A Knesset debate Wednesday about settler building on private Palestinian property quickly disintegrated into a mudslinging fest.
“You stole Arab land,” MK Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) charged as he spared with right-wing politicians during a heated meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law. In contrast, he called himself “a man who sought peace.”
“You aren’t seeking peace,” retorted MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi). “You want to murder Jews.”
The committee had convened to explore legal options to authorize the Amona outpost, which is located on private Palestinian property.
The meeting soon became little more than a shouting match, about the larger issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To keep peace, committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) was briefly expelled the verbal combatants from the room.
Sa’adi warned that retroactive legalization of settler building on private Palestinian property would put Israel on a collision course with other nations.
“You’re trying to implement a policy that will ensure continued confrontation with the international community that considers settlements to be contrary to international law,” Sa’adi said.
Moalem-Refaeli was not phased by his accusation. “My world outlook is to [annex] impose full Israeli law on the settlements in Judea and Samaria.”
Sa’adi told her that with that attitude she was dooming Israelis and Palestinians to a life of perpetual conflict.
“If you continue to support the annexation of all the occupied territories, the conflict will continue for many years and the two peoples will pay the price for that in blood. “The majority, even of the Jewish public, does not support your solution. The only solution is to evacuate all the settlements in the occupied territories and to create a Palestinian state,” he said.
“You just want to throw us into the sea,” charged Moalem-Refaeli.
“You don’t recognize the rights of the Palestinian people,” Sa’adi replied.
Slomiansky interjected that after 2,000 years of exile the Jewish people returned to its homeland. “This was our home 1,000 years before the prophet Muhammad was born. So how can you claim that we stole the land?” The question did little to subdue tempers.
MK Amir Ohana [Likud] said, “When you dig up the earth in the Land of Israel, you find shards from the Jewish Temple and not from Palestinian homes.”
Slomiansky said, “I support two states for two peoples, one state from the sea to the Jordan [River] and another state from the Jordan eastward. But we don’t want to steal property that belongs to someone else,” which he labeled a principled point that reflects both his world view and the dictates of Jewish law.
Objections to retroactively legalizing homes built on private Palestinian land come from left-wing organizations that “lustL to destroy settler homes, Slomiansky charged. He said the obvious solution is to compensate Palestinian landowners, either with money or alternative property.
MK Nurit Koren (Likud) said that if Amona was located in Tel Aviv or Herzliya, a compensation option would be used and the homes would not be destroyed.
Yariv Oppenheimer, former executive director of Peace Now, attended the meeting and said taking Palestinian land is “illegal and immoral.”
Koren shot back, “Our morality is no less than yours.”
Amona was constructed 21 years ago on property owned by Palestinians at the outskirts of the Ofra settlement with a NIS 2.1m. grant from the Ministry of Housing and Construction. A High Court of Justice ruling that the outpost must be razed by the end of December has the settlement lobby scrambling to find a resolution.
The latest tactic being considered is to use an existing clause in the Abandoned Property Law which would allow the government to seize private Palestinian property next to the outpost’s existing location. Under that scenario, the 40 families living in the hilltop community would then be relocated to the seized property.
By the end of the month Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to rule on the matter.
Oppenheimer voiced his objection to any land seizure. He told the committee that such a move would be tantamount to stealing. Peace Now, he said, initially filed a petition to the High Court of Justice on Amona, out of a desire to force the government to hold to proper and moral legal norms when it came to property rights in the West Bank.
“When the government decides to create a settlement on land that belongs to someone else there is no choice but to turn to the court,” he said.
“Imagine that tomorrow morning you woke up in your home, looked out the window and saw a tent with settlers in it and a sign that said, ‘This is the Land of Israel and this belongs to us.’ Would you agree to this?” It is a basic obligation of the state to ensure that people can defend their property, he said.
“We expected that at least some of the right-wing politicians, who identify with the right, who wear a kippa, would take a stand against land theft.” Instead, he said, right-wing politicians are “trying to resolve one sin with another. It can’t be done. You cannot use abandoned property for the creation of a permanent settlement.”