by Emily Amrousi
Just like in the darker corners of Tel Aviv, you never know where it is going to get you. You can hear footsteps on the pavement of the alleyway. They are watching you, and they are out to get you. They come at you one by one, in perfect order. Attempts to stab the legitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Attempts to destroy it.
In one day, they managed to poison the whole world against Israel with reports of "appropriation" of land in Gush Etzion. The next day, the Molad Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, which was established to tell the story that people in Europe love so much (Jews controlling tax funds), reported that settlers were sucking public funds at the expense of investment in the people of Israel's southern towns. The day after that, the Adva Center reported that settlers were benefiting from funds that should rightfully go to the poorer towns. Orchestrated campaigns are dominating the newspaper headlines here, while a minute away from here journalists are being beheaded. And all of it is one big lie.
For the past four decades, the Left has stuck to a single goal: to cleanse Israel's heartland of Jews and hand the territory over to the Palestinians. They work toward this goal by scattering promises of fairies and doves of peace on the one hand while smearing the communities' inhabitants on the other.
But the reality -- oh, the reality. The vision of a Palestinian state is being buried even as Islamic State terror cells situated within bicycling distance from our homes promise to drink our blood. The idea of the Palestinian nation and its aspiration for an independent state is weakened as the "Greater Islamic State," with its pretensions of covering half the globe, has no nations or peoples -- only jihad.
Operation Protective Edge also made it clear why shrinking Israel around the edges was not a good idea: Nobody wants Shujaiyyah five minutes away from the center of Israel. Israelis want their borders wide and safe. The rationale behind withdrawal has vanished. But the Left keeps on firing. Its hatred of the settlers has gone from a means to the goal. It has become second nature.
Let us begin with Gush Etzion. I visited the area this week. Slopes of green forest between the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh. In this broad space overlooking the coastal plain (Gedera, Kiryat Gat, Rehovot, Ben-Gurion Airport) are two communities. One is Kashuela Farm, where two families live (with the blessing of the authorities), protecting the Lamed-Heh Forest from vandals who cut down the trees. The other is Gvaot, an IDF Nahal outpost established in the 1970s by the left-wing government of the time as a Zionist version of the ultra-Orthodox Beitar Illit.
Currently, Gvaot is home to Sadnat Shiluv, an integration project for special-needs children. There is not a single Arab home in the area.
This is not a case of expropriation, dispossession or theft. The declaration of the area as state-owned land is a legal procedure meant to ensure that the land is not privately owned. It is the opposite of expropriation. The goal is to make sure that no Palestinian's ownership rights will be affected.
There was no appropriation either, since Israeli law still does not apply in Judea and Samaria (or in Gush Etzion, where settlement began in 1923). Every time a Jew wishes to build in Samaria, the land is declared to be state-owned, and this has been the case since the High Court of Justice case involving Elon Moreh in the 1970s. But now, all of a sudden, it has become a dramatic political act.
Let's be frank: The aim is to settle. Settlements provide housing solutions for tens of thousands of young people, they ensure territorial contiguity, they provide land reserves. Those who seek to take this land are not fond of the prospect.
But on the moral side, the procedures of surveying and declaration are pro-Palestinian. The purpose of surveying the land, which includes analyzing aerial photographs from the 1940s to the present, is to clarify whether privately owned land is involved. If historical signs of cultivation, such as possible ploughed furrow even from many years ago, are detected, that section is excluded from the declaration. Signs in Hebrew and Arabic can be seen in the area, inviting anyone with a claim of ownership to come and state his case. If the claim is proved, that land is excluded from the declared area. The invitation also appears in the Arab press in the area. Incidentally, the Palestinian side takes control over land without surveys, declarations or any legal procedure.
When such a procedure is done, the best legal minds make certain that everything is done in accordance with international law to prevent protests from the enlightened world.
Actually, the hue and cry over the nationalization of the land did not come from the European Union. It came from here. The Zionist left wing goaded the United States and Europe until it got the condemnation it wanted. It was only after the Israeli Left leveled its harsh criticisms at the government that the world jumped on the bandwagon. So who is really trying to scorch the earth -- the defense minister or Peace Now?
Now for the Molad Center. Ever since the social-justice protests of the summer of 2011, Israeli activists have realized that the natural human inclination to seek material goods and assets can serve as a convenient way to make trouble for the settlers. The Molad Center is not an objective think tank.
