E-Not-Really-One | Rabbi Arik Ascherman

0 Comments 09 December 2012

“Everyone’s talking about the construction in E1 near Maale Adummim and about its political impact as a plan that “severs Palestinian space.” | Maale Adummim. cc: wikipedia

The restriction of Palestinian areas did not begin with the construction in Mevasseret Adummim, and its ramifications are not confined to the political realm; they are human, as well. Therefore we must also take an interest in them. 

Everyone’s talking about the construction in E1 near Maale Adummim and about its political impact as a plan that “severs Palestinian space.” As a representative of a human rights organization I have no opinion regarding politics. What’s more, the political-diplomatic discourse blinds us all from seeing that beyond the maps and borders there are people who stand to lose their property and future – and eighty families who will apparently be banished from the place they call home. Unfortunately, E1 is far from being an isolated case. It’s the almost unavoidable outcome when a group has absolutely no representation in the bodies that make decisions regarding its fate.

Thus, in the case of construction planning in the West Bank , Palestinian space has been constricted for years. In most of the West Bank territory under Israeli administration (Area C), there are planning committees from which one specific population – Palestinians – is excluded, while these bodies nevertheless decide those Palestinians’ fates.

These military committees are responsible for creating a situation wherein Palestinians all but may not build on their land in Area C. Sometimes, as in the case of E1, an administrative body without a representative from the affected population decides to expropriate that group’s land, declaring it State property, then allowing only the dominant group to control the land and build on it. Thus the planning and management apparatus in place in most of Area C has constricted the Palestinians’ construction for years, leaving only small, crowded enclaves for Palestinian development. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch already warned that when a dominant group unilaterally decides on the rules of the game without considering the weak, such behavior borders on the criminal.

Irrespective of the political future in store – two states, one state or anything else – the constriction and the crowding of Palestinian development does not honor God’s image inherent in these residents, nor the principle of equality. I take no joy in witnessing the damage to Israel’s reputation in the international community in recent days; I would prefer that we do the right thing because it’s right, not because we’re so worried the world won’t love us. But I do strive for that verse in Deuteronomy: “You shall keep and perform; for that is your wisdom and insight before the peoples, who will hear of all these laws and say, ‘This great people is but a wise, discerning people.’” (4:6-7). That verse tells us that our ability to maintain consistent values of justice ensures us an honored place in the eyes of the world.

In the meantime, the opposite is taking place; justice depends on one’s nationality. In Area C two separate planning apparatuses are functioning, segregated by nationality – a military system for Palestinians, and a civil one for settlers. Two coordinated, symbiotic systems. The military apparatus approves Palestinian construction only in tiny enclaves within Area C, while approval and expansion of settlement building blocks any possibility of future Palestinian development.

For example, the residents of Isawiyya had 12,000 dunams of land under their control before 1967. Following years of expropriations (i.e. the State recognized their ownership, but deprived them of it), most of that land is now State property, leaving them only 669 dunams for construction in the area’s master plan. But most of that area is already built up and unavailable for new construction. Thousands of dunams have been seized and are now part of the famous E1 area. Only a few organizations, led by Rabbis for Human Rights, are working to restore planning authority to the Palestinians, via a Supreme Court petition.

The question whether this process blocks the establishment of a separate Palestinian state, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, is a political one. What is clear is that under whatever arrangement is reached, it is unacceptable to restrict an entire population to crowded enclaves based solely on its ethnicity, to destroy their houses on a massive scale and to displace and expel them, violating their right to property and livelihood.

The same goes for E1; we must look not only at the political consequences, but the human ones, as well. They affect us as Israelis, regardless of a final status political agreement. In a few weeks we will read of Jacob remedying the fraternal hatred among his sons as he blesses both of Joseph’s sons equally, in contrast to the repeated pattern of the whole book of Genesis. May it be God’s will that we also rise to the occasion, doing what is both right and in our interests: allowing all people to enjoy the blessings of their lands.

Rabbi Aric Ascherman is a senior member of Rabbis for Human Rights, the organization leading the legal effort to restore planning authority to Palestinians in Area C. The column was first posted on the Mako website.

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