germany, via his company, Bauer Trails. His expertise in minority relations, religion, history and the Arab-Israeli conflict has attracted an international clientele that includes foreign diplomats – including members of the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as a former Prime Minister of Canada – in addition to Hollywood celebrities like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Bauer’s reputation for presenting facts unalloyed to politics, and his theatrical gift for storytelling has also won him repeat business from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. It’s safe to say he’s probably Israel’s top tour guide, but that would not encapsulate the additional work he does teaching at Israeli colleges or within the intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.  

Only once did Bauer reveal his emotional side. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Bauer surprised the group when he abruptly paused his tour in the Warsaw Ghetto section to share a personal reflection. As light streamed down from the sole window in the museum’s interior, Bauer said, “I can’t tell you how huge this event is in the Israeli psyche. This is the part of the Holocaust Israelis study the most – the Jewish uprising.”   

In person, Bauer looks more like the combat commander he once was than the educator he is now — shaved head, intense blue eyes and a face lined by desert sun. Though his formal education was standard, Bauer has been reading books, he said, “all my life.”

“I’ve loved history since I was kid, and Israel is a haven for history,” he told me. “I was also always curious. Even in the military, I was always trying to understand why are we doing what we’re doing.”

Photo by Neta Cones

Bauer grew up in a middle class, center-left neighborhood in an agricultural village outside Tel Aviv. Today he lives on a Kibbutz southwest of Jerusalem with his wife and five young children. When I asked him what it’s like raising children a few miles from the Green Line, where there are occasional violent skirmishes, he said, “I could live anywhere in the world; I live here out of choice. And I believe that my [kibbutz] is the best place to raise kids.”

Even though Bauer’s tours are exceptionally fair-minded and apolitical, his passion for where he lives pulsates through his prose. “I love my country,” he said, when someone in our group asked about his personal politics. Looking down as he answered, he nestled his feet in the gravel. “I love the rocks.”

There is something almost mystical about Bauer’s teaching, beyond the obvious spiritual subject matter. It shows in the way he marries history, religion and archaeology, or the way he lights up when reading passages from Torah or the New Testament that he can prove actually happened. This quality is part of why our group felt so in awe of him; teaching the history of the world, he somehow made the world make sense. In seven days, Bauer transcended the role of tour guide and simply became our Rav, our teacher.  

Not that he sees himself that way: “For me, I’m not a spiritual person,” he insisted. “The Bible is an unbelievable text and book, and I do believe in many things that are written in it, especially when I can prove it academically. And what I cannot prove, I am full of appreciation for, because I cannot argue with a text that has influenced so many people. I have respect for the Bible — beyond.”

When I pointed out that “beyond” is a spiritual word, Bauer laughed.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about him isn’t his lack of spirituality, but his lack of ego and material ambition. He was mostly unfazed by all the adulation and attention he received. “I’m not a big deal,” he insisted. And later, when I asked him what he dreamed of, he said: “My true mission is to be able to raise my family and support my kids.”

Since he values family so deeply, I asked how a secular Israeli might express his gratitude.

“I say, ‘Thank God,’” he replied automatically. Then he cracked a smile.

“I do say ‘Thank God.’”

Danielle Berrin: Why were you drawn to the study of Arab-Israeli relations?

Michael Bauer: It’s something that shapes our life over here. I live on the green line, so I see Arabs, fences, borders every single day. And I see Israeli-Arab relations as the future; whether it’s negative or positive, it’s a crucial part of our life.

DB: As an Israeli, can you teach the conflict objectively?

MB: It’s not that I don’t have a political view, I do; but I don’t have an agenda. My agenda, if there is one, is that at the end of a program of mine, I’d like you to appreciate Israel and respect Israel, with its complexity.

DB: What do you hope someone who has no prior experience of Israel will learn from your tour?

MB: The importance of size and location. Location in the context of the Middle East [matters], but location is not only geographic. It’s always political. Understand that we are now sitting in Tel Aviv, and two days ago, there were missiles an hour away from here. [My first night home from our tour last week,] I was drinking wine and telling my wife about the group, and I could hear ‘BOOM’ and see the lights.

It’s also very important to understand the history, including [the religious texts]. There’s a deep connection of people to the ground over here.

DB: What do you hope someone who already knows a great deal about Israel learns from you?

MB: For people that know all the facts, the next thing they need to learn is the [role of the] psyche. There’s a gap sometimes between the facts and what people think and believe. Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and Jews and Muslims think not. The Muslims think that Mohammad rose up to heaven on a night journey from Al-Aqsa, and the Christians and Jews think not. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what really happened; it’s only what people think and what they’re willing to do about it. Same with discrimination in Israel: If I tell you there’s discrimination, you can tell me there isn’t discrimination, and then we can argue about it. But if I tell you Arabs feel discriminated against, that you cannot argue. That is a fact. If the Palestinians feel there is an occupation, it doesn’t really matter what is happening on the ground – I mean, it matters — but it matters more what they feel when they get up in the morning. If Jews wake up in the morning and they’re afraid, you can’t tell them they shouldn’t be afraid because they have an F-16. That’s irrelevant. People need to consider feelings as given facts.

DB: So how do you teach the deep, psycho-spiritual connection people have to this land?

MB: If people really want to know, they need to go back to Abraham and then all the way to yesterday.

DB: What do you wish the world knew about settlements that isn’t  considered in media coverage?

MB: Someone that tells me “I am in favor of the settlements” or “I am against the settlements,” for me, that’s very shallow. It actually means they don’t know much. There are different settlements and different settlers. You have smaller, isolated settlements that are religiously ideological; you have settlements along the valley that are more agricultural, very strategic, less religiously ideological. You’ve got big settlement blocs of 30,000-40,000 people, which are Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion. Then you have a few you need to argue [about]; then you have a few that are near the Green Line. And then you have East Jerusalem — the Jewish quarter, Gilo, French Hill and so on. All of that is different.

