Author Archive

Sfard: The lesser known settlement freeze deal

May 10, 2010 2 comments


Cross-posted with permission from The Middle East Channel.

Recent and related Coteret posts: Nahum Barnea: Under Obama, deceit on settlement expansion is no longer viable | Maariv feature documents “settlement freeze” sham | Makor Rishon: US Ambassador and other officials regularly review details of J’lem construction plans | Yediot’s defense analyst: Settlement construction spree in September dooms negotiations |


Proximity talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership have just begun. It took the Obama administration almost 15 months to obtain the consent of the parties to talk to each other indirectly, through Senator Mitchell’s team. For the 19 year-old peace process (if counted from the Madrid summit) it is doubtful whether this new phase deserves even the modest “small step” label.

Small as it is, securing the diplomatic and political climate which enabled the proximity talks was not an easy step to achieve. It required the administration to put considerable pressure on the parties and, in the case of the demand from the Israeli government to freeze construction in West Bank settlements, some unprecedented arm-twisting. This explains why, though holed like Swiss cheese and scattered with countless inexplicable exceptions, the settlements construction moratorium is seen and presented by the administration as its biggest success so far.

Almost five months after the declaration of the moratorium, it is now clear: the Netanyahu-Barak government is compensating the settlers generously for introducing this (partial) construction freeze. The reward is huge and expensive and it is paid in the most precious currency Israeli leaders have: outpost legalization and planning approval. The settlers, ideological and patient in a manner that only messianic communities are, understand that while the construction moratorium is temporary, legalization of outposts and approval of construction plans will have long-term effects. They see the attraction in this barter for the long run and act accordingly. They play their role in the freeze game: they demonstrate against it, they send their young hooligans to clash with the Israeli army and police, they violate it publicly but they do not declare the current government as their enemy, as they did when the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, declared a narrower construction moratorium– one that applied only to state-funded construction in settlements. The planning-and-outpost-legalization-for-temporary-moratorium deal has never been announced publically or ever officially confirmed. We may only infer its existence by reviewing the evidence revealed in the last five months. And the evidence is ample and compelling:

First, in three Israeli High Court petitions brought by Palestinian land-owners, Israeli human rights organizations and peace groups, demanding to enforce demolition orders issued against illegal houses built in four outposts, the government has altered its position significantly after the moratorium was declared. While its pre-moratorium position was that the demolition orders must indeed be carried out but that the court should leave it to the government to choose the timing, its post-moratorium position was that a survey of property rights should be carried out so that it may consider a retroactive legalization of the illegal houses. This new position was presented in the cases of Derech Ha’avotRechelimHaresha and Hayovel–all outposts built illegally (even by Israel’s own definition of what constitutes illegality in the Occupied Territories) and without official governmental approval.

Secondly, in about a dozen other petitions pending in the Israeli High Court of Justice, where demolition orders against illegal construction on private Palestinian land are at stake, and therefore legalization of those buildings is not an option, the government also made a significant position change. Its pre-moratorium position was that demolitions should be carried out according to prioritization that is to yet be set. It took the government more than three years to present before the High Court the demolition enforcement priority principles it adopted. However, shortly afterwards, the moratorium was declared and the government announced that during the moratorium period the priority document is suspended. Why? Because “all energy, resources and manpower is dedicated to the enforcement of the moratorium”. Making sure the settlers do not build in violation of the moratorium, the government told the High Court, makes it impossible for us to deal with old illegal construction.

Read more…


Michael Sfard on the Gaza war and Jewish morality

December 31, 2009 4 comments

This is a translation of an op-ed published in Hebrew on Ynet. The op-ed has also been posted, with commentary, by The Magnes Zionist.

Cast truth

It has been a year, just one year since, but we can already safely say it was not just another Operation Rainbow, Summer Rains, or Autumn Clouds, as IDF operations in Gaza were named in recent years.  Perhaps the officer in charge of naming the operations was replaced by another, or perhaps the IDF ran out of pastoral names.  In any event, our most recent brutal attack against Gaza was given a violent sounding name: Cast Lead.  Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values.  There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged.  Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet.  We are who we are and we are proud of it!

For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas.  We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets.  We used [white?]phosphorous bombs.  We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone.  We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them.  We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them.  We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings.  At the same time, we did not express fake regret.  We did not argue we made tragic mistakes.  We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals.

The results were horrendous.  Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of which half did not partake in the fighting, 320 were minors, and 120 were women (according to B’Tselem data).  In three weeks, we killed more Palestinians than in the entire first Intifada and all the violent incidents that preceded the second Intifada put together (that is, 1987-2000).  Gaza residents, whom we earlier locked up in a prison we created for them, realized that the jailers set fire to the jailhouse and threw away the key.  We no longer pretended we were meeting standards we did not believe in.  We did not even pay lip service.  Government offices were bombed?  No problem.  They are a legitimate target.  Civilians worked there?  Why should we care if this was the headquarters for civilian life, transportation, agriculture, and social welfare services for 1.5 million humans?  What about the collective killing of more than 100 police cadets who were parading on their graduation day?  No problem there.  They were Palestinians in uniforms.  No biggie.  You say we fired white phosphorus, the kind of substance that keeps burning for days in alleys where children were playing?  Our gut is made of iron.  We can stomach anything.  Our heart is made of steel.  We spare no one.

Operation Cast Lead was our second war of independence.  In the first, we freed ourselves of 2,000 years of living under and being oppressed by foreign regimes.  In the second, we broke the shackles of Jewish morality and heritage that were shoved down our throats for years.  We liberated ourselves of the ancient Jewish ban against killing the innocent with the evil, from the self-evident lessons and inevitable insights we should have reached of the our collective experience as a downtrodden nation that was denied its own civil rights, that was silenced, knocked down, downgraded, and treated as subhuman.  Yes, we violated some of those rules in the past, but we did not even reveal that to ourselves. Read more…

Michael Sfard on the assault on Israeli human rights groups

December 10, 2009 1 comment

The Government Monitor Guillotine

Last week, a conference was held at the Knesset whose purpose was to evaluate the legitimacy of foreign governments’ sponsorship of Israeli civil society organizations.  The conference was initiated by an Israeli organization called NGO Monitor, led by Prof. Gerald Steinberg.  In recent years, the organization has  dedicated time and resources to attacking Israeli human rights organizations working in the occupied territories.  It has published dozens of reports accusing organizations such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel of abusing human rights’ rhetoric, promoting political agendas, and advancing anti-Israel interests.  NGO Monitor produced a list of such “problematic” organizations and even “investigated” ties between their members and various international bodies in order to “prove” they are motivated by foreign interests.

Rather than address human rights organizations’ criticisms of the policies of the  IDF and the Israeli government, NGO Monitor’s reports – like the Knesset conference – attempt to silence the critics through the systematic de-legitimization of their members and sources of funding. Read more…