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June 6, 2005 - Vol. 6, Issue 45

Israel TV aired a high-profile documentary series on the settlements. "The breath becomes short, the heart is choked with anger..." wrote a reviewer.

LAND OF THE LOST: Last week, Israel's Channel Two television station began airing a high-profile documentary series on the settlements called, "The Land of the Settlers," which was made by veteran Israeli journalist Haim Yavin. Reflecting on the program, television reviewer Raanan Shaked wrote, in part, "The breath becomes short, the heart is choked with anger. This is the only human response to 'The Land of the Settlers.' No, there is actually another reasonable reaction: After watching 'The Land of the Settlers,' every caring Israeli, every humane Israeli, should get up next Saturday, go to the settlement nearest to his place of residence, and drag its inhabitants, kicking and screaming, across the road to the side of sanity. This is what comes out of 'The Land of the Settlers,' the personal territories journal of Haim Yavin, who reaches an impressive professional peak here as a documentary journalist. Although it may not be new on an informative level, 'The Land of the Settlers' will astound you, mainly by placing on the screen, over the course of many hours, the hard core of the shameful insanity of the settlers in the territories, along with the tacit approval of the Israeli governments, along with the helplessness of the army.

"In principle, it could also have been called 'The Land of the Brutal Oppressors.' Just look at Avi Rontzer, rabbi of the settlement Itamar, standing on the free side of the Palestinians' roadblock, looking at the dozens of men, women, and children imprisoned between the fences-all with the bowed look of refugees-and speaking about them with arrogance, mastery, racism ('they have no rights'). Just look at the settlers of Migron, with twisted faces and insensitive ('after we reach an understanding, Mohammed will make coffee for both of us')-white racists like all the white racists around the world. Just look at Elyakim Haetzni, at Daniela Weiss, at Elisheva Federman-people whose violence and natural obtuseness, under the auspices of the Israeli governments, have turned the Arab population of Hebron, for example, into less than people, into dust (Elisheva Federman indeed calls them 'subhuman' and proposes 'to kill them').

"It is argued that Yavin came to the territories as a leftist. Far from it. Yavin came to the territories as a yekke [a punctilious German Jew], a kind of middle-of-the-road consensual Israeli voice, whose careful presence in the series helps you put trust in it; with Yavin you feel in fair hands. He gives the settlers almost unlimited room to speak, and the latter outline their incriminating portrait of themselves; obtuse fanatics who maintain a tenuous connection with reality, addicted to the pornography of stones, people who will not rest until one of these sacred rocks is placed on their face.

"Yavin takes care to perform the accepted dance on both sides of the fence-the bus bombings and Shalhevet Pas are also represented-but it is perhaps his conversations with impartial soldiers that are the most troubling. The indifferent soldier who says 'I just follow orders,' and conversely the soldier in Hebron who dares to say, in the second episode: 'We have set up a slave camp here. We are committing crimes here.' And Yavin's camera indeed documents the de facto transfer, the chokehold that the settlers are tightening around the Arabs of Hebron, until the latter are left with no life, barely with food-not in their homes, not in their streets. 'The Land of the Settlers' is a confrontational and very personal series. Yavin confronts everyone-including the activists of Ta'ayush-representing the simple voice of reason. The result on the screen is very emotional, and the impact is great. Yavin plunges with you, from the first moment, into the anger and the loathing, into the open wound. From [this] standpoint, 'The Land of the Settlers' is apparently the most important, comprehensive, and significant introduction that television in Israel will give to the disengagement event..." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 6/1/05)

DRINK TWO RED BULLS AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING: Senior advisor to the prime minister Dov Weisglass said last week that Israel would not begin the evacuation of illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank until after the disengagement plan is carried out. Speaking at Tel Aviv University, he said that in the present volatile climate, with explosive fumes wafting in the air, attempts to clear illegal outposts could lead Israel into a "difficult situation." There is a limit to the traumas that one government, one army, and one police force can undertake at the same time, he said.

