First, a Zakkai update. This time I quote verbatim from the parents:
"After two surgeries in 7 weeks, it's very hard for us to believe but we are heading to Boston again for surgery, this time to remove the thoracic component of the tumor. Surgery is scheduled for Monday, April 30th at 7:30 am and is expected to take 5-6 hours. Due to the more complex and higher risk nature of this surgery, which will involve cutting through muscle to spread his ribs as well as fully collapsing his left lung, he will go straight from the OR to the ICU for 1-2 days (with a tube sticking out of him to maintain the pressure in his chest). Our expected stay in the hospital is 4-5 days (hopefully, our trooper will surprise us again just as he has after the first two surgeries!)
"On February 11 (the day before our lives were transformed), we would never have imagined that our son would undergo 3 surgeries in less than 3 months. We truly hope and pray this upcoming surgery will be the last one Zakkai will ever need."
Keep praying, my friends! Rephael Zakkai Avraham ben Yakira Avigael
The red line I am referring to is with regard to the scheduled government (or more precisely the Defense Ministry/Civil Administration) demolition of the Ulpana neighborhood (Givat Ha'Ulpana) of Beit El by the end of this month.
The neighborhood is comprised of 15 buildings, but we are speaking here of a total of five buildings that are scheduled for destruction imminently. Those buildings house 30 families, encompassing more than 150 children.
That red line has been crossed numerous times, as far as I can see -- as with the expulsion of people from Beit Hamachpela. But this particular situation is so blatantly wrong that a number of the members of the government and members of the Knesset, including numerous Likud people, are seriously up in arms and predicting the demise of the coalition. And Defense Minister Ehud Barak is being identified as the problem -- although it must always be asked to what degree Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gives a tacit nod to Barak's decisions.
This is the running theme: For more than 30 years it has been explicit Israeli policy not to build on land privately owned by Palestinian Arabs. In several instances Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria have been built on land that was not privately owned (by Palestinian Arabs who have come forth) or that had been abandoned for decades. It must be understood that we are speaking of land that has been under the administrative control of Israel only since 1967, so there are no deeds in Israel offices dating way back on this land; the situation is far more complex, and there is a legal status for abandoned land.
Almost always there is tacit government approval for this building -- as various ministries provide assistance. (Here I am not speaking of "outposts" with three caravans.) The Ministry of Building signs off on the construction; roads are paved; mortgages are granted; etc. But what is sometimes lacking is the official sign-off of the Defense Minister -- who, as the situation stands, is an inordinately powerful person.
Then, years after the building has been done and Jews have taken up residence, if there is a challenge either by left-wing NGOs or Palestinian Arabs (who often lack documentation), and that challenge ends up in the courts -- the government does not defend the right of Jews to have built on that land and offer to retroactively supply all necessary documents. Rather, there is a pulling back: A declaration of sorts that, well, if there is such a challenge, then by all means, the community must be dismantled. There has come to be, in fact, a tendency to acknowledge even undocumented land as "Palestinian" once there is a challenge. (And, in point of fact, sometimes when Arabs come forth with their claims they do not have legitimate documentation as to ownership.)
This dovetails well with the orientation of what has been a very left-wing court, but it is not simply a matter of court decisions. It's a question of a government inclination to run to do demolitions. And it represents a shift in government policy over the years. At one point settling the land was encouraged, today, this is much less the case -- which goes to the heart of the Zionist venture.
What I am hearing from representatives of the Beit El community and the Binyamin regional council to which Beit El belongs is at variance with the story put being out by many media sources:
Beit El is built on land that is recognized as State land -- it had been abandoned land that was held by the army for security reasons, with its status becoming State land. Some 15 years ago it was recognized that expansion was going to be necessary and Beit El began buying land from Arabs in preparation for that expansion, which began more than 10 years ago. This applies to the Ulpana neighborhood. The land on which it was situated was bought from Arabs legally in 2000, but registration was never completed because it would have put the Arab sellers at risk (there is a death penalty in the PA for selling land to Jews).
Seven years later, a pro-Palestinian NGO (possibly Yesh Din) brought forth a cousin of the Arab who had sold the land; he registered a claim that it was really his. This claim made its way to the High Court, which in fact does not check documentation but establishes "principles." Contrary to what has been Barak's position on this -- that it's a question of law, so that there is no choice but to demolish the neighborhood -- what I'm being told is that the Court was prepared to take its cue from the government position. In point of fact, the Civil Administration, having little patience for procedures, pushed the issue to this point. (Please follow this below to see the evidence of this.)
Among those who have spoken about what's going on with Ulpana is Minister of Security Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (Likud):
The Defense Minister, he said yesterday, "is unfortunately carrying out [a] private political agenda [separate] from the government" and "the demolition of the Ulpana neighborhood and Givat Assaf (about which more at another point) would demand the dissolution of the government – the coalition would collapse...Normative people are suddenly being confronted with questions [on the legal status of their community after being] "told all along that they would not be forced out of their homes."