If you were to go to French Hill tomorrow and make elections, you would realize that a majority of them are voting for Meretz, which is an anti-settlement party. Which means, they don’t see themselves at all as settlers. Are we allowed to build in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem? Most Israelis will say ‘Yes.’ Most Israelis are not aware that they’re actually on the other side of the Green Line. They’ll say “I’m against settlements.” And you’ll say, “What about Gilo?” “Oh, that doesn’t count.” So if you don’t know the nuances of settlements, don’t hold an opinion.

DB: How do you talk to people about the occupation? Do you even use that word?

MB: When someone says “occupation,” I need to understand what is it exactly that they’re talking about. Because when Hamas says “occupation,” we are right now in Tel Aviv, sitting in “occupied” land. So what is occupation?

It’s true that Israel, in 1967, occupied territory. That’s a fact. But the moment I start using the word “occupation,” it becomes politicized.

If you ask me, “What do you think about the occupation?” I’ll ask you: “Which occupation?” Right away. And then you will tell me about the West Bank, and I’ll say, “OK, you’re asking about the policies of Israel in the West Bank.”

The fact is that tomorrow Palestinians will wake up in the morning and they will feel occupied. There’s not one soldier in Gaza, but they feel occupied. Why? Because they are encircled by Israel and also Egypt, which is hostile to them as well. And because Palestinians, most of them, see all of Israel as occupied. That’s also fact. Who is responsible for the occupation? That’s a political argument. Now the question is, what is the solution?

DB: How do you reconcile feeling rightfully rooted in this land with Israeli policies that have caused suffering to others who also feel rightfully rooted in this land?

MB: I do not want to belong to an occupying force, and I do not want to rule other people as an Israeli. But given the fact that an agreement that I believe was fair was offered and rejected by the Palestinians in 2000 — and then came the disengagement in 2005 — [those] for me, as an Israeli, were crucial for feeling well when I look in my mirror.

DB: How do you talk to your young children about where they live?

MB: I believe that we have to be honest no matter what. Usually we’re not honest with our kids because we want to protect them. I am always honest. During [Operation] Protective Edge, when there were missiles falling on our kibbutz, I told them “There are missiles.” They knew it came from Arab people in Gaza strip that are led by an organization called Hamas. At the end of the day, you don’t want them to be terrified and hate Arabs, so it’s a complicated balance. Many times, they see me armed, and they’ll ask me suddenly, “Why are you armed?” So how do I tell them I am taking a gun, but they are safe so they should not be afraid?

Photo by Rick Sorkin

MB: As a secular Israeli, how do you think about the fact that the Bible and the history of this land intersect?

For me the Bible is a book of history, literature and philosophy. And I fully accept the fact that for a lot of other people, it’s a spiritual book, which requires a little faith. I’m not a spiritual person, but I do work with people of Jewish faith, Christian faith, atheists, Buddhists. Everything. And I need to make it relevant for everyone.

When I can take that book and prove that a lot of it happened, that it was written here, and I can connect the geography, the culture, the people and the land, I do get excited by the fact that I belong to this people, and they are my ancestors in those texts.

And when I prove to Christians who are not devout that [a lot of] what’s written in the New Testament makes sense — I can actually prove it to them — I love it. I’m a Jew, and I’m strengthening Christian identity! It’s very funny because I’m not spiritual, but strengthening people’s spirituality makes me very happy.

MB: Where is your favorite place in Israel?

I like to go to the Negev or Judean desert, because I love the wilderness. All religions were born in the desert, so that’s where I like going more than any other place.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Rabin’s granddaughter, ex-military and gov’t officials call for Israeli referendum on territories


The granddaughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin joined a group of former Israeli military and government officials in launching a campaign demanding a referendum on the future of the West Bank and Gaza.

Groups including Peace Now and Blue White Future also initiated the campaign, titled “Decision at 50,” to consider the future of Israel on the 50th anniversary of its capture of the West Bank. Artists and social activists also signed on.

“This is the most sensitive and explosive issue in Israeli society today, and we demand that after 50 years we will get the right to decide on our own future,” the founders of the initiative said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow ourselves another 50 years of governments’ indecision, during which decisions are made every day on the ground.”

Officials of the movement on Monday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for the promotion of a referendum and requested a meeting with him.

“A decision through a referendum on the most critical question for the future of Israel will be a statement regarding where Israel is heading and provide guidance to Israeli governments in their policy making on this crucial matter,” the letter reads.

Among those who have signed on are Noa Rothman, Rabin’s granddaughter; Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and an ex-Knesset member; Gen (Res.) Amram Mitzna, a former Labor Party chairman; Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Knesset member; Gilead Sher, chief of staff and policy coordinator to Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and defense minister.

U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ over plans for settlement expansion


The U.S. State Department criticized an Israeli announcement approving the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday, in answer to a reporter’s question during a briefing, hours after reports of the approval. “Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank.”

The Mideast Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N., called on Israel in June to stop building in the settlements and on the Palestinians to halt incitement.

Kirby said that the State Department is “particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.”

“Potentially unlimited” is a recent term used by the State Department, and seems to indicate U.S. concerns that Israel wants to annex the West Bank.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank; and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations issued in June by the Mideast Quartet.

Israel approves hundreds of new West Bank housing units


An Israeli planning committee approved the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

Plans for housing units in Efrat, Nofim and Har Gilo has been on the agenda but were not discussed at the meeting.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations of the Mideast Quartet.