[Marxism] Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank
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Wed Aug 31 06:59:40 MDT 2016
NY Times, August 31 2016
Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank
By ISABEL KERSHNERAUG. 30, 2016
MITZPE DANNY, West Bank — One night in the fall of 1998, a
self-professed “outpost entrepreneur” brought three trailers to a rugged
hilltop in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and established his first
Dozens of youthful supporters came to cheer on the entrepreneur, Shimon
Riklin, whose wife, newborn and toddler joined him a few days later. A
second family also moved in. To their initial surprise, nobody from the
military or government came to remove them. “After six months,” Mr.
Riklin said in a recent interview, “I understood it was a done deal.”
They named their outpost Mitzpe Danny, after a British immigrant stabbed
to death by a Palestinian at the settlement across the highway, and went
on over the next few months to help establish Mitzpe Hagit and then Neve
Erez a short drive away. “I jumped from hill to hill,” Mr. Riklin said.
Today, more than 40 Orthodox Jewish families live in Mitzpe Danny, one
of a string of outposts on a strategic ridge with breathtaking views
southwest to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and east all the way to Jordan.
They are part of an expansive network of about 100 outposts established
mostly over the past two decades without government authorization.
At least one-third of these have either been retroactively legalized or
— like Mitzpe Danny — are on their way, in what anti-settlement groups
that track the process see as a quiet but methodical effort by the
government to change the map of the West Bank, now in its 50th year
under Israeli occupation, by entrenching the outposts that spread like
fingers across it.
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process dormant and the international
community increasingly suspicious of the right-wing Israeli government’s
commitment to the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, the
outposts are being seized on as evidence that the conflict may be
impossible to unwind. In its July report, the so-called Quartet of
Middle East peacemakers — made up of the United States, the European
Union, the United Nations and Russia — listed it as a trend “imperiling
the viability of the two-state solution.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in his first term when Mitzpe
Danny was founded, has since endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state
alongside Israel, and said that his government would not build new
settlements or expropriate land for existing ones. But Ziv Stahl, the
research director at Yesh Din, one of the left-wing advocacy groups,
said “they are authorizing them in disguise.”
Israel, Ms. Stahl said, has tried to avoid international censure by
registering outposts like Mitzpe Danny as “neighborhoods” of established
settlements, though some are far apart and function as separate communities.
Pointing to other Israeli measures, including the demolitions of
unauthorized Palestinian structures in the West Bank, she added, “We see
it as a very gradual move toward annexation.”
Asked about the legalization of outposts — and the international
criticism — Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, David Keyes, did not respond
directly, but instead turned the question to the Palestinian leaders’
stance that no settlements could remain in the West Bank under a future
“The frequently echoed Palestinian demand to ethnically cleanse their
future state of Jews,” Mr. Keyes said via email, “is outrageous, immoral
and antithetical to peace.”
Illegal, Then Legal
The outposts are strategically located alongside more than 120
settlements that were formally approved by Israel, and are home to a
fraction of the West Bank’s 350,000 Jewish settlers.
One group stretches east of Shilo, like beads on a chain: Shvut Rahel,
Adei Ad, Ahiya, Kida, Esh Kodesh. These outposts command the hilltops
between Palestinian villages like Qusra, Jalud, Al-Mughayyer and Duma,
the scene of last year’s deadly arson attack in which one young Israeli
has been charged with murder and another with conspiracy.
Rabbah Hazameh, a Palestinian whose family owns olive orchards and
agricultural fields in the area, said that settlers prevented him and
his relatives from working their land close to Adei Ad, and that trees
had been damaged and poisoned. He said that his uncle had submitted 86
complaints to the Israeli police over the years, but “nothing happened.”
While most of the world considers all of these settlements a violation
of international law, Israel itself makes distinctions, including
whether they sit on privately owned Palestinian land and whether they
had government approval for construction.
A government-commissioned 2005 survey by Talia Sasson, a former state
prosecutor, counted at least 105 outposts that were established in
“blatant violation of the law” and called for “drastic steps,” including
the immediate removal of those on private lands.
But in 2012, Mr. Netanyahu commissioned another panel that came to
starkly different conclusions.
Led by Edmund Levy, a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, this report
concluded that the West Bank is not actually occupied — in part because
Jordan’s previous 19-year hold there was never internationally
recognized — and that there was no impediment to approving outposts that
were built on state land with what it called the “implied agreement” of
senior Israeli officials. The Levy report, though, upheld the Israeli
policy that settlements on private Palestinian land are illegal.
Under international pressure, Israel has repeatedly pledged to remove
unauthorized outposts. But it has also tried to salvage some, even on
private land, such as Amona, which is scheduled to be dismantled by Dec.
25 under an order of Israel’s Supreme Court. The residents of another
such outpost, Migron, which Mr. Riklin also helped establish, were moved
in 2012 to temporary homes on nearby public land.
