On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Ortal Gavra prayed for an end to the settlement freeze. “I actually pray for this every day, but I did so especially now,” said the mother of two from Tekoa.
She is one of an estimated 2,066 home owners throughout Judea and Samaria who as of yet have no idea if they can begin building when the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction expires on September 26.
“We are waiting. We still do not know what will happen,” said Gavra, who
like most settlers has paid little attention to the pledges by Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and countless ministers that the government
would keep to its word and allow building to resume on that day. Instead
they fear that at the last second he will renege on his word.
“We still have time until the deadline and we are aware that the
American administration is putting pressure on Netanyahu to extend the
moratorium,” said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish
Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
For settlers and right-wing activists, this period in which the end of
the most sweeping crackdown on Jewish West Bank construction in the
history of the settlement movement approaches, has taken on an
atmosphere which they said was akin to the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur,
after which their fate is sealed.
“Like Ne’ila, these are crucial days for the future of Israel. It is not
about Judea and Samaria, it is about the very existence of the state.
We have a short period of time in which we have to do everything in our
power to strengthen our prime minister against the unfair and
unprecedented pressures coming from President [Barack] Obama,” said
council director-general Naftali Bennett.
During the last 10 months, construction has continued on some 3,000
homes which were already being built when the moratorium was imposed. As
a result the number of finished units in Judea and Samaria, on average
2,000 a year, has continued as normal.
But settlers and right-wing activists have kept their eye on the sudden
drop in new housing starts to almost zero, based on numbers from the
Central Bureau of Statistics, with an understanding that if the
moratorium were to continue, eventually the Palestinians would have been
given the one thing they most want – a complete halt to settlement
THE FACT THAT the moratorium takes place against the backdrop of the
renewal this month of the first direct talks between Israel and the
Palestinians, since negotiations for a two-state solution broke down in
December 2008, has only further deepened the settlers’ sense that their
very fate hangs in the balance.
At present, Dayan said, “100 percent of our time is dedicated to doing
everything possible to prevent the extension of the moratorium.”
Most of that battle has focused on a stiff political campaign within the
Likud, and has included ads, a website, phone calls and petitions, said
Dayan. Eleven Likud ministers, the Knesset speaker and Likud MKs have
all made public statements against extending the moratorium.
Dayan cautiously said he was hopeful that the atmosphere generated by
the lobbying efforts has made it “unfeasible” to extend the moratorium.
But he is aware that the end of the moratorium is only part of the
problem and hardly solves the larger issues about the future of the
Should the moratorium end, the battle for Judea and Samaria is hardly
over, said Dayan. For months settlers have feared that Netanyahu would
institute a de facto moratorium, in which it would appear that
construction would be renewed, but in reality construction would still
Settlers believe that short of extending the moratorium, little can be
done to stop new construction by settlers who have a permit in hand or
who need only the signature of their municipalities or local and or
regional council offices, all of which are run by settlers.
The exact amount of that potential construction is unknown. But last
week Peace Now, which monitors settlement construction, published a
report in which it estimated that 2,066 units in the settlements could
be begun immediately because all their necessary permits had already
Separately, it estimated that 11,000 units, which already had the
approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the cabinet, could be built
once local permits were obtained.
But even Peace Now noted that this did not mean that settlers could race
to get the permits and then begin an unprecedented wave of
construction, partially because many of these projects exist in
settlements which have grown only very slowly over the years, while
other settlements close to the Green Line, such as Ma’aleh Adumim and
Betar Illit, are almost out of permits.
These settlements have enough permitted units so that their growth will
continue to be consistent for the coming year. After that, without the
active approval of new projects by the cabinet and the Defense Ministry,
settlement construction will have to slow down or shift away from the
If the moratorium ends, said Dayan, then the next phase of the battle is
to pressure the government and Barak to publish new construction
tenders in communities that lack them.
“We expect that these tenders will be published in a reasonable time,”
said Dayan. He added that failure to publish them means that there is a
de facto freeze in place.
It is the lack of clarity from Netanyahu and his government which is
most frustrating and harmful, said Alfei Menashe Local Council head
Eliezer Hisdai, who also fears a de facto freeze.
No one knows if they can build on the 26th, said Hisdai, who added that
he had just gotten off the phone with one resident of his community
whose home had been frozen. “She was in tears and I did not know what to
tell her except to wait for a few more days,” he said.
Netanyahu should either extend the moratorium or end it in a clear way by authorizing more construction, said Hisdai.
His settlement of 6,600 people, located 2.8 kilometers from the pre-
1967 line, is among those that need government approval before they can
build. In 2008, the population of his settlement grew by 7.6 percent,
more than five times as much as the 1.8% population growth countrywide
The freeze put a halt to the construction of 20 homes, but after that, Hisdai said, there are no more approved.
INDECISION on the issue of settlement construction has not helped
Netanyahu diplomatically or internally, said Hisdai. No one is happy,
not the Americans, not the Palestinians, not the international
community, not the settlers and not the members of his own party.
It would be worth it if he helped “save the Land of Israel,” but in fact, it seems the opposite has happened, he said.
The lack of construction has crated financial hardship for the owners of
the lots, who are still liable for payments on loans, rental contracts
and fees due to contractors.
It has also meant a financial loss for local governments, said Hisdai,
who estimated that in the last 10 months his council lost NIS 5 million
For Gavra, 26, who received a permit to build in Tekoa on November 24,
two days before the moratorium was imposed, it has meant that she still
has to pay municipal and property taxes on the lot, extend her rental
contract and even pay the contractor who at one point threatened to sue
her and her husband.
In the interim, she has participated in a number of protests and has
appealed the decision to freeze her lot. With only a few days left until
the moratorium expires, she has yet to receive a final answer as to
whether or not her home was exempt.
In Barkan, Kobi Kalabrino and his wife Mali said that ending the freeze
is the only way they can move their family out of the 48-square-meter
caravan which has become their home.
As the couple spoke, they sat at a table set up outside because they
could not fit it into their narrow, three-room caravan. Other items set
up outside for lack of space included a second refrigerator and a
The large metal bars of a Defense Ministry tower for cellular signals
loomed above them. Teenagers shot hoops or rode skateboards in the
basketball and tennis court located just a few meters outside their
front door. Access to their temporary abode can only be gained by
walking through the court.
The couple joked that they have come full circle, because they met as
teenagers on a soccer field. Kobi was hanging out with friends; Mali was
They were married in 1988 and for years they lived with their three
children in Mazkeret Batya near Rehovot. For ideological reasons, four
years ago they built a 300-sq.m.
home in Barkan. “We do not see this as occupied territory,” said Kobi.
But they sold the home last year and bought a smaller plot so they could
pay off a debt they owed the bank after a friend failed to repay a loan
on which they had co-signed.
“No one spoke of a freeze. We had drawn up all our plans; we paid everything; we had all our authorizations,” Kobi said.
On November 16 they received their final permits, but the Defense
Ministry said they had to wait until December to dig their foundation to
give the IDF time to move the cell tower to its present location.
Ten days later, they heard about the freeze on the news. By then their
personal die was already cast because they could not renege on the
contract in which they agreed to leave their old home in June, by when
they had expected their new one would be finished.
They could not find any place to rent in Barkan, nor did they want to
leave temporarily. Desperate for a roof over their heads, they came to
an agreement with the council by which they would pay to renovate a
dilapidated caravan. “There was no choice. There was no place else to
live,” Kobi said.
On their computer they have before and after photographs. They put most
of their furniture in storage and crammed everyone into three rooms.
Mali showed how there is a double bed and a mattress behind the bed that is pulled out at night.
Their two girls are in the army and their son is in a pre-military academy.
“We have given to the state and we will continue to give,” said Kobi,
who worked for 24 years in the Prisons Service. He now works for a
security company, and his wife for a car rental company.
They estimate they have already sunk NIS 500,000 into their new home, a sum they now fear they will lose if they cannot build.
“What is hard,” said Kobi, “is the impact on the children. They are ashamed to bring friends home.”
Still, he said, “we were a strong family before and we remain a strong family.”
The moment the moratorium ends, Kobi said, he plans to build as quickly
as possible. “We will even sleep at the site if we need to,” he said.