Jerusalem — Three years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he had “no intention of building new settlements,” contractors paid by Israel’s government have constructed a brand-new, exclusively Jewish neighborhood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
As in the past, the government is portraying it as simply the expansion of an existing settlement. But in this case, the new construction didn’t come about as a result of settler lobbying. Quite the opposite: It resulted from a legal case brought by the left-wing activist group Peace Now against the government’s support for the unauthorized West Bank settlement of Migron.
Having lost that case and being forced under court order to dismantle Migron, the government has erected prefabricated homes on a previously clear site a little more than a mile down the hill that Migron topped. These are to house the 50 families of Migron, who at press time were hoping to move in within days. The cost to Israeli taxpayers will be $6 million.
After many delays and deferred court orders, the government evacuated the Migron settlers, whose outpost was built on privately owned Palestinian land, on September 2. The evacuation took place some six years after Peace Now first petitioned the Supreme Court, demanding this action.
The permits for the new neighborhood are temporary, but the settlement movement is expert at turning temporary into permanent, and its leaders are already saying that they will never leave the new site, known as Winery Hill.
“For us, we’ve rolled down the hill and we’re just calling it Migron,” evacuee Aviela Deitch said.
The government can say what it wants to the international community about expanding old settlements; as far as the settlers are concerned, they have scored a new settlement. Their ties with Kochav Ya’akov, the settlement in which their new site theoretically lies, are non-existent, and even their updated identity cards doesn’t list them as living there — it lists them as belonging to another nearby settlement, Psagot.
What’s more, evacuees and settler leaders say that they will ultimately purchase the majority of the land at the site of the original Migron; then, with title deeds in hand, they will obtain government permits to resettle there and also hold on to their new site. “Thanks to Peace Now, Migron will double itself to Migron and Winery Hill,” said Roni Arzi, spokesman for the main settler organization, known as the Yesha Council. He added sarcastically, “I hope that Peace Now will do it again, elsewhere.” Deitch foresees the two locations being combined into a kind of Greater Migron.
Michael Sfard, Peace Now’s attorney, scoffs at this claim. In his view, the Palestinians who own land the settlers took for the original Migron won’t sell to the Israelis who tried to dispossess them. But settlers have precedent when they talk of this kind of net gain after an evacuation.
Jewish settlers first arrived in Hebron in 1968, occupied an Arab hotel and left on only the promise of a nearby settlement. Within a decade they had the compensatory settlement, Kiryat Arba, and had returned to Hebron, where they established a permanent presence.