Mr. Netanyahu’s government in 2011 had already quietly introduced what
it called a new “combined policy.” The idea was that Israel would remove
settlement structures built on privately owned Palestinian land, but, in
areas that Israel has declared as state land, would instead “regulate
the planning status” — or, in other words, legalize construction after
Cautious and Ambiguous Process
The first indications of changes in status of specific outposts have
mostly emerged in the Israeli government’s responses to court petitions
by anti-settlement groups.
This was the case late last year, when the Israeli Supreme Court
dismissed a petition for the demolition of an illegal structure in
Mitzpe Danny after the state told the court that it was advancing a
process to authorize the outpost.
The court cited an October 2015 decision of an Israeli planning
committee to promote an old master plan for Jewish population growth in
Mitzpe Danny is defined in the plan as a “neighborhood” of Ma’ale
Michmash, the mother settlement across the highway, though part of the
outpost lies outside the settlement’s broadest boundaries. According to
the blueprint, Mitzpe Danny is projected to accommodate 189 permanent
homes by 2040.
The outpost lacks the kind of detailed urban plan required to be fully
authorized by Israel, and the court acknowledged that the planning
process was moving slowly. But Peace Now, another anti-settlement group,
says at least 20 outposts have already completed the planning process or
have detailed plans in the works with the defense minister’s approval;
14 others are in the pipeline.
Hagit Ofran, the director of Peace Now’s settlement watch program, said
the government’s message was “build and we will sort it out retroactively.”
The Defense Ministry and the Civil Administration — the arm of the
Israeli military that deals with civilian affairs in the West Bank —
declined to discuss the outposts or provide any data about their status.
Settler leaders said they also struggled to get information about how
many outposts were being legalized. “I am not sure if it is a third or
half or 100 percent,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the
Yesha Council, which represents settlers.
Most of the approval process takes place cautiously and with a degree of
ambiguity. Mr. Riklin, the founder of Mitzpe Danny and its neighboring
outposts, described it as “all cat and mouse” between Mr. Netanyahu and
President Obama, who has consistently said any settlement expansion is
an obstacle to peace.
Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy chief executive of the settler council, said
that groups like Peace Now have actually done settlers a favor by suing
the state because those cases often force the government to commit to a
position. After one court petition led to government authorization of
illegal building in a settlement and an outpost, the council sent Peace
The note accompanying the bouquet said, “We will happily consider naming
a street ‘Peace Now’ in the new neighborhoods.”
Going Out of the Fences
Ariel Sharon, in 1998, as Israel’s foreign minister, had urged the
settlers to “run and grab” the West Bank hilltops. But there was nothing
haphazard about the outpost project.
Ms. Sasson’s 2005 survey outlined how officials in the housing, defense
and other ministries worked systematically to establish the new
settlement points, financing them and helping provide infrastructure.
Settler groups had drawn up the first plans for Mitzpe Danny — which
like many outposts straddles public and private land, according to the
Sasson survey — in the early 1990s. It sits above a winding route named
for Yigal Allon, an Israeli general and Labor Party politician who, soon
after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, advocated Israeli withdrawal from
most areas of the West Bank that were densely populated by Palestinians
while keeping strategic territory along the Jordan Valley.
Mr. Riklin and other activists went into action as Mr. Netanyahu, during
his first term, was negotiating a 1998 accord ceding additional West
Bank land that Israel had captured from Jordan in the 1967 war to the
fledgling Palestinian Authority.
“I felt there weren’t enough settlers in Judea and Samaria to ensure the
future of the settlements,” said Mr. Riklin, now 53 and a strident
pro-settler voice in the Israeli news media, referring to the West Bank
by its biblical name. “We felt we had to go out of the fences.”
Danny Frei, the slain British immigrant for whom the outpost was named,
had been Mr. Riklin’s neighbor in Ma’ale Michmash. He was a 28-year-old
computer engineer who was killed in his home while his 18-month-old
About two weeks after Mr. Riklin and his friends arrived to take over
the hilltop, the Binyamin Council — the regional government authority
that now covers 50 settlements and outposts in the area — provided
generators and water in tankers. Mr. Riklin said the housing minister
also showed up and asked what he needed. He described an atmosphere of
The outpost now has dozens of trailers, as well as a few spacious,
stone-clad houses and a new basketball court in a crevice not easily
visible from the highway. There is a kindergarten and a playground that
were guarded by a soldier on a recent day. Its residents include a
lawyer, an architect and teachers.
At a scenic lookout point, an audio system describes Jewish settlement
of the area as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Thy children
shall return to their border.”
Mr. Riklin, the outpost’s founder, ultimately remained in Ma’ale
Michmash. The current leaders of the outpost refused to be interviewed
for this article.
Yehuda Naamad, 30, who works in a spice shop, moved to Mitzpe Danny from
Jerusalem two years ago “for the space,” he said. This month, he moved
again, to another trailer home in the settlement of Hemdat in the Jordan
Valley, where building plans were recently approved after a 19-year freeze.
“I believe this is our land,” he said of the West Bank, adding, “God
brought us back. God writes our history.” Of the Palestinians, he said,
“Whoever accepts us can live here comfortably.”
Mr. Naamad was not fazed by the wait for a permanent home. “It is
written that redemption evolves slowly,” he said. “Like nature. Like an
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