Avner Inbar, its co-founder and director, served time in jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Academic director and research fellow Dr. Assaf Sharon, who signed a letter endorsing a campaign of disobedience, was arrested during a violent protest for attacking security troops. The same people who exhaust Israeli authorities with their frequent violent demonstrations in east Jerusalem are the one who broke the news about the "settlers' secret treasury" last Saturday.
Their new idea is to incite the inhabitants of Israel's southern towns against the people who live in the settlements. How do they do that? They take the statistical tables, remove one thing, move another, manipulate some part of it, conceal data that does not fit -- and presto, there is the proof. Here is one example of their sleight of hand: "Enormous budgets that swell from year to year are given to the settlers via the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division."
The reason for the "budget inflation" that particular year was the evacuation of Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood -- an move initiated and encouraged by the Left (arguing that Ulpana was built on private Palestinian land and urging the courts to force its inhabitants to evacuate the land).
The texts Molad published a week after the government decided to allocate 1.25 billion shekels ($340 million) to the communities situated around the Gaza border are meant solely to arouse dispute. The Settlement Division was established by Levi Eshkol to assist the communities in Sinai, on the Golan Heights, the Gaza District, Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Those were the specific places named in the decision to establish it. If the Settlement Division funds the paving of a security road in a Jordan Valley community, it is not transferring secret funds to settlers. It is doing its job.
However, over the past decade the Settlement Division has also been working in the peripheral areas in the north and the south, and its budget is divided in equal thirds between the Negev, the Galilee, and Judea and Samaria. What is more, the Negev and the Galilee receive assistance not only from the Settlement Division but also from the Regional Development Ministry, which is specifically in charge of the development of the Negev and the Galilee with a budget of 136 million shekels ($37 million) per year. The Regional Development Ministry allocates no funds to Judea and Samaria. Would we ever say that the residents of the Galilee were stealing money from the settlers? Heaven forbid.
Even as this lie was being disseminated, along came the Adva Center and published a new report telling the exact same lie -- only this time, it was the settlements versus the poorer towns in the south or on the periphery, known in Hebrew as "development towns."
By this account, the greedy Jew stole money from the disadvantaged Sderot resident. Making a comparison between a regional council (in Judea and Samaria) and a local council (in the Negev and the Galilee) is like comparing apples and oranges. A regional council, which has a large number of small, geographically scattered communities, costs the state more than a concentrated urban community does. That is equally true of Texas and of the Golan Heights, and it applies all the more to quite a few areas under threat. A social worker in Netivot can visit her clients by bus. A social worker in Har Hanegev needs a car to travel from one community to another. So Adva pulled a fast one by making a comparison between a regional council and a local council, with the regional councils costing more because they are, well, regional.
If, instead of comparing an apple and an orange, we compare two apples -- one regional council to another -- we will find that the settler receives much less government funding. To cite one example, the expenditure for an inhabitant of the Samaria Regional Council is 10,000 shekels per year and 8,300 shekels per year in the Binyamin Regional Council, but 14,600 per year in Sdot Negev. The expenditure per inhabitant of the Har Hebron Regional Council is 18,100 shekels, while for an inhabitant of the Har Negev Regional Council it is 22,800. The difference stems from the driving distance of the pupils from school, security costs and the socio-economic cluster. In what is known as extraordinary budgets, the government invests 960 shekels per resident of the Binyamin Regional Council, 1,600 per resident of the Samaria Regional Council, 2,200 per resident of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council and 4,700 per resident of the Eshkol Regional Council.
When we also compare between local authorities, we begin to realize that the settler is actually the one being deprived. Expenditure per inhabitant in Mitzpe Ramon is 13,000 shekels per year. In Shlomi it is 9,200 shekels. Compare this with 7,200 shekels per resident in Alfei Menashe or 6,700 shekels in Elkana. And now let us move on to cities. Sderot: 9,800 shekels per inhabitant per year. Yeruham: 8,900 shekels. Kiryat Shemonah: 7,600 shekels. Compare this with 6,600 shekels per resident per year in Ariel, and 4,700 shekels each in Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit.
What other tricks were played with the data? They left the ultra-Orthodox communities (where the expenditure amount is much lower) out of the calculation, but included the ultra-Orthodox residents in the calculation of allocations within the Green Line.
