Amid all the challenges Israel is facing—the Iran nuclear threat; the presence of Iranian-backed forces and Hezbollah troops along Israel’s northern border; rioters and arsonists along the Gaza border; and Palestinians in the West Bank constantly inciting against Israel and paying terrorists millions of dollars each to kill Jews in a sophisticated “pay-to-slay” stipend scheme—the last thing Israel needs is to pour fuel on the fire of an international community that questions Jews’ rights to live in the only region of the world named Judea.
Today, Israeli Defense Forces and border troops are forcibly evacuating 15 families from their homes in what is being touted as an “outpost demolition” by media, including Israel-based Jewish media such as The Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.
Netiv Ha’avot is not an outpost. It is merely the next street in a large community of more than 2,500 residents. The 15 homes being demolished are not caravans, but rather suburban-style houses that were built in the neighborhood established in 2001. The demolitions come at the order of Israel’s High Court, following petitions by New Israel Fund-funded non-governmental organizations. The court ruled that the homes were built on private Palestinian land, according to land records established by Jordan, when Israel’s eastern Arab neighbor illegally occupied the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.
During that period, much of the land in the West Bank was handed out to local chieftains of the small Palestinian population that was present during that period.
Though only two countries—Great Britain and Pakistan—recognized Jordanian control of the West Bank during that 19-year period between Israel’s War of Independence and Six-Day War, and Israel signed an international peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 officially ending any Jordanian claims to the territory, Israel still honors the Jordanian land records.
Much of the land on which Jews live in the biblical regions of Judea and Samaria carry the same designation as the homes being demolished in Netiv Ha’avot. And in virtually every case that is brought before the court, Israel’s top judicial body rules that the only solution to the property dispute is demolition.
Furthermore, in the case of Netiv Ha’avot, the High Court ruled that in some cases, only part of the homes were built on private Palestinian land, meaning that the land dispute is over barely a few meters.
Commenting on the demolitions, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotevely tweeted Tuesday, “The destruction of the homes at Netiv Ha’avot is a dark stain on the Israeli justice system. No justice has been done here, only injustice. The Israeli government will build a large neighborhood to replace the homes the High Court is demolishing, but the disgrace and pain will remain.”
Demolishing the homes does not return the property to Palestinian owners. In many demolitions, such as those in the Jewish communities of Beit El, Ofra and now Elazar, the demolished homes were all within the security perimeters of large Jewish communities. In cases of entire community demolitions, like the northern Samaria communities of Homesh and Sa Nur, which were curiously attached to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan in 2005; and small caravan community demolitions like Migron in 2012 and Amona earlier this year, the evacuated properties became closed military zones.
In other words, the houses get demolished, but Arabs are not granted any access to the territory. And in each of the cases, most of the evacuated Jewish residents were resettled, either within the very same communities or in new communities constructed in the West Bank. In the most recent cases, the government, which opposes the Supreme Court rulings while admitting it has no choice but to adhere to them, has given generous compensation to the expelled communities and has pledged to build thousands of new units to bolster local settlements.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told community members on Monday, “Tomorrow [Tuesday], there will be a completely unnecessary eviction. It is the product of a terrible mistake. It started with the erroneous answer provided by the state several years ago and its culmination is the High Court’s wrong answer now. From these ruins, we will rise and build.”
Until now, the government can do little to curtail the powers of the court that rules not on the basis of a constitution, but on their own self-selected set of morals.
A new Supreme Court “override bill” has now been proposed, which would give a legislative majority the opportunity to undue rulings by a court that has sweeping powers to determine and cancel Israeli laws. A similar law is being proposed in the Knesset to retroactively legalize buildings that the Supreme Court would otherwise rule should be destroyed. Of course, in both cases, the court will act to prevent or overturn such legislation.
Until such changes to the power of the court are made, demolitions like today’s are likely to continue.
Gush Etzion Municipal Head Shlomo Ne’eman told JNS that “there is no justice or meaning in this destruction. It doesn’t represent the values of the State of Israel.”
The evacuations and demolitions, while painful to the nation, have not diminished the spirit or the size of the Jewish settlement enterprise. While some residents of Judea and Samaria move to the territories on purely ideological grounds, most enjoy the affordable, suburban lifestyle, with sprawling parks, high-quality schools and close proximity to large Israeli population centers. Elazar is merely a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem.
Tens of thousands of Americans live in settlements, with particularly large numbers of English speakers living in Elazar and in the neighboring communities of Efrat, Neve Daniel and Alon Shevut within the large Gush Etzion settlement block.
A recent West bank population survey, published by Yaakov “Ketzale Katz,” former Knesset Member and chairman of the right-wing national Union Party, the total number of Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria is 435,159, representing a 3.39 percent growth in 2017 and 21.4 percent growth in the last five years. The rapid Jewish population growth–the fastest of any region in Israel–has much to do with the relatively high birthrates of families, many of whose children seek to live near to their parents, and the lower costs of housing relative to nearby cities.
Josh Hasten, a resident of Elazar, and an English-speaking spokesperson for the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood, told JNS that “once again Jews in the Land of Israel are unjustly being evicted from their homes on the order of the High Court. Instead of coming up with a creative solution the Court simply rules that the homes should be destroyed.”
“We’re talking about a dispute over a few meters on these homes,” added Hasten. “So what we have here is extremist NGOs like Peace Now and others who appeal to the courts because their goal is tragically to make others Jews in Israel suffer because of their geography. Nobody wins here.”
“In the end, this neighborhood will be fully recognized by the government and more homes will be built here in Gush Etzion, so in the long term Peace Now’s actions will have the opposite effect of their goals.”
Meanwhile, members of the international community will be celebrating the demolitions, which further weaken Israel’s standing within that community. Each time a demolition takes place, it creates more pressure on Israel to withdraw from territories.
As can plainly be seen from the withdrawal and expulsion of 8,000 Jewish residents from the large Gush Katif settlement block in what is today Palestinian Gaza, the withdrawal did Jerusalem, not lead towards peaceful coexistence. To the contrary, the economic situation of Gazans diminished as employment opportunities within the Jewish communities disappeared, Hamas took over security control in areas vacated by the IDF, and thousands of rockets were fired at Israel.
Gazan residents who have been trying to breach the border with Israel, are doing so in part, because the quality of life on the Jewish side of the border is exponentially higher than on the now Judenrein, Palestinian side of the border. Radical Palestinians and members of the international community who seek for Israel to continue withdrawing from territories now want to make the region of Judea, home to Netiv Ha’avot, Judenrein as well.
The best-case scenario is that the demolitions in Netiv Ha’avot will have little to no effect on Israel moving forward. In the worst-case scenario, the evacuations will drive peace further away.
Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.