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The Israeli Land Grab in the West Bank
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February 15, 2008





Today, Orthodox Jews established a new illegal outpost in the West Bank complete with trailers, a bulldozer and electricity (see AP story: “Israelis Set Up New West Bank Settlement”).


According to the story, a member of the group said that he was told by the Israeli Defense Ministry that the military would not try to hinder the expansion of the settlement.


If true, this violates the spirit of President Bush’s “roadmap to peace,” as well as the agreements at the recent Middle East peace conference in Annapolis.  One has to ask oneself, “If the Israelis are serious about negotiating for peace, why have they shown so little good faith?”


They should get credit for releasing several hundred Fatah prisoners from West Bank leader Abbas’ Fatah party.  Israel also points to the transfer of tax money that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority to the West bank government.  But how can you get credit for doing something that you were obligated to do and that’s only fair?  To act otherwise would be stealing.


Many Christians believe that because Israel is the “chosen people” and God promised Israel in the bible, then anything they do to keep or expand their territory is acceptable and even good.  However, this is a serious misinterpretation and simplification of scripture.


Let’s review what the bible says.  It is true that Israel is the chosen people and God promised them the land on many occasions in the Old Testament.  The boundaries are really not up for negotiation because in several places they are clearly described in the bible by city, town and bodies of water.  The Mediterranean and Dead Seas haven’t moved and most of the towns mentioned have existed in the same relative location since antiquity.


There are many covenants between God and the Hebrews in the Old Testament.  The important ones for us today are the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic covenant and the covenant from the book of Ezekiel.  The last one is usually deemed to be part of the covenant that God made with King David.  There also were several covenants between God and Moses, as well as a significant one between God and Noah in the book of Genesis (8:20-9:17).


Israel was disobedient and repeatedly broke their word to God, thus violating the covenants.  This was the beginning of a trend.  As anyone who has even a casual familiarity with the bible knows the entire scope of the Old Testament relates the story of the vicious cycle of the Israelis repeated failures to remain faithful to the Lord.  This culminated in two exiles after brutal military defeats.  One to Assyria, and the other to Babylon.  The result was that much of the population was taken into captivity, including virtually all of the aristocracy.


Upon the return of the children of Israel from exile (see the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai), a persuasive argument can be made that the promises by the Lord to actually give the land called the “promised land” to Israel described in Exodus and the covenants had been fulfilled.


Remember, this was now the third time that they were given the land!  The first time they refused to enter out of fear for the nephilim (or giants) who they would have had to conquer, the second was upon the defeat of all of the nations east of the Jordan by David and his son Solomon, and now upon the return from exile.


In the New Testament, “Israel” is essentially synonymous with the body of Christ.  What remains of the Davidic covenant and the prophetic words of the book of Daniel are fulfilled in the kingdom of God presently in the body of Christ, the church to come and the return of the Lord.


Although, some argue that this ongoing process will include a temporal kingdom of Israel now or in the future, this is by no means clear.  If it is required, as some say, it would have to be a Christian kingdom.


Of course, taking into account the cyclical nature of the bible and the grace and mercy of God, there is no doubt that there is a continuing covenant between God and Jews.  The exact nature of this is speculative; but one thing is clear, he would not countenance flagrant disobedience to the commandments of both the New and Old Testaments.


But, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in both Israel proper and the occupied territories amounts to just this (please see post “Unacceptable Censorship” from 1/25/08 on the “Archives” page of this website for a complete discussion of this).


Recent events have shown the bad faith of the Israelis.  Their position is untenable.


First, many of the prisoners that Israel returned and labeled “militants” may not have been.  An AP story last month concluded: Israel's military court system for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank produces almost automatic convictions, an Israeli human rights group charged Sunday.”  Many of the cases lasted just a few minutes, and the acquittal rate was less than .3 percent.   This from a country that is called a democracy.


