Ulpana, shmulpana – get real!
This week, 45 years ago, Israel won the Six Day War and with it the territories.
Demonstraters outside Supreme Court for Ulpana Photo: Courtesy Chyutin Architects
This week, 45 years ago, Israel won the Six Day War and with it the
Since then, Sinai has gone back to the Egyptians, though
freedom of passage for Israeli ships through the Strait of Tiran was what
sparked the war off in the first place; we have unilaterally withdrawn from
Gaza, destroying all the Israeli settlements there, while the Golan remains in
Israeli hands, as it will for a long time to come given what’s going on in
As for the West Bank, well, 45 years later the country is still
tearing itself up over the future of Israel’s hold there, throwing away billions
in the process; losing friends around the world while we do so, and leaving the
Palestinians grinning like Cheshire cats while we destroy ourselves in the
Take this latest Ulpana charade. Admit it. If you were a
Palestinian family sitting round the dinner table tonight, assessing the week’s
press, wouldn’t you just be clapping your hands in glee? Hunger strikers
protesting against Israel’s anti-Jewish government, protest marches, violent
clashes with the police, the Supreme Court being spat at, populist Knesset
members undermining Israeli democracy, condemnations of Israel flowing in from
the US president and the State Department, more boycotts of Israeli goods
produced on the West Bank and, the cherry on the cake, another showing to the
world of just how weak, malleable, insincere and ideologically bankrupt the
Netanyahu government is, despite its massive, unprecedented majority in the
And all this, and much more, heaped upon the Jewish people and
the State of Israel because of five buildings, constructed on legally contested
land with the same type of “it will be okay” chutzpah that led to the Yarkon
Bridge disaster at the 1997 Maccabiah Games, and the collapse of a shoddily
erected lighting structure on Mount Herzl on the eve of this year’s Independence
Day celebrations, both with fatal consequences.
For the life of me I
cannot see the ideology in all this, or comprehend the public polemic that has
come about in its wake. The High Court has ordered five housing units, built
without permission on legally contested land, removed.
The case has been
in the legal system for years, every legal instance has been exploited, every
argument made. But now the High Court has ruled, and the five buildings, home to
some 30 families, duped into purchasing illegally constructed apartments in what
they thought was a suburb of Beit El, have to be destroyed or moved. That is
what the court ruled; that is what has to be done.
hundreds, if not thousands, of illegally built structures all over the country
every year. Battles have been fought against criminal groups that have grabbed
properties in the heart of Tel Aviv, needing military-type operations to get
them off land not legally theirs. There have even been instances when ministers,
members of parliament, rabbis and mayors have had illegally built structures
removed from their homes, most recently none other than Construction and Housing
Minister Ariel Attias himself.
No protests, no hunger strikes, no hype,
no threats of civil war, no abandonment of Israeli democracy and no disingenuous
use of God and country to cover the backsides of builders with no respect for
the law and civil authorities that promise that it will all be okay – hakol
yehiyeh beseder – when they are knowingly bending the rules and, for some
reason, actually believe they are above the law.
The Ulpana episode has
turned over every rotten leaf in the pile. A segment of the Knesset actually
tried to take justice out of the courts and put it into the hands of politicians
with a law that would have circumvented the court. The bill, roundly defeated on
Wednesday, was ostensibly intended to save five buildings; tomorrow the Knesset
will be used to prosecute homosexuals and trample other issues of human rights.
We all know who our politicians are, don’t we? And then the Ulpana affair
brought out government corruption and weakness at the highest levels: a massive
payoff to the settlers of hundreds of millions of shekels and a promise of
hundreds of new homes in Beit El and in other settlements in the West Bank, no
matter what the Americans said.
Well, all I can say on this all is
“ulpana, shmulpana” – the whole thing is a racket, a scam. There is nothing here
that should have ignited a national debate, justified millions in payoffs to the
settlers, led to a decision by the government to antagonize the American
administration with more settlement construction, and threatened the coalition
with a crisis.
In all this is a legal issue about five buildings on
legally contended land. I know people who have been burned buying apartments in
Motza and Malha in Jerusalem from dishonest contractors, and who were barely
able to recover their government-backed bank guarantees, let alone get the
government to spend millions of shekels and much political and diplomatic
capital on their behalf.
There is something deeply distasteful about this
whole contrived affair. What exactly were the hunger strikers striking over?
What was their point? Are they the aged who live under despicable conditions
because the state has no funds for them? Or one of 60 school children crammed
into some of Israel’s classrooms? What is the message here to others who break
the law, who build on property not legally theirs? And what message do our
parliamentarians send us when they pervert democracy and are ready to usurp
authority from the highest courts in the land? This country has lost all sense
It has lost track of what is important and what is not. We
are splitting society over marginal issues, ensuring that when real tests come
we will be weak, divided and thinking about the good old days before we went
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for
National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.