Some highlights of our final day of the Meretz/Brit Tzedek V’Shalom Israel Symposium
In the morning we visited and spoke with some members of Alon Shvut, a West Bank settlement in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem. Afterwards we were given a tour of the Arab villages and new Jewish settlements/outposts in the region by Hagit Ofran (above) who works for the settlement-watch division of Peace Now. We paid special attention to the new bypass roads and tunnels that connect the settlements to each other and to other areas inside the Green Line.
Needless to say, bypass roads have aided considerably in the growth of the settlements. Since they are designed to help the Jewish population avoid travel near or through Arab centers on the West Bank, Palestinian access to them is virtually impossible. There are also three “sterile” roads (meaning Jewish-only): Rte. 443, that connects Modi’in, to the settlement of Elon Moreh, a highway near Nablus, and the Dead Sea road to Ein Gedi
We also saw several so-called illegal Israeli outposts along the way – new settlements that have built on private Palestinian land (see pic below). Since 1996, more than 100 outposts have been built with the assistance of the Ministry of Housing. Because they are easily built and easily taken down, the Israeli government can take dismantle them when necessary to create the impression of compliance with the first phase of the Road Map, which directs Israel to actively remove all illegal settlements on the West Bank. (Of course, the term “illegal outpost” is a bit of a misnomer as all West Bank settlements are technically illegal according to international law.)
A great aside: Hagit says the construction of illegal outposts is known in Peace Now circles as “adding the goat” – a reference to the well-known Jewish folktale about the man who has so many children that he goes to the Rabbi to ask him how to get some peace and quiet from all of the noise. The Rabbi tells him to bring a goat into his house. He does so and in a few days there is so much noise that the man tells the Rabbi the situation is even worse than before. So the Rabbi tells him, “Now take the goat out of your house” and the noise finally settles down…
After returning to Jerusalem our group participated in a demonstration in Paris Square by Women in Black – a well-known Israeli peace group that has been gathering to protest the occupation every Friday afternoon on this site for the past twenty years. The pic at the bottom shows Brit Tzedek President Steve Masters talking with Dafna Kaminer, one of the founders of Women in Black who has been standing on this street corner fighting the good fight for two decades. (Afterwards, we heard an inspiring presentation from another Israeli peace activist veteran: Gila Svirskey of the Coalition of Women for Peace.)
It’s been a long, exhausting, educational, heartbreaking, inspiring week. Some final thoughts follow in my next post…