[Mind you, if the Israeli government had been enforcing its own laws all along, the illegal outposts would not exist. The report released several months ago by Talia Sasson spells out how the government has systematically violated the law in helping build the outposts and in ignoring violations by the settlers. Further, under the Road Map, Israel is obligated to immediately remove outposts established since March 2001, but has yet to do so.] "We promised the U.S. government to get rid of the illegal outposts, and we stand behind our obligations," said Weisglass. In response to Weisglass' comments, the Israeli Peace Now movement said, "Weisglass should present the public with an exact schedule for the evacuation of outposts, just as was done with the disengagement plan. The fact that there is no set date makes it hard to believe Sharon's office on this subject."

Although the government doesn't have the energy to enforce the law regarding outposts, it seems to have sufficient zip to expand veteran settlements, again in violation of the Road Map, which calls for a freeze on settlement activity. The Israel Lands Authority issued a tender last Thursday for building 22 new settlement housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. Peace Now called the tender a "gross violation" of Israeli commitments to freeze settlement construction. "Sharon is asking the Palestinians to carry out their part of the Road Map," said a Peace Now spokesperson, referring to a crackdown on terrorists. "If we want to see progress, both sides should (carry out their commitments)." (Jerusalem Post, Ynet, Ha'aretz, DPA, & Independent Online, 6/2/05)

SHARON THE YOUNGER MAKES PILGRIMAGE TO ILLEGAL OUTPOST: Knesset Member Omri Sharon, the prime minister's son, recently made a secret visit to one of the illegal settlement outposts in the occupied territories, accompanied by the settlers' leader Zeev "Zambish" Hever. The two, joined by Zambish's wife, drove to the Bnei Adam outpost in the Binyamin district. Did the Israeli lawmaker inform the settlers that his father's government was determined to enforce the law and uphold the standards of democracy? No. The settlers said Sharon expressed optimism about the chances that the illegal outpost would not be evacuated. Political sources said this is further evidence that contacts for the legalization of the outposts are continuing parallel to progress towards implementing the disengagement plan. (Israel Army Radio Web Site, 5/30/05)

THE MORNING AFTER DRILL: The Palestinians are not sitting on their hands, just waiting for Israel to implement its disengagement plan. At least as far as plans for the day after disengagement are concerned, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is working very energetically, according to a secret document prepared by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The document indicates that the PA plans to declare all the settlements in Gaza after withdrawal a closed military zone in order to prevent swarms of people from descending on the area and looting. This declaration is also meant to give time to PA appraisers to go to the area and evaluate the value of the property in the settlements. In addition, the PA plans to embark soon on an extensive media campaign to prepare the Palestinian public in Gaza for disengagement and to call on it to avoid disturbances and going to the areas being evacuated.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this document, which sums up a series of meetings that official Israeli figures held with their Palestinian counterparts, is the first outline of a Palestinian plan on how to use the area evacuated. The Palestinian plan calls for the Israeli settlements in the northern Gaza Strip to become a new and large industrial zone that will link up in the future with the Erez industrial zone. Netzarim in central Gaza will be turned into the main warehouse area for the Gaza port. For Kfar Darom, the Palestinians plan to dismantle all the houses and other structures and turn the area into an agricultural zone or, alternatively, an industrial zone. In Rafah, the Palestinians plan to establish a free trade zone to encourage commercial ties with Egypt. However, this depends on Israel withdrawing from Philadelphi Road.

In contrast to these changes, the Gush Katif settlements will remain as they are-and will be upgraded for tourism purposes. Hotels will be built in the area of Gush Katif, under the responsibility of Minister for Civic Affairs Mohammed Dahlan, which will capitalize on the beach area, the lake, and the animal reserve there. In addition, the possibility is being examined of having a Club Med there, along with a large medical center. Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala has established a ministerial committee to handle coordination on disengagement in terms of real estate assets, infrastructure, transfer of property, crossings, safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and legal matters.

