• After the 1948-1949 War of Independence, Jordan occupied and annexed the regions of Judea and Samaria, as well as East Jerusalem. Both the Arab League and the UN condemned the annexation of the captured territories, in line with Jordan’s expansionism. • Following Jordan occupation, ancient Jewish communities of Nablus, Hebron, and Jerusalem, as well as kibbutzim e moshavim founded during the 19th century and the British Mandate were expelled. • Jordan changed the name of Judea and Samaria into the “West Bank”, for distinguishing the region from the “East Bank”, comprising the Kingdom of Jordan, according to the division along the river Jordan. • After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel captures the regions of Judea and Samaria. Their status is still undefined. • As established by the Oslo Agreements, Judea and Samaria are divided in areas A, B, and C, under Palestinian, joint (Palestinian civil administration and Israel security administration), and Israeli administration respectively.
• After 1967, both left-wing and right-wing Israeli governments encourage the settlement of new Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, through economic and financial incentives. • Following the expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria under Jordan occupation, Israeli settling activity is considered the “return” to those places where the Jewish people constituted as a national group. • There are 122 recognized settlements, built with governmental authorization. Israeli governments have not issued permits after Oslo Agreements. • 4 of the 122 settlements are recognized as cities: Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim, Beitar Ilit, and Modi’in Ilit. • The Regional Council of Judea and Samaria (“Yesha” Council, from the Hebrew acronym of “Yehudah ve-Shomron”) is the umbrella organization of local councils. • There are about 105 outposts, which are expansions of the settlements and are built without governmental authorization.
• In Judea and Samaria there are 350,150 Israeli residents. • Communities are mostly homogeneous and include Zionist religious, haredi (Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox), and secular/traditionalists. • Political affiliation of Israeli communities includes a majority of votes for the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, a bulk of votes for Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s new party) and Avoda (the Labor Party), and a minority of votes for Shas. • Communities are agricultural, industrial, and urban. • The funding ideology is Zionism, with a strong historical-religious identification, a consolidated solidarity life-style, and social commitment.
The Controversy on the Legality of Settlements
• The main argument against the existence of Israeli settlements is the prohibition of civil population transfer in areas under military occupation. • Israel recognizes the status of occupation and administers the territories until the dispute over their status is settled, which will have to guarantee secure and defendable borders. • According to the contending argument, Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not a transfer of civil population, but the return to the communities from which Jews have been expelled. • The agreements with Palestinians do not ban the expansion or the dismantlement of settlements, encouraging negotiations on their future status. • In May 2012, the Knesset quashed the bill advanced by Member of Knesset Miri Regev (Likud), fostering the recognition of Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty.
Peace and Defendability
• The existence of the settlements has not been an obstacle for peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, nor has it been an impediment for the Oslo Agreements. • During 2000 Camp David negotiations, Ehud Barak offered to Arafat the dismantlement of the majority of settlements in exchange for peace. Ever since Arafat’s refusal of this offer, the “land for peace” principle has been questioned. • The 2005 disengagement from Gaza, implemented by Ariel Sharon, showed that land concessions are not requisite for peace. The disengagement has not advanced negotiations, but an increment in terrorist attacks. • The status of settlements is still undefined, and will be determined in the context of negotiations that guarantee secure and defendable borders. UN resolutions incorporated this principle, with specific reference to the UN resolution 242 of 1967, requiring parties to agree upon the disengagement from territories captured by Israel during the Six Day War.
The controversy on the E1 construction plan concerns the intention, first formulated by Itzhak Rabin, to create territorial continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim. Designated zone C by the Oslo Agreements, this area is now the object of diplomatic pressure concerning the construction of new buildings, especially after the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN. What is the E1 plan and what are its urban and political principles?
The order to plan the E1 area was adopted by Itzhak Rabin, when he was Premier of Israel, in order to unite Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem. The plan consists of three new neighborhoods, including 4,500 buildings from 4 to 8 levels. By now, only two of these neighborhoods have been planned, including 3,500 living units, schools, recreational facilities, health centers, lodgings etc. The original plan included hotels as well, which have not yet been constructed. Personally, I am a bit critical of the plan, which fosters tall buildings, in line with a “verticalization” trend that is typical of great cities in the world. I opine the plan should preserve the characteristic of the area, with lower buildings.
How would you define East Jerusalem from a social, urban, and political point of view?
There is no such area as East Jerusalem. Jerusalem is one united city, which was unified in 1967, when the wall separating the two parts of the city, built under Jordanian occupation, was torn down. Jerusalem today expands around the old city comprised within the walls. Outside the walls, there are three markets: one of such markets is Mahane Yehuda, another is located in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and the third is in the northern part of the city. Everyone can access the three markets. There are also different malls, attended by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, who meet every day without fear nor hatred. To a certain extent, road number 1, which becomes Yigael Yadin Road and then Derekh Ma’ale Adumim, roughly divides the Eastern from the Western part. However, this division is not social, because the road does not divide populations. Palestinian politicians and the Israeli radical Left try to do their best to create this artificial division, but without success. Certainly, Jews and Arabs should create more occasions for cooperation, and I see it coming, when things will be calmer. Tranquility is the first response toward a peaceful solution of controversies, and it is also the first step to boost cooperation.
Usually, Israel is accused of impeding Palestinians from freely circulating North-South in Palestine. Does the E1 plan foster any solution to this problem?
Certainly. The E1 plan comprises two arterial roads that connect Bethlehem to Ramallah, without checkpoints, allowing then free circulation of Palestinians. These arterial roads are designed to loop around villages and neighborhoods, because there is no need for arterial roads to go through towns and lodging areas, although this is considered an attempt to discriminate against Palestinians. For the time being, it remains on the paper, since negotiations are not moving on.
Ariel, as the largest settlement in the West Bank has been defined “the capital city of Samaria.” What is the social and urban role of Ariel regarding Jewish communities in Samaria?
Ariel has 40,000 inhabitants with an important university counting 12,000 students. Moreover, Ariel is the industrial center of the region, with several industries and companies even in the area of technology and innovation. All these industries employ Israelis and Palestinians alike. In this respect, Israeli companies guarantee economic stability and development of Palestinian employees; therefore, the attempts of de-legitimization against Israel in the form of economic and cultural boycotts would cause more damage than benefits to Palestinians. Indeed, boycotting the Israeli economy implies damaging Palestinian workers and leading the Palestinian economy to distress.
Ariel has a University, which includes both Jewish and Arab students, and has strived for upgrading its status from simple “educational institute” to “university.” Ariel University is the object of cultural and academic boycotts. How does Ariel University contribute to the development of Jewish communities in Samaria?
As I said, the University of Samaria includes 12,000 students of all cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds: native Israelis (Sabras), Russians, Ethiopians, