Israel's illegal occupation - not by Jews, but by Arabs

Simply put, the legal owners are Jews, and the illegal occupiers are Arabs. This, despite all the negative rhetoric from anti-Israel forces backed by cynical UN and European actors.

 Friday prayers at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
Friday prayers at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Herzl was a dreamer. He dreamed about an Old/New Land.

Chaim Weizmann was also a dreamer, but also a planner. He took up Herzl’s baton and turned the dream of a Jewish state into a reality.

Because of Weizmann, we have The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Because of Weizmann, we also have legitimate Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem such as Shimon HaTzadik, also known as Sheikh Jarrah.

When this Manchester chemist saved Britain – his invention of acetone turning the fate of World War I in their favor – Weizmann earned the friendship of former prime minister and foreign secretary Arthur Balfour that led to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The 1917 Declaration clearly stated that Jews needed homes in Palestine as part of their homeland. A prescient Weizmann visited Jerusalem and established the Palestine Land Development Company as early as 1907. This Zionist company bought land in the Shimon HaTzadik section of Jerusalem for the construction of residential homes and the maintenance of Jewish religious sites.

 JEWS AND Arabs clash this week in Sheikh Jarrah. (credit: (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)) JEWS AND Arabs clash this week in Sheikh Jarrah. (credit: (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES))

Prior to Weizmann, Shimon HaTzadik was recognized as Jewish territory during the Ottoman era, and Arabs referred to it as “Al-Yahudiyyah,” the Jewish place.

The area of the grave of Shimon HaTzadik was owned by an Arab until the Sephardi Jewish Committee and the Ashkenazi General Council of the Congregation of Israel jointly paid 16,000 francs in 1876 to purchase not only the holy site but also 1.75 hectares (4.32 acres) of land located nearby. The land was divided equally for the development of Jewish homes. Legally, it was registered with the Ottoman authorities by two rabbis representing the two Jewish cultural communities.

Construction of a Jewish neighborhood began in 1891, and by 1916 the area had four synagogues and a growing Jewish community.

In 1918, the Zionist Delegates Committee, headed by Weizmann, funded the renovation of the burial site of Shimon HaTzadik, a high priest during the Hellenic period who is reputed to have welcomed Alexander the Great on his visit to the Land of Israel. His shrine became a place of Jewish pilgrimage.

The area attracted notable Muslim leaders, notably the warring Husseini and Nashashibi families. The notorious al-Husseini, an ally of Hitler, grew up in a mansion located in the Sheikh Jarrah area.

When the 1948 Jordanian invasion of the nascent Jewish state reached Jerusalem, Jews were expelled from their homes both in the Old City and its surrounding neighborhoods. Jerusalem had a large Jewish majority in 1948, but the Jews of Shimon HaTzadik were replaced by the Jordanian authorities, and their homes were given to Arab families.

This area became a dangerous place as the Jordanian army approached Jerusalem. On April 13, 1948, a convoy of doctors, nurses, and medical supplies was approaching Hadassah Hospital, in a Jerusalem under siege.

A force of Arab gunmen ambushed the medical convoy, killing 76 including 23 women as it passed through Sheikh Jarrah. This Arab force was led by Abdul Kader Hussein who had earlier threatened to destroy both the hospital and Hebrew University.

Most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition and were buried in the nearby Sanhedria Cemetery in a mass grave.

The newly formed Hagana helped Jews vacate the area.

History, both ancient and modern, exposes the blatant lie of illegal Jewish occupation here. In truth, and in law, the current dispute there is about the illegal occupation of Jewish homes in Jerusalem by Arabs.

This is not a political or state issue. Simply put, in legal terms, it is a private issue between property owners and recalcitrant tenants.

In September 2020, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Arab claims to ownership after they failed to prove ownership. On the contrary: judges examined legal documents presented by the Jewish side that unequivocally proved ownership.

It must be stated that the Supreme Court does not look at these disputes through the prism of Jewish or Arab petitions but solely through the lens of the legality of claims.

Later, generous offers made by the legal owners to the Arab squatters allowing them to remain under a legal status of tenants paying a nominal rent were rejected, due in large part by pressure from the Palestinian Authority and outside malevolent NGOs urging them to remain rent-free as pawns in a political war against Israel.

Simply put, the legal owners are Jews, and the illegal occupiers are Arabs. This, despite all the negative rhetoric from anti-Israel forces backed by cynical UN and European actors.

Khan al-Ahmar is located on a barren stretch of land in Area C in the Judean part of Judea and Samaria that the outside world prefers to call the West Bank. Area C is territory that the international community mapped out in the 1993 Oslo Accords that divided the disputed territory into three sections.

Area A was decreed to be under the full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B was ruled to be under the civil administration of the PA and a joint Palestinian and Israeli security control.

