August 30, 2009

The 9th of Av’s New Tears

Posted in Judea & Samaria tagged , , at 10:40 pm by yisraelmedad

The 9th of Av’s new tears

President Obama’s policies toward Israel add fresh pain to a day of lament.

July 30, 2009

An apocryphal story is told of Napoleon Bonaparte entering a darkened synagogue and observing weeping Jews, sitting on low stools. Asking what misfortune had occurred to cause such behavior, he was informed that it was the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.

On that day, as Napoleon learned, Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the fall of the Fortress of Betar. The day, marked with a 25-hour fast and a public reading of the book of Lamentations, signifies not only the loss of Judaism’s singular holy site but the end of independent political sovereignty and the eventual expulsion, a second time, into exile.

On hearing that story, Napoleon exclaimed: “A people that cries these past 2,000 years for their land and temple will surely be rewarded.”

Today, the 9th of Av, there are many new threats to Jerusalem, including the recent diplomatic dissing of Israel by the U.S. Fortunately, the words of President Obama and other U.S. officials have served to reinforce a consensus among Israelis that Jerusalem must remain exclusively under Israeli control and that even communities of Jews living outside the former Green Line, the armistice line drawn after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, must remain a part of Israel.

A liberal Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress, recently conducted a panel discussion based on the premise that the Old City of Jerusalem is the main impediment to solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. The group’s plan recommends that Israel and a future state of Palestine appoint a third-party administrator that would run and police the city. An audience member who asked why the status quo could not be retained was informed by a panelist that that “would be too intangible.”

We have to hope Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than to upset the status quo. As longtime diplomat Dennis Ross informed us in his book, “The Missing Peace,” the only new idea Yasser Arafat raised at Camp David in 2000 was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, claiming it had been located in Nablus. Her husband, then-President Clinton, was astonished at this. Instead of “Holocaust denial” we were given “temple denial.”

U.S. policy toward Jerusalem has long tended toward the “denial” side of the equation. If an American living in Jerusalem gives birth to a child in either West Jerusalem or post-1967 East Jerusalem, for example, her progeny is not recognized by the U.S. as being born in Israel. The birth certificate and passport will list only a city name — Jerusalem — as the place of birth.

This rule follows the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, which notes: “For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank …” The “logic” for this is that Israel is considered by the United States to be “occupying” territories — including Jerusalem — whose final status must be negotiated.

As State Department spokesman Ian Kelly admitted on June 22, before being reined in, the recent Obama administration fixation on a “settlement freeze” also targets neighborhoods in East Jerusalem whose Jewish population’s “natural growth” is to be halted.

And there is more State Department trickery. Births of children of American citizens in any of the Arab towns or Jewish communities outside of Jerusalem and beyond the Green Line will have their birthplace noted, as per the above-mentioned regulations, as the “West Bank.” Is the “West Bank” a state? Is the State Department engaged in creating new states?

This is an illogical and quite unreasonable bureaucratic situation. On the one hand, the State Department has fashioned a new “state” while, on the other, it is ignoring Israel’s status in its own capital.

The “West Bank” never existed as a geopolitical entity until April 1950, when Jordan annexed the area. That annexation, incidentally, was considered by all the world — except for Britain — as an illegal occupation. Yet the U.S. has established the “West Bank,” with the stroke of a pen, as if it were a state entity.

If the U.S. insists on using boundaries dating to 1948, shouldn’t it also use the place names in use at that time? “Judea” and “Samaria” were both names written into the U.N. partition resolution. A baby born to U.S. citizens in Shiloh, for example, should therefore be registered as having been born in “Shiloh, Samaria.”

Today is a day of lament for a long-ago event seared into the collective memory of Jews the world over. But the contemporary pressures the Obama administration has brought on Israel have created another lamentable situation between the two nations. This year, the ancient fast days will also provide an outlet for contemporary frustration over issues of sovereignty, political independence and security.

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In Defense of ‘Settlements’

Posted in Judea & Samaria tagged , at 10:36 pm by yisraelmedad

Jews belong in Judea and Samaria as much as Palestinians who stayed in Israel.

June 28, 2009

No one, including a president of the United States of America, can presume to tell me, a Jew, that I cannot live in the area of my national homeland. That’s one of the main reasons my wife and I chose in 1981 to move to Shiloh, a so-called settlement less than 30 miles north of Jerusalem.