The Palestinians also have a number of demands from Israel. Among others, they demand a withdrawal to the 1967 lines, approval for opening the airport at Dahaniya and to begin building a sea port, and operating the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians notified Israel that they prefer to postpone plans for a railway between Gaza and the West Bank, and also reject the idea of a helicopter service. In the northern West Bank, they demand that they have access to the other parts the West Bank. The Palestinians still have a number of questions, like what will happen to the settlers' houses and the 4,000 hothouses in the Gaza Strip, which they want handed over to them as established businesses. PA representatives have also asked to receive the complete timetable for implementing disengagement, but in this regard, it seems there is nobody in Israel who can provide them with unequivocal answers. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/31/05)

BARE KNUCKLE BRAWLING: The Palestinian Interior Ministry announced it will recruit 5,000 security personnel in the coming weeks for the various security forces in Gaza and the West Bank. The recruits will undergo a quick 45 day training program and will be used to secure areas in Gaza to be evacuated by Israel under the disengagement plan. Their mission will be even more challenging because they will be unarmed, owing to Israeli restrictions on the number of weapons Palestinian security forces can carry. Palestinian sources said that upon entering his post, Interior Minister Nasser Yussef found that only 1,000 to 2,000 of the some 20,000 officers serving in the national security force are fit for active service. The recruitment of young officers between the ages of 18 and 22 is meant to complement the retirement of other officers and to boost Yussef's power, although it will be a relatively long time before recruits reach an optimal level of operational abilities.

On a related note, President George W. Bush has promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that if the Palestinian Authority meets its security commitments under the Road Map, including undertaking to disarm militants, the U.S. will demand that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantle all the illegal outposts immediately after disengagement. The U.S. is refraining from pressuring Sharon with regard to settlements out of concern that such a move would politically hamper his efforts to implement the pullout. [However, according to the Road Map, Palestinian and Israeli obligations are to be carried out in parallel unless otherwise specified.]

Abbas reportedly told Bush that he has no intentions of denying Hamas the right to run in the upcoming Palestinian elections, but is prepared to take immediate military action against any element planning acts of violence against Israel. Abbas added that such action against militants was possible only if Israel dropped its objection to supplying arms and other essential equipment to the Palestinian security services. Israel charges that the Palestinians aren't using the means already at their disposal, and the problem is that the Palestinians are not willing to confront militants responsible for attacking Israeli targets. (Ha'aretz, 5/29/05)

THE FULL NEST SYNDROME: It will take Palestinians living in Gaza and the northern West Bank a little time to notice the absence of Israeli troops, mostly because the soldiers will still be there. National Security Advisor Giora Eiland said that it is "very likely" that Israel will reoccupy Khan Yunis and other Palestinian villages in Gaza prior to disengagement. "In order to make the withdrawal possible, we need to take preemptive measures," he said. "Among those measures, we may enter Khan Yunis and occupy it to secure the safety of our withdrawal." Eiland said he hoped to create a buffer zone that would keep out Palestinian terrorists from Gush Katif. Otherwise, Khan Yunis might provide cover for snipers and be used to launch mortars during the evacuation. "If the Palestinian Authority can prove to us that they can secure Khan Yunis, then there will be no need for us to go in and occupy [it]," he said.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, head of the Central Command, said that IDF troops will remain in the northern West Bank for several months after the evacuation of four Jewish settlements there. Naveh said the pullout from the northern West Bank would take place only after the Gaza disengagement, and would not be implemented under fire. He said he believed there would be an increase in terror following the evacuation, and hence the military would have to remain in the field of operations for a short while longer. (Jerusalem Post, 5/29/05 & Ha'aretz, 5/30/05)

INFLATED EXPECTATIONS: The plan to house relocated Gaza settlers in clusters may not be economically viable due to price hikes in the area by contractors. Amigur, the public housing firm that was chosen to supply 400 temporary apartments to settlers to be evacuated under the disengagement plan, said its office was flooded with offers by local apartment owners offering housing for rent. But when the company tried to enter negotiations with large contractors who could supply them with whole buildings already built in adjacent neighborhoods, it found that contractors had jacked the prices to four times the listed value. One of the main stipulations of the Nitzanim proposal, which would place settlers in the Nitzan and northern Ashkelon regions, was that settlers would be housed in "clustered" communities in order to help maintain community ties during the traumatic move.

