Tal Schneider, Israel’s leading political blogger, broke a major story yesterday about the Hebron homes stolen and occupied over the past few days. In a new expansionist move from the 800-strong settler enclave amidst 30,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron, an Israeli group claimed to have purchased four Palestinian homes. The indigenous residents had been evicted and the thieves took over the properties.
Israeli media falsely claimed that settlers were the new owners. This is the standard manner in which such dispossession occurs. Except that in this case, the true story involved a radical escalation in strategy and tactics. The new owners were not settlers. They were actually members of the Likud Central Committee from communities within the Green Line.
Among those in the accompanying picture: Rachel S’kaat Ben Ari, Likud Party chair of Raanana; former Likud MK Orit Struk; Daniella Weiss, leader of Women in Green, who called Mahmoud Abbas “too puny to bother assassinating;” Mati Yitzhak, chair of the Rosh HaAyin Party branch; and Ilan Badiani, a long-time Party Central Committee member from the Hod HaSharon branch.
The thieves tweeted their delight and boasted about their official Party roles:
This is exactly what is called for–a clear and proper response to the murderous [Palestinian] terror which is striking at us. A public declaration that we shall not move from Eretz Yisrael. Four chairs of Likud Party branches have risen up to do the right thing at the right time: settlement of Eretz Yisrael. In deeds, not just words! We went and bought two homes in Hebron and paid full price just like the deed of our Father Abraham, who bought the Cave of Machpelah. All power to Ilan Badani, Racheli Saka’at, Mati Yitzhak and Amos Sharabi! You’ve proven that you are a perfect model of the public servant! So may such leaders multiply in our camp, men of action and courage. We are all with you and ready to be called to the flag to do whatever is necessary. Yours in love with the blessing of Tel Hai [early Zionist martyr Josef Trumpeldor] from the eternal, undivided capital, Jerusalem.
These are not (besides Struk and Weiss, who are known settler activists) your ordinary settler hotheads known for fomenting pogroms and wanted for interrogation by the Jewish unit of the Shabak. These are some of the major political powerbrokers in Israel proper. In the past, even the rightist parties have been careful to distinguish between settlers and themselves. They have supported the illegal activitities of settlers, but shown less inclination to involve themselves directly in such acts.
Now the gloves are off. The Party chair of branches in Ra’anana and Rosh HaAyin, while they occupied their stolen homes, shot out voluminous messages via social media. They not only claimed to have bought the properties themselves, they claimed the tacit support of the prime minister and defense minister for their theft. Unlike previous settler actions which were met with resistance from the State, in this case, after being removed by the IDF, the thieves expressed their understanding of the government’s actions; in expectation that they would be permitted to return to their illegal gains after a certain interval had passed and they received authorization from the defense ministry.
This brings up an important series of questions: Likud Party chairs aren’t wealthy. They don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to buy four properties in Hebron. They got the funds from somewhere and someone else. Who is their Sugar Daddy? A name like Irving Moskowitz comes to mind. But would the Likud Party officially be willing to associate itself with Moskowitz (or vice versa). I think the jury’s out on that.
Next, this passage from one of the social media messages indicates that this may be a bit of political theater. In response to the evacuation of the thieves from the Palestinian homes, the thieves write:
We were there. We witnessed the humiliation of the Jews of Hebron thrown from their homes. The sight was hard to swallow. But let’s remember: our defense minister gave an order we as a movement must honor. I said this to the residents of Hebron. We must continue to work to preserve our rights to buy property in the same way we did with the purchases of Beit Shalom and Beit Machpelah [the first stolen home was rejected by a military commission, the second approved by the Supreme Court) according to the same process.
It’s true that this causes anger that despite the completely legal purchase, our right to dwell in the homes is rejected. But we have not yet had the last word in completing the process. Therefore, we as a movement must strengthen our resolve and support the prime minister and defense minister and ask them to act to advance Jewish settlement in general and in Hebron in particular.
–Yours, Racheli Ben Ari Ska’at, Ra’anana
Perhaps the ruling élite was in on the plans from the beginning and the entire performance was just a charade. Yaalon and Netanyahu direct them to purchase and occupy the homes. The State makes an elaborate show of evicting them saying they violated proper procedure in occupying the homes. Then after the furor dies down and the State has been seen to exercise its authority, it permits them to claim permanent ownership with the blessing of the State.
I do not yet have definitive evidence to prove this scenario. But it is at least as credible as the theory that a small group of Likud Party leaders acted on their own in this matter.
There is an alternative theory that might be credible. There is a leadership cadre within Likud which is dissatisfied with piecemeal efforts to create Israeli facts on the ground in the West Bank. This group seeks immediate aggressive action. In fact, it seeks to compel the State to annex the West Bank in order to establish once and for all permanent Israeli sovereignty there. This, of course, would fulfill the religious-nationalist vision of Greater Israel, a primary aim of a rump segment of Israeli society going back to 1967.
Outsiders might bridle at this and say Israel, if it chooses this path, is traveling into the abyss; that the international community will reject annexation out of hand. That it will set Israel on a collision course with the entire world. Liberal Zionists will express shock and horror at this possibility. They will recoil at it and demand that Israel back away.
Not I. I think, that while annexation would be disastrous for Israel, it actually is a good thing in the longer term. It will clarify for the world the true nature of the Likudist State. It will show temporizers like the Obama administration and elements of the EU that there can be no compromise with Netanyahu. Just as Israeli annexation is an escalation, so too must be the world’s response.
The only danger in all this is if the world maintains its previous stolid, grudging acceptance of gross Israeli violation of international law. Personally, I don’t think this is possible. Annexation is one bridge too far for Israel.
H/t to Tal Schneider for alerting me to this important story.