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The Right to Reside and the Right of Return

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 29) by Sever Plocker (op-ed)
translated by Israel News Today, no link.

-- A number of years ago a few dozen Israeli families bought subsidized apartments in a new project on the edge of an existing neighborhood. They recently learned that the contractor had used hazardous construction materials and, as a consequence, the building had to be demolished. The owners of the apartments, some of which are rented out for sizeable sums, were offered new apartments that are more spacious and better fitted, that will be built for them on a different plot in the neighborhood. They vehemently reject that offer: we will not leave our apartments, we will not give up our rights. Our current apartments are embedded deeply within our hearts. This is our land. Our opinion is firm--we will not move to new apartments that are even a mere 500 meters from the old ones.
 
   That doesn't sound logical, right? It doesn't sound reasonable, right? But that, in substance, is the compromise being offered to the residents of Givat Haulpana, with two differences. The first is that the buildings on Givat Haulpana have not been condemned for demolition because of faulty engineering but because of a High Court of Justice ruling against construction on private Arab property. The second reason is that they are in the territories. And since they are in the territories and since the land in question is Arab-owned, this simple technical issue was turned into a national uproar.

As a result of the inflamed passions, the Givat Haulpana affair has become enveloped in layers upon layers of arguments that haven't had to be verified. They are aired by people who are so ardently faithful that, as result, they are supposedly absolved of any need to prove their truth or to address their ramifications. Following are a few examples:

   The argument: "If a case similar to Givat Haulpana had occurred in Kfar Saba, no one would demand that the buildings be demolished. The land owner would be given compensation and that would be that."

   Reality: A case similar to Givat Haulpana can't happen in Kfar Saba because to build an apartment building in that city or anywhere else inside the State of Israel one needs to prove either ownership or a lease over land that has been zoned for residential construction. No bank would ever agree to provide financial accompaniment, which is required by law, without first meticulously ascertaining the status of the property in question and without closely examining the decisions of the Planning and Construction Committee. The absence of bureaucratic-administrative checks in the way of settlement construction in Judea and Samaria is what paved the way to the Givat Haulpana affair.

   The argument: "No one would dare demolish buildings in an Arab village that were built on private Jewish property. The Arabs would immediately begin screaming that the Jews were expropriating sacred land from them."

   Reality: While it does happen that Israeli Arabs, mainly Bedouin, squat on state land--and not on privately-owned Jewish property--and remain there, the typical case is the opposite of what has happened in the Givat Haulpana affair: The Jews expropriate lands that were either owned or in the possession of Arab Israelis or Arab Palestinians and settle on them--with authorization that was provided to them in advance by an Israeli government official, or without any such authorization. Despite that, not a single Jewish house that was built on Arab land illegally, without even bothering to find out what the law is, has been demolished. Only illegal buildings (and too few of them) that were built on public land have been demolished.

   The argument: "The apartments were owned by us for a number of years and, consequently, we have possession over them; we have the right to reside in them. If we are forced to leave, we will be refugees."

   Reality: The use of the term the "right to reside" as justification for the failure to vacate the buildings on Givat Haulpana grants new and increased validity to the Palestinian refugees' claims to a right of return. After all, if a Jew from Israel is able to establish a right to reside permanently on privately-owned Arab property which he began to squat on eight or nine years before, the Arab refugee from Mandatory Palestine has a right to return to the places in which his family had lived for tens if not hundreds of years. The use of the word "refugee" to describe the state of the Jewish settler who has been politely asked to move to an apartment half a kilometer away is a moral distortion (including in Jewish morality) and an insult to all refugees as such.

   Anyone who sanctifies Jews' rights to reside on privately-owned Palestinian property is also sanctifying, by virtue of simple logic, the right of the Palestinians to return to their lands in Jewish Israel. It is true: when faith speaks, reason falls silent. But it is even more true: when wisdom slumbers, the monsters awaken.