And here is another fast one they pulled: They mention the high investment in education, not per resident but per council. Well, of course they would do that: There are more children in the regional councils where the settlers live. In the Binyamin Regional Council, 53 percent of the population is aged under 19. In the Samaria Regional Council that figure is 48 percent, and in the Har Hebron Regional Council it is 54 percent. In the regional councils of Hof Ashkelon, Har Hanegev and Eshkol, children comprise only one-third of the population. More children mean more classrooms. Do the people at Adva think that children living in Talmon and Shiloh do not deserve to have a school?
A digression. When I bought a bed for my daughter this week, I was asked to pay an additional 140 shekels for delivery -- a punitive tax for having chosen to live near the border. If a family living in a community near the Gaza border orders a bed for a child and must pay a risk fee in addition to the delivery fee, they will refuse, and rightly so. But the settlers are accustomed to the red lines that have been created by the Green Line. The moving companies' charts do not lie. The settlers are still living in a parallel state.
Another trick is smearing the people themselves. Stereotypes and scholarly studies show how violent the settlers are. This is also what Dr. Anat Roth, a researcher of the Israel Democracy Institute and an activist in Peace Now, found when she began studying the secret of the Yesha settler council's strength.
"I saw things that I could not understand," she said, recalling the fight against the disengagement. "I saw a stricken and humiliated population behaving with restraint, and instead of getting into conflict with the police officers who had been sent to harm all it held dear, it called them 'my brothers.' There was a 180-degree gap between the theories in the research literature produced since Rabin's assassination and the reality. All the theories collapsed during the disengagement. No violence broke out." The result was her book "Not At Any Price" (Hebrew; Yedioth Ahronoth Books) -- a work that is fascinating, enriching and chilling.
The lies about Israel are even more annoying than the lies about the settlers. There is a small group of Israelis whose hobby is to say how bad things are here. A country ranking 16th on the global Human Development Index is suffering from an autoimmune whining disease. In the video clip by the Israeli expatriates, I saw a smiling face, a dancing body -- and hollow sadness. By the waters of Berlin we hopped and danced as we remembered Zion. How disconnected must a person be to rejoice as he leaves his homeland, language, culture and family behind?
In the classic form of salon debates, members of the Right always pull out claims from the past: the deadly 1929 riot in Hebron, the Balfour Declaration and King David. The left-winger always uses the future: The world will ostracize us, Europe will boycott us, the Americans will stop talking to us. The future that the Left sketches out is bleak and dim. And they call me the messianic one.
If I had a shekel for every time somebody called me messianic (as an insult), I could fund the additional delivery fee for the bed. What does being "messianic" mean? It means being optimistic. It means being a person who knows that all this is leading to something good.
On the fifth of Iyar 5708 by the Hebrew calendar -- May 14, 1948 by the Gregorian -- the ladder was placed on the ground, and we have been trying to climb upward ever since. We have not reached the top, and not everything is good, but it will be. We do not have to wait for the final redemption or for utopia. A proper society and an excellent country are not a distant or lost challenge, as the pessimistic emigres think.
My friend Michal Bergman made an excellent point when she wrote, "Every self-respecting intellectual needs a small, carefully-packed suitcase so that if he/she is compelled to make good on the threat to move to Berlin, it will be smooth, quick and elegant. Who knows when someone might knock on her door and give her just five minutes to get ready? We must learn from history and prepare in advance."
The post office workers' union's choice to strike the rural postal service is one of malice. A resident of one of the large cities who needs a package or a document urgently can use one of the private delivery services. The 750,000 Israelis who live in rural areas can go fly a kite. They have no alternative but the striking Israel Postal Service.
The symbol of the Israel Postal Service is not a gazelle, as everyone thinks, but a deer. Deer can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour -- but the postal service does not even go that quickly.
Now the strike is a total one. If Avda and Molad wanted to drive a wedge between the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria and those of the Negev and the Galilee, the rural postal service strike has united these peripheral regions. For two weeks the post office boxes in every sector of rural settlement areas -- be they on mountains, in valleys or in deserts -- have been empty. Nobody is receiving checks, notices for driver's license renewals, registration forms for the first grade, new credit cards, IDF call-up orders or invitations to military tryouts, forms from university or debt notices (which involve fines if they are not paid on time). No mail is going out or coming in.
I heard first-hand about a wedding where half of the guests didn't come because they did not receive an invitation. And this is without even mentioning threatening letters that do not reach their destinations.
It is hard to feel empathy for the postal workers when the periphery is the one paying the price. If the postal service officials wanted the government to take notice of their suffering, I would have suggested that they separate the citizens' mail from the government's. Mail to and from government offices will wait until after the Jewish holiday season has ended.
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