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 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Chyutin Architects)
Demonstraters outside Supreme Court for Ulpana 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Chyutin Architects)
This week, 45 years ago, Israel won the Six Day War and with it the territories.
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for Israeli ships through the Strait of Tiran was what sparked the war off in the first place; we have unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza, destroying all the Israeli settlements there, while the Golan remains in Israeli hands, as it will for a long time to come given what’s going on in Syria.
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 process.
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 Knesset.
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.
Municipalities destroy 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 of proportion.
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 astray.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.