After Shiloh was founded in 1978, then-President Carter demanded of Prime Minister Menachem Begin that the village of eight families be removed. Carter, from his first meeting with Begin, pressed him to “freeze” the activity of Jews rebuilding a presence in their historic home. As his former information aide, Shmuel Katz, related, Begin said: “You, Mr. President, have in the United States a number of places with names like Bethlehem, Shiloh and Hebron, and you haven’t the right to tell prospective residents in those places that they are forbidden to live there. Just like you, I have no such right in my country. Every Jew is entitled to reside wherever he pleases.”

We now fast-forward to President Obama, who declared on June 15 in remarks at a news conference with Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that Jewish communities beyond the Green Line “in past agreements have been categorized as illegal.”

I believe the president has been misled. There can be nothing illegal about a Jew living where Judaism was born. To suggest that residency be permitted or prohibited based on race, religion or ethnic background is dangerously close to employing racist terminology.

Suppose someone suggested that Palestinian villages and towns in pre-1967 Israel were to be called “settlements” and that, to achieve a true peace, Arabs should be removed from their homes. Of course, separation or transfer of Arabs is intolerable, but why is it quite acceptable to demand that Jews be ethnically cleansed from the area? Do not Jews belong in Judea and Samaria as much as Palestinians who stayed in the state of Israel?

Some have questioned why Jews should be allowed to resettle areas in which they didn’t live in the years preceding the 1967 war, areas that were almost empty of Jews before 1948 as well. But why didn’t Jews live in the area at that time? Quite simple: They had been the victims of a three-decades-long ethnic cleansing project that started in 1920, when an Arab attack wiped out a small Jewish farm at Tel Hai in Upper Galilee and was followed by attacks in Jerusalem and, in 1921, in Jaffa and Jerusalem.

In 1929, Hebron’s centuries-old Jewish population was expelled as a result of an Arab pogrom that killed almost 70 Jews. Jews that year removed themselves from Gaza, Nablus and Jenin. The return of my family to Shiloh — and of other Jews to more than 150 other communities over the Green Line since 1967 — is not solely a throwback to claimed biblical rights. Nor is it solely to assert our right to return to areas that were Jewish-populated in the 20th century until Arab violence drove them away. We have returned under a clear fulfillment of international law. There can be no doubt as to the legality of the act of my residency in Shiloh.

I am a revenant — one who has returned after a long absence to ancestral lands. The Supreme Council of the League of Nations adopted principles following the 1920 San Remo Conference aimed at bringing about the “reconstitution” of a Jewish National Home. Article 6 of those principles reads: “The administration of Palestine … shall encourage … close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands.” That “land” was originally delineated to include all of what is today Jordan as well as all the territory west of the Jordan River.

In 1923, Britain created a new political entity, Transjordan, and suspended the right of Jews to live east of the Jordan River. But the region in which I now live was intended to be part of the Jewish National Home. Then, in a historical irony, a Saudi Arabian refugee, Abdallah, fleeing the Wahabis, was afforded the opportunity to establish an Arab kingdom where none had existed previously — only Jews. As a result, in an area where prophets and priests fashioned the most humanist and moral religion and culture on Earth, Jews are now termed “illegals.”

Many people insist that settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. But that convention does not apply to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza district. Its second clause makes it clear that it deals with the occupation of “the territory of a high contracting party.” Judea and Samaria and Gaza, which Israel gained control of in 1967, were not territories of a “high contracting party.” Jewish historical rights that the mandate had recognized were not canceled, and no new sovereign ever took over in Judea and Samaria or in Gaza.

Obama has made his objections to Israeli settlements known. But other U.S. presidents have disagreed. President Reagan’s administration issued a declaration that Israeli settlements were not illegal. Support for that position came from Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, former president of the International Court of Justice, who determined that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria did not constitute “occupation.” It also came from a leading member of Reagan’s administration, the former dean of the Yale Law School and former undersecretary of State, Eugene Rostow, who asserted that “Israel has a stronger claim to the West Bank than any other nation or would-be nation [and] the same legal right to settle the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as it has to settle Haifa or West Jerusalem.”

Any suggestions, then, of “freezing” and halting “natural growth” are themselves not only illegal but quite immoral.