In ideological terms, the difference between the center-left vision for Israel and that of the right is hardly new. It has been the same for decades. The left envisions a Palestinian state beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The right, which sees the land as Jewish by virtue of international law and heritage, embraces sovereignty to the Jordan River; or, at minimum, Israel’s incorporation of Area C of Judea and Samaria, which remains under full Israeli control. Yet something significant has shifted. This is no longer simply a matter of ideological debate because for years there has been a creeping de facto seizure of parts of Area C by Palestinian Arabs.
All Jewish settlement in Judea/Samaria is located in Area C. This region is at the heart of our ancient Jewish heritage. The Arab land grab via massive building and agricultural ventures threatens to isolate settlements and block Jewish contiguity. This process is advancing according to plans set out by former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, which seeks to establish a Palestinian state step-by-step via quiet annexation.
According to the NGO Regavim, from 2019 through 2021, Palestinian Arabs “built 5,097 new illegal structures in areas under full Israeli jurisdiction, an average of seven new illegal structures per day. These new structures joined the already staggering tally of illegal construction, for a total of 72,274 illegal structures in Area C.” Much of this building is funded by the European Union.
This has happened because Israeli governments have turned a blind eye to the reality on the ground. The Arab usurpation of land does not by definition contradict the political orientation of Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who are both two-state advocates. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is not a leftist, but during his long tenure as prime minister, he never demonstrated the fortitude necessary to buck the international community, which by and large does not look favorably upon Jewish control of the land.
The situation, however, is becoming critical. Israelis who believe in the right of Jews to possess the land have reason to be alarmed. Among these Israelis, we now see a movement emerging that is determined to turn the situation around. Founded by long-time activist Daniella Weiss and others, the movement is called Nachala.
At first glance, Nachala, which is focused on the fact that the government is not setting up new communities to block Arab encroachment, is about establishing new settlements. But in point of fact, it is a fledgling social movement. Nachala’s leaders want to alert Israelis to the current threat and encourage the electorate to ameliorate the situation by voting for the right in the upcoming November election.
Two weeks ago, a 48-hour fundraising campaign for the movement brought in roughly 5 million shekels. Three locations were then identified as sites for future settlements, one each in Judea, Binyamin and Samaria. Each site is on state land and fully vetted—they are all legally eligible to be used as a settlement. Not one is on private Arab-owned land or land that has been set aside for public use.
On Wednesday, July 20, volunteers gathered at predesignated meeting points. Young people and whole families came. They were then to be sent to the three identified sites. But the number of enthusiastic volunteers—roughly 10,000—was far greater than anticipated. Daniella Weiss said it had been many years since a response of this sort had been seen.
The decision was made to expand the project to additional sites: two in Judea (in the Kiryat Arba area), two in Binyamin (the Psagot area and the Gush Talmonim area) and two in Samaria (one near Revava and one near Bruchin). The activists came with sleeping bags and tents, hoping to stay for a day or two, possibly through Shabbat. They did not intend to remain indefinitely.
Some were under the impression that because no building supplies were brought, the actions taken were not illegal. Yet technically this was not the case, because the declared intention of the movement was to establish a future permanent settlement. Seizing upon this technicality, Defense Minister Gantz gave orders to stop the activists. IDF troops, Border Police and civilian police took action. Roads were blocked and an area around each site was declared a closed military area. Persons within those areas were told to leave. By Thursday morning all of them were gone. It was painful and heavy.
While all of this was taking place, Gantz was in the U.S. at the Aspen Security Forum. Interviewed on Thursday, he declared that he was “happy that I blocked the threat of annexation of Judea and Samaria.”
Here we see the heart of the battle that we are facing. It involves nothing less than the future of Israel.
Gantz would have us believe that he is acting to protect the rule of law, but he himself is guilty of selective enforcement of the law. While the Nachala volunteers broke the law by saying they intended to build in areas that have not been approved for construction, the Arabs have gone much further than mere intentions. They are actively and illegally building with concrete, stone and metal. The Jews were dispersed, but the Arabs are allowed to continue.
The Zionists of Nachala have had enough. They see the danger to Israel and they are determined to do something about it. They haven’t used the word civil disobedience, but it aptly describes what they are about. They are taking a stand.
Small groups are maintaining a presence at each of the six sites. They gather for afternoon prayers, or to share an evening meal. They encourage youngsters to till the land. Their leaders have put out messages indicating that they are just getting started. For them, six sites are only the beginning.
Arlene Kushner is a freelance writer, investigative journalist and author. She has written books on the PLO and Ethiopian Jews, and major reports on UNRWA. She is a co-founder of the Legal Grounds Campaign, which provides courses to law students regarding Israel’s legal rights in the Land of Israel. Her blog, focusing on political and security concerns in Israel, can be found at www.arlenefromisrael.info.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.