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January 18, 2010: Coming from Strength

April 28, 2010

Before I turn to other matters, I want to mention yet other facts about our medical assistance in Haiti.  Apparently the Haitian system (which was close to non-existent to start with) has broken down entirely.  According to Col. Carmi Bar-Tal, deputy head of the IDF medical unit, cited in the Post today, “There is no hospital around, so the ambulances started bringing patients here.”
 
In Port-au-Prince, IsraAID sent a medical support team to its hospital.  As an Israeli nurse described it, “The scenes…were horrendous…The size of the catastrophe is unbelievable.  All the injured were being treated, until we came, by one doctor…”
 
So, we not only do sterling work, we rush to do it, and are critical to medical assistance operations.  It’s my understanding that the Israeli mobile hospital in Haiti — which is extensive and solidly equipped — was not only the first on the scene, but remains the largest.  In fact, I’ve received credible (but difficult to absolutely verify) reports that while some international agencies, such as Doctors Without Borders, have brought in portable field hospitals, there is no other government that has done so except Israel.  Shocking, really, if it’s so.  Little Israel, a tiny nation, maligned as no other, reaching out in extraordinary ways.
 
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During the course of a press conference yesterday with the Norwegian foreign minister, our foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said:
 
“Since the establishment of the government we have made a large number of gestures [to the PA, to get them to come to the table].

“From our position we are finished with the arsenal of gestures. There will not be any other gestures.

“Right now we are waiting for gestures from the Palestinians.”

Up until now, said Lieberman, we haven’t seen gestures from the PA.  Instead, there has been, “Palestinian incitement against Israel in every possible international forum, calls for a boycott of Israeli products, suits filed against us in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the creation of a fund to convince people to boycott Israeli goods.”

Because this is Lieberman talking, and he talks straight and takes no nonsense (thus being seen as ‘undiplomatic’), I accept this as a straightforward statement.

The question is whether he is speaking for himself or truly for Netanyahu’s government.  This is a particularly significant question as Mitchell is on his way, undoubtedly intending to seek more gestures.

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I would suggest that if Lieberman is speaking for the government (did run this by the prime minister), it reflects a new attitude that has been precipitated by the information — which I shared on Friday — regarding the possibility that PA president Mahmoud Abbas never intends to come to the table, but rather plans a unilateral declaration of statehood to the ’67 lines.

In line with this, we see Netanyahu’s recent willingness to challenge the PA on the issue of incitement — an issue that until very recently was “conveniently” ignored, so as to not stop “the process.” 

If Netanyahu has, finally and very belatedly, decided to take on the PA instead of courting it, it will be a welcome change.  We should know soon enough if there is a real policy shift.

Only the truth with regard to the Palestinian Arabs — which is so often obscured and buried — can serve our genuine interests.  It’s time — past time!! — to stop pretending they’re something they are not, and to challenge the pretense when we encounter it in others.

More’s the pity that this change, if it is real, will have been precipitated by Abbas — that is, will be reactive, coming only at a time when playing the game no longer seemed to Netanyahu a good idea.  It should have come long ago, from a position of strength.  But it would be far better now than not at all. 

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Looks like Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) isn’t doing too well lately, and that is great news.

About 18 months ago, Peace Now petitioned the High Court with regard to the presence of Jewish civilians living on an IDF base in Hevron. Its position was that the civilian residents should be expelled.

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Some background is in order here: 

Hevron, in Judea, is a very ancient and sacred Jewish city — site of the Machpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  There was thriving Jewish community there over the centuries, with institutes of Torah learning and more.

In 1929, there was a massacre of Jews by Arabs in Hevron, and the British, who controlled the area as part of the Mandate for Palestine, moved survivors out –“for their own safety,” rather than attempting to protect them.  (I add here that the Arab massacre was incited by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who was a relative and mentor of Yasser Arafat — and don’t minimize the connection here!) An attempt to re-establish the Jewish community in Hevron subsequently failed for similar reasons.

At that point, for the first time in 3,000 years, there was not even so much as a small remnant of a Jewish community in Hevron. When Jordan assumed control of Judea and Samaria in 1949, it maintained a policy of keeping Hevron Judenrein, and destroying buildings in the ancient Jewish quarter there. Thus here, as in eastern Jerusalem, the policy of the Jordanians fostered the myth that this is an “Arab” area.