Community leaders in the region promoted their areas by asserting that there were rows of apartment buildings nearby waiting for settlers to move in. But Amigur said if a lower price could not be agreed upon with the contractors, clustered apartments would not be affordable under the current government budget for disengagement. While Amigur still has two months to come up with apartment options for the settlers, several Negev region contractors suggested that their bidding prices were not likely to change any time soon. "Look, we know some people are looking at us and saying that we are taking advantage of a situation," said one contractor. "But we are running a business, too. When the value of your product goes up, you charge more for it. Yes, these apartment buildings may have been listed at a certain price, but now that half of Gush Katif is moving here they are worth a lot more." (Jerusalem Post, 6/1/05)

LACK OF MONEY IS BARRIER TO NEW GAZA FENCE: The IDF says it will not build a security fence around the Gaza Strip in addition to the existing fence due to budgetary constraints. Plans for another fence were formulated by army officials immediately following the approval of the disengagement plan. The new barrier was to offer an extra obstacle aimed at stopping terrorists from infiltrating Israel once the pullout is completed. A fence currently surrounds Gaza, but in recent months dozens of Palestinians were able to cross it en route to Israel, mostly to seek jobs. However, once officials realized the total cost of building the fence and offering a compensation package could skyrocket to $22 million to $44 million, the army decided to close the gate on the fence plan. (Ynet, 5/28/05)

RAZIN' IN THE SUN: The Jerusalem Municipality has begun proceedings to raze 88 buildings that house some 1,000 Arab residents in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem to "restore the area to its landscape of yore," according to city engineer, Uri Sheetrit. The demolition would be among the largest to take place in East Jerusalem since 1967. The Silwan houses are within a neighborhood the Palestinians call "al-Bustan" and the municipality calls "King's Valley." It's located inside the wadi sloping down from the City of David, below the Old City, adjacent to the compound occupied by Jewish settlers from the Elad organization. Wadia al-Fahari, who is coordinating the residents' action, says the neighborhood's earliest houses date from the 1940s and 1950s, and most houses were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s on private land belonging to Silwan villagers.

Sheetrit wrote that a plan prepared in 1977 designated the area as open public territory. He said nearly all the 88 houses were built illegally, except for "four or five single homes on the compound's outskirts." He said he instructed city officials to deal "most forcefully" with the code violations, and that the process for bringing law suits against the Palestinian residents has begun. Sheetrit conceded there are other sites in East Jerusalem with more illegal construction, but he decided to target the neighborhood in Silwan to restore the region's ancient vistas.

Sheetrit intends to circumvent the statute of limitations that makes it impossible to raze houses built more than seven years ago, even if built without permits. "The building offense runs out, but there's no statute of limitations on using the illegal house, so we can bar residents from entering their homes, even if we can't destroy them," Sheetrit said. He's hoping an abandoned house will prove easier to destroy later on. His ultimate plan is to establish a national park on the land, connecting to the Jewish compound in the City of David and thereby creating an area without Palestinian residents adjacent to the Old City. He denies that the groups of Jewish settlers have any hand in the demolition plan. Nonetheless, some 300 Palestinians set up a protest tent in Silwan to denounce the initiative. Further, the demolition plan drew heated criticism from Knesset Members, with MK Roman Bronfman writing to Sheetrit, "This is an ethnic cleansing and large-scale deportation that boggles the mind. Such a plan can lead to a huge explosion, which the Jerusalem municipality, and you particularly, would be held accountable for."

In response to such criticism, Deputy Housing Minister Ruhama Avraham said the government has no intentions of "capitulating to law-breakers." At the same time, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski hinted that not all of the 88 homes slated for demolition would be razed. He said the city engineer's recommendations regarding each home would be discussed on an individual basis. Municipality sources noted that the authority to sign demolition orders rests with the mayor, and that there have been many instances in which he refrained from signing such orders that had been approved by the courts. (Ha'aretz, 5/31- 6/2/05)