(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Today’s Gush Etzion is more than 30 times the size of historic Gush Etzion in 1948. American children all learn the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.” In 1836 white colonists began settling in northern Mexico. They finally drove the Mexican army out, but the army returned and slaughtered all the whites in the Alamo Mission, refusing to even take prisoners. A white army returned, infuriated by the slaughter of the heroes of the Alamo. With their call for revenge and cries of “Remember the Alamo,” they beat back the Mexicans and subsequently annexed all of northern Mexico, which became the state of Texas, the largest state in the contiguous United States.
Israeli children do not learn of the Alamo, but have their own heroes to remember. In the 1940s four kibbutzim (Kfar Etzion, Masuot Yitzhak, Revadim and Ein Tzurim) were established southwest of Bethlehem, in an area later designated for the Palestinian state by the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
It turned out that their location was excellent for intercepting Arab military traffic between Hebron and Jerusalem, so the Haganah and Palmach sent troops and supplies to fight the Arab traffic in the last days of the British Mandate. The Jews lost three important battles, whose heroes (the Lamed-Heh, the Nabi Daniel convoy and the defenders of Gush Etzion) are part of the Israeli pantheon. David Ben-Gurion stated, “I can think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces which was more magnificent, more tragic or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion.” (“Gush” in Hebrew means “Bloc”).Keep up to date on the latest opinion pieces on our new Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
While there was debate in 1967 whether to settle in the West Bank, resettling Gush Etzion was viewed by many Jews as a special case. On September 27, 1967, Kfar Etzion became the first Jewish settlement in the West Bank, set up on its 1948 ruins. At this point it became apparent that using the name “Gush Etzion” helped overcome Israeli hesitations to settle in the occupied West Bank.
This, however, led to the misleading attaching of the name “Gush Etzion” to areas that had no connection to the original group of kibbutzim, a masquerade that was officially endorsed by the Israeli government in 1980, when the regional council of Gush Etzion was declared by the Israeli military commander of the West Bank. From then on, every new settlement between Jerusalem and the suburbs of Hebron would be referred to as part of Gush Etzion. Today’s Gush Etzion is more than 30 times the size of Gush Etzion in 1948.
An additional fraud was introduced on a national scale.
Legalistic arrangements were made in order to allow Israel to nationalize privately owned Palestinian land. This land was termed “state land” and was turned over to Jewish settlers to develop. Although denounced internationally as an illegal use of occupied Palestinian territory, this legal guile was accepted by the Israeli High Court, which gave the green light to building settlements on these “state lands.” Within this newly artificially expanded and inflated Gush Etzion, tens of thousands of dunams were declared state land, and were subsequently used to establish tens of new settlements surrounding Bethlehem.
This crawling land grab continued also during 2014, when 5,000 dunams (approx. 1,200 acres) south and west of Bethlehem were declared (in April and August) state land, in order to create an Israeli axis connecting the eastern settlements of Gush Etzion to the Green Line. For example, in the 1,700- dunam area south of Bethlehem, called E2 (Nahla), Israel plans to build a new settlement for 10,000 settlers. Israel is using the dual frauds of declaring this private Palestinian land state land and pretending that it is part of Gush Etzion to give an aura of legitimacy to what is in fact one more illegal settlement.
Elections in Israel are a time when politicians of all stripes, from Labor to Likud, declare their loyalty to the “settlement blocs,” and specifically to Gush Etzion. It is time to stop cooperating with Israeli propaganda, which tries to bestow upon every settlement falsely labeled Gush Etzion the aura of the original Gush Etzion, as though it were more legitimate than all the other illegal settlements.
Hillel Bardin is an activist in Combatants for Peace (Jerusalem- Bethlehem group), specializing in the problem of E2 (Nahla).
Dror Etkes follows Israel’s land and settlement policy in the West Bank.