Yossi Melman, a commentator for the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote on a recent post on the Washington Post website that the major news story last year was not what was going on in Gaza, but the effect of globalization on Israel.  He said:


…Israeli society has changed beyond recognition. Israel was once a role model, one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated social democracies, proud of its modern welfare system and trying to maintain as equal and just a society as possible.  The kibbutz—a rural community guided by the principle that each receives according to his needs and give back to society according to his abilities—was the jewel in Israel’s crown. Today, the idea of the kibbutz is dying.   Israel now worships the golden calf of the free market: privatization and sink-or-swim competition, what British Prime Minster Edward Heath once called the “ugly face of capitalism.” The country’s economy is under the influence of a handful of families who, like robber barons, rob public assets, utilities and national resources, all with the help of corrupt officials and ministers.  To understand how the country’s wealth is concentrated in few hands, one has to read the Israeli business daily The Marker. The paper estimated the accumulated wealth of the 500 richest people in the country to be around 300 billion shekels (US $75 billion). By contrast, Israel’s GDP is 567 billion shekels (US$130 billion). Israel is now on the Top Ten list of nations with the widest socio-economic gap. Pensions have been reduced. Social security benefits have been cut. In 2005-7, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country. But it also pushed more people back beneath the poverty line than any other western nation in the last decade.  Israel’s Social Security Institute defines the poverty line as an income of 1,744 shekels (US$400) per month per individual, or 4,361 shekels (US$1100) per family of four. One and half million people, or 20 percent of the population, live under the poverty line. That means that thirty-four percent of Israeli children live in poverty.  Fewer and fewer financial resources are allocated to public education, health, transportation and infrastructure. More and more go to the wealthy through tax cuts and other benefits aimed to protect capital gains.  Israel is still a vital democracy, but it is a democracy in decay. The champions of social justice and rational distribution of national wealth – the fighters of corruption – struggle to swim upstream. Israel in 2007 has further lost its old ideals and its soul.


Moreover, it’s no coincidence that Israel, and the settlers they encourage, seems to ends up with the best land.  This is by design.  A little over a year ago, in a story entitled “West Bank Settlements Often Use Private Palestinian Land, Study Says,” the Washington Post reported, among other things: “that 39 percent of the land used by Jewish settlements in the West Bank is private Palestinian property, which the organization contends is a violation of international and Israeli law guaranteeing property rights in the occupied territories.”


In addition, private charities raise money, including in the US, to buy Palestinian land.  Indeed, an American charity helped the group that started today’s illegal settlement.  These charities have vast resources.  The problem is, these groups discriminate and never give land to any poor Palestinians, only Jews.  An Israeli court recently ordered that this policy be changed.


Israel's biggest hypocrisy may be the fact that even though one of its more enlightened laws only allows the death penalty in limited circumstances (eg., those responsible for the holocaust), its military frequently engages in targeted killings of Islamic militants.  This has included one spiritual leader who advocated terrorism, even though he was confined to a wheelchair.


Israel has only removed a token illegal settlement or two.  The Palestinians seem rightly concerned that Israel is not negotiating a peace deal as it says, but just taking the land they want.  They believe that Israel has already determined what their permanent borders and communities will look like and will militarily simply impose a peace settlement.  What they are doing now is “changing the facts on the ground” to later make this more acceptable in the eyes of the world and thus, easier to finesse.


Given all of this, is it any wonder that today’s events led a Palestinian negotiator to say, “Most of the time our experience shows that they come move in and then the government keeps them there”?


Regarding the Israeli peace deal efforts, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said this week while travelling in the US that they had, "not done a thing materially on the ground to help my government."  Remember Abbas, Fayyad and lead peace negotiator Ahmed Qureia are the moderates virtually hand-picked by the West in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death.  If this is how they treat moderates look out.


The situation has gotten so bad that a group of ex-Israeli generals, many with experience in the occupied territories, came out this week for gradually dismantling the hundreds of barriers that choke life, dignity and commerce in the West Bank.


Noting that a suicide bomber snuck into Israel last week from the West Bank, the generals called the barriers ineffective.  One went on to say, “You have to understand that there is damage in having the Palestinian people with its back to the wall, not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, unable to improve their economy, unable to move from place to place…This creates a reality that creates terror..."


Another added, “The feeling of humiliation and the hate the roadblocks create increase the tendency of Palestinians to join militant groups and Hamas…I think that this can help the peace process. Of course the goal is to help the ... plans of (Israeli Prime Minister) Olmert in striving for a peace agreement."


Please note that these criticisms of Israeli policy are predominantly from Israelis, not people or entities labeled as being “anti-Semitic.”


Despite their disingenuous policies, the US criticism of Israel is tame.  If the Congress were to threaten to pass legislation cutting off the $3 billion in foreign aid that Israel receives from the US each year (not to mention the military arms they receive from the US) like they threatened Egypt recently for perceived security shortcomings, maybe Israel would negotiate in good faith.  Why doesn’t more of that foreign aid go to those living in poverty in Israel instead of weapons, anyway?


If this administration hard-balled Israel like they do most others the world would be a safer place.



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