Area C was to remain under both the civil and security control of Israel until a permanent peace agreement decides otherwise. But this hasn’t stopped the Palestinian Authority and European governments from playing dirty politics.

We are told that is it against international law for an entity to physically transfer populations into the territory of another country. This is despite the international community ignoring Turkey’s transfer of population into Northern Cyprus, as an example.

They are quick to accuse Israel of illegal occupation in Area C despite Oslo, while they are complicit in doing exactly that on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Khan al-Ahmar is a perfect example.

The Palestinian Authority has moved Bedouin families from areas under their control in Area A and placed them in Area C. These families have properties in other areas, but the PA incentivized them to move into temporary homes alongside the highway that runs from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea.

Regavim is an Israeli NGO that monitors and pursues legal action in the Israeli court system against illegal construction undertaken by Palestinians and others in territories under Israeli control and jurisdiction.

As part of Regavim’s actions to prevent illegal seizure of state land, and to protect the rule of law pertaining to land use in territory under Israel’s jurisdiction, they have documented the developing sprawl of Khan al-Ahmar for decades.

After producing evidence of illegal activity by both the Palestinian Authority and the European Union, it demanded that the Israeli government rectify the growing problem rather than kicking the can down the road. Or, in Regavim’s words, “Compromise attempts by the government have become uncompromising contempt by the PA and the EU.”

This desert area has no electricity or water supply. It was designated as a closed military training area by Israel. Yet the PA, with the active support of the EU and individual European governments, transfer people to land not under their control, import makeshift homes and structures, and install solar panels. European logos appear everywhere.

This is a blatant infringement of their Oslo Accord obligations. Their actions in Area C do nothing to further peace. On the contrary – the Europeans are abetting the continuation of the conflict by encouraging illegality and the active discouragement of any permanent solution with Israel by their participation in this illegal occupation.

You can’t decide to go into a nature reserve and bring in strangers, build prefab homes, and dump them there. This is precisely what the EU is doing at Khan al-Ahmar.

This is clearly counterproductive to peace. And who is to say that any permanent peace agreement will be based on a two-state solution. Perhaps it will be based on Israelis and Palestinians living in neighboring districts in respect and peace but voting for their own legislature. Or maybe a permanent solution would have Israel controlling the high ground and the main transportation arteries for essential security reasons, born out of a painful history of distrust in Palestinian intentions, Khan al-Ahmar being an example.

Or perhaps Hamas will grab power – and where will Israel then be after Europe has usurped land against the spirit of Oslo, and the highway to Jerusalem is controlled by a malevolent enemy based in Khan al-Ahmar and other illegal PA settlements?

It must be said. The Israeli government has been derelict for far too long in not developing the Negev. With a burgeoning population and the need for vacant land to drive Israel’s future, the Negev has become an urgent national project.

David Ben-Gurion was a visionary, decades ahead of his time. He loved the Negev, spending his final years on Kibbutz Sde Boker where he is buried.

He saw Israel’s future in this barren landscape.

“It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel will be tested, and this will be a crucial test,” he said in a 1955 speech on “The Significance of the Negev.” “Israel’s capacity for science and research will be tested in the Negev, and it is incumbent upon our scientists and researchers to focus on new areas of research... to exploit solar energy, which is so abundant in our country, and especially in the Negev.”

Under his vision, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was established in 1969 to serve as an engine for the development of the Negev region.

The Negev constitutes fully 60% of Israel’s landmass, yet it is only inhabited by 8% of the population of Israel, according to the JNF.

The master plan intends to draw an initial 500,000 Israelis to the area with the magnet of innovation and technology, including clean science agricultural projects.

Blocking progress is the massive sprawl of Bedouin settlements that has spread unchecked across a massive landscape.

After the 1948 war, it was estimated there were less than 20,000 Bedouin. This number ballooned to 200,000 as other Bedouin migrated into the Negev. In the 1960s, Israel planned seven new towns and 11 villages exclusively for the Bedouin. But thousands refused Israel’s offers and spread themselves across the landscape setting up private encampments on land not theirs.

This unbridled illegal occupation has become a major problem. Their Negev sprawl is out of control, and with it has come lawlessness. Not only do they drive unlicensed, they also have unlicensed weapons. Many people, Arab and Jew, have been killed by both.

Israeli efforts to solve the problem have been met with wild accusations by activists who are preventing Israel’s government from achieving any meaningful fulfillment of Ben-Gurion’s dream due to thousands of Bedouin squatting on land not theirs. These Bedouin have become a political and religious pawn in the battle against Israel.

Some now brand Bedouin Arabs as “Palestinians,” in further efforts to create an emotion-laden case against Israel. Some are even calling them “settlers,” a negative word when applied to Jews, but a positive one when applied to Arabs.

This illegal occupation is keeping the future of Israel hostage. It is also killing Ben-Gurion’s dream. ■

The writer is director of International Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.