Settlements Keep Growing Despite Migron Setback

Illegal Outpost Moved Down Hill, at Israeli Taxpayer's Expense

Pulled Down: Israeli police evacuate illegal settlers from West Bank outpost of Migron.
getty images
Pulled Down: Israeli police evacuate illegal settlers from West Bank outpost of Migron.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published September 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

Peace Now argues that whatever settler building results from the Migron evacuation, it still constitutes a major success. “The number of housing units is not my meter for success or failure,” Sfard said. “The important thing is that we’ve brought the grabbing of Palestinian land to an end.”

In his view, the evacuation, together with the evacuation of 30 homes in Beit El earlier in the summer, has sent settlers an important message that building on privately owned Palestinian land won’t be tolerated.

Even more, Peace Now claims that the Migron case has put an end to unauthorized outpost building as a whole. The settlement movement first built wildcat settlements or outposts in the late 1990s and early 2000s in response to a freeze imposed on establishing new settlements after the signing of the Oslo peace agreement with the Palestinians in 1993. But since Peace Now filed its petition on Migron six years ago, the settler leadership has not established any new outposts.

“If it weren’t for the threat of court, I believe they would have continued,” senior Peace Now official Hagit Ofran said, adding: “They wanted to make Migron the flagship of a new generation of settlements, and it didn’t work out at all.”

For Ofran, the Migron case is a “resounding victory for Israel democracy and rule of law,” because it subjected settlers to the court’s ruling.

She also believes that it kept settlements on the agenda during its six years in court. “Migron is not only about the removal of 50 families, it was a major issue of the government and public discourse for years,” Ofran said. “If we didn’t have it, I believe the debate on settlements would have been far less strong.

Arzi of the Yesha Council, which controls the main settlement building company, Amana, denied that it was Peace Now’s suit that ended outpost building. “It’s because of pressures [on Israel] from the U.S. government — nothing to do with Peace Now,” he said.

Many analysts expected violence and mass demonstrations upon Migron’s evacuation. But the process went smoothly and calmly. This has strengthened the credibility of those who see evacuations of at least small communities as more manageable.

Still, the idea that Peace Now’s court petition backfired doesn’t seem to be just settler spin; it is heard in the Israeli center and on the left, as well. And Ashraf Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian negotiating team, said he considers the evacuation “irrelevant, because they are not moving the settlers to outside occupied territory.”

Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea, Israel’s best-known journalist, told the Forward that evacuating Migron served as a kind of smokescreen, diverting attention onto the issue of whether occupied land is privately owned and away from what he views as the key issues: the illegality of all settlement building under international law, and the impediment it poses to a peace process.

Migron has become the “exception that proved the rule,” he said — a rare evacuation because of the fact it lay on privately owned land, implicitly proving the “rule” that it’s acceptable to settle anywhere else. The construction that has stemmed from this principle, he said, appears to have made the two-state solution unviable.

“Barnea is choosing the easy way of despairing of everything,” Ofran responded. “It is not pragmatic to say, “If I can’t meet all my goals in one day, I don’t need small victories along the way.’”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.