The situation shifted after Israel gained control in 1967.  In the years subsequent, Jews devoted to the heritage of Hevron worked to re-establish a Jewish community there.  It has been tough going, because many believe it would be easier, and more convenient, and play better with the international community if Arabs were simply permitted to have the whole city.  And leftists, who have swallowed the notion that Hevron is Arab, oppose them.  But in point of fact there IS a small Jewish community there today, and I admire them greatly for their courage.  With the Oslo Accords, unfortunately much of the city was turned over to the PA, but the Jewish enclave, protected by the IDF, remains.

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With this general background, let me return to the specifics of the case at hand. In 1879, just outside what was then the Jewish Quarter of Hevron, a substantial building called Beit Romano was constructed, which served as a private home, a place of hospitality for travelers, and a synagogue.  About 100 years ago, Chabad (Lubavitch) purchased Beit Romano, as well as land around it, and established a yeshiva there. 

Today, Beit Romano is the name of a neighborhood in Jewish Hevron, in the old city, that encompasses at least part of this area:

Beit Romano Settlement in central Hebron. Photo: Mats Lignell 

While there was no Jewish presence for many years following 1929, the land legally still belonged to Chabad.   When the IDF took control in 1967, there was an Arab bus station on the Chabad-owned land just above the Beit Romano neighborhood.  About 25 years ago, the IDF built a base there (with permission, as I understand it).  Then, about 20 years ago, a small Jewish neighborhood — consisting of caravans — was established on the base.  This was permitted because Chabad owned this land and had given permission for Israeli civilians to live there. 

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It is this that Peace Now was objecting to.  But the court told this group that the civilian neighborhood has existed on the IDF base for 20 years, and it’s a bit late to start complaining about it now. Petition rejected.

The bottom line is that this is simply one facet of Peace Now’s objective of moving Jews out of Hevron, and, in time, all of Judea and Samaria.

Peace Now lawyer Michael Sfard maintains that Peace Now has the right to petition the Court “as a part of the Israeli body politic, all of whom are involved in the political debate regarding the settlement in Hevron.” 

To me, this is laugh-out-loud funny.  Peace Now receives funds from international sources and there is currently a debate in the Knesset about this, with movement towards drafting a law that would require groups receiving such funding to register as foreign agents.  Once such money is received, it is ridiculous to speak about being “part of the Israeli body politic.”  They are compromised: promoting the pro-Palestinian Arab perspective of European donors.

And there’s more:  Peace Now does not exist. Not here. They are not registered in Israel at all, not as a non-profit or anything else. Only in the US is American Friends of Peace Now registered.

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Then there was another petition that Peace Now brought to the High Court in 2005, involving a total of 18 homes in the Samaria “outposts” of Hersha and Hayovel. They were labeled “illegal” because allegedly they were built without government sanction — although there is evidence that this may not be so.

At any rate, at one time the government acknowledged them as “illegal” and there were demolition orders against these 18 homes. But when Peace Now petitioned the Court, saying the demolitions had to take place, the State replied that it would determine when was the proper time to do so.

Now there has been a reversal, with the State, the Defense Minister, the IDF Commander, and the head of Civil Administration (the respondents in Peace Now’s suit), saying that the situation would be re-examined with alternatives to demolition being considered.  Depending on lands the homes were built on, etc. etc., it may be determined that they were legal after all.  How about that!

This is of significance because it shows how politicized is the entire concept of “illegal” building. And now, when the PA is yelling about borders to the ’67 line, I don’t take it as insignificant that the State may be re-evaluating a situation so as to permit houses that were scheduled for demolition to stand.

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One of the homes that had been slated for demolition, it should be noted, belongs to the widow and two young children of Maj. Roi Klein, the hero of the Second Lebanon war, who — crying “Shema Yisrael” — threw himself on a grenade in Bint Jbail to save his men. 

It is worthwhile to note that here in Israel Peace Now was permitted to pursue the issue of speedy demolition of the houses even though it had no standing in the case — no vested interest.  In the US this would not be possible.

And then, we must ask, what sort of people eagerly pursue the demolition of the home of the family of a war hero (and son of Holocaust survivors)?  The people of Peace Now. That’s who.

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