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) reflected a similar sentiment at a Shabbat function yesterday, when he asked:
"Is there no reasonable solution that does not include the expulsion of Jews? The perception that peace entails the expulsion of Jews from their homes has been tested recently in Gush Katif. We've seen the results of that.
"There is an extraordinary obsession with the destruction of settler homes in the West Bank."
A day earlier, on Friday, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) visited residents of the Ulpana neighborhood, and said:
"If Barak works against the government’s position, the Prime Minister must fire him. He took the Ministry of Defense and turned it into a political tool at the expense of the Jewish residents. There are other ways to gather votes.
"I came here to express a clear position that the houses should not be destroyed...There is no doubt that when the government gave its answer to the Supreme Court it did not consider all the consequences of that decision...It is necessary to update the government's position regarding the Ulpana neighborhood."
Katz is working towards establishing a ministerial committee to assume the responsibility the Defense Minister now has.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has also been on board with criticism that Barak's decisions are politically motivated.
(It should be noted that Barak, who broke away from the Labor party and started the Independence Party, is having trouble because that party is not showing the minimum cut-off in polls that would be required in an election for a presence in the Knesset. Catering to the left would possibly enhance his standing in this regard.)
Others in Likud opposed to the demolition of this neighborhood include Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, Coalition head Ze'ev Elkin. And this is hardly a fully comprehensive list.
Daniel Hershkowitz, Minister of Science and head of HaBayit Hayehudi and Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister and head of Yisrael Beitenu, have also suggested that the Ulpana issue could have real effects on the coalition in which they participate.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) has observed that, "Only left-wing governments would oppose this neighborhood. This is test that Likud must not fail...rejection of the Migron agreement and evacuation of Beit Hamachpela in Hevron were attacks on our communities in Judea and Samaria. The threat to destroy the Ulpana neighborhood is a red line for the nationalist camp - we will not allow this evacuation."
Well, I certainly hope the nationalist camp does not allow that evacuation. The question is how it will be stopped. The most encouraging sign is that the prime minister is nervous enough about his coalition right now so that he has convened a task force to find a solution that avoids the demolition of the neighborhood.
Various responses of Barak are worth noting here. First, he remarked snidely, that, "Ya'alon is probably suffering from severe ‘Feiglinism’ which is not good for the State, its security, its future or the public. We hope this phenomenon is not contagious." Moshe Feiglin is a right-wing nationalist activist in Likud. Obviously -- ludicrously -- Barak was attempting to paint Ya'alon as a far-right nut case. But in the opinion of this writer, there is no contest between the Feiglin position and the Barak position with regard to what is good for the State and its future.
Then Barak took another tack, which indicates that he is uneasy, or that Netanyahu has communicated unease to him. I ask that you follow this closely, because it puts to lie to so much that had come before:
Attempting to propose a compromise at this morning's Cabinet meeting, Barak suggested that perhaps the Ulpana residents could move from their current location to an alternative location in Beit El:
"We found 22 dunams of land in the town which could, under certain circumstances and after plans are approved, be used to build alternative homes for residents of the neighborhood..."
And then...then he said (emphasis added):
"...the question of ownership of the land is still being adjudicated. If it turns out that the land is owned by Palestinians, we would have no choice other than to abandon it or purchase it.”
And I say, Stop the presses! The same Barak who piously declared that honoring the court ruling was a matter of rule of law, which is essential to a democracy, now admits that it has not been determined yet if Arabs own the land? And that if it turns out (a most unlikely eventuality) that Arabs do own it, it might possibly be bought?
Then, why the hell the rush to push out the residents of Ulpana within a week's time? The answer is that Barak gave a pledge to the court to do so. The Civil Administration didn't ask for more time to explore the issues, and didn't tell the court that it wanted to re-visit Ulpana's legal status. It caved, as I described above. Says Barak:
"This is not about a ruling but a pledge made by the government last year, that neighborhoods and buildings on private land be evicted." (Emphasis added)
And here the determination that this land is private has not yet been made definitively. But the court ruling followed the pledge.
As to Barak's proposal that the residents be moved, they responded that they are not chess pieces, to be moved about as Barak wishes.
Tonight there was a major demonstration in Beit El, attended by a number of MKs and people from all over the country. Declared MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) -- one of several people who spoke -- "We will win!"
Now we must wait to see what transpires.
Please note two additional facts about the neighborhood here, which make it all the more unconscionable that it should be demolished:
The neighborhood was erected in memory of Ita Tzur, mother of 7, who, with her 12-year old son Ephraim, was killed -- in the presence of her small daughters -- by Palestinian terrorists.
One of the young homeowners slated for eviction is Yedidya (Didi) Dikstein, who was 16 when both his parents and his 9-year old brother were killed by terrorists.
More to follow as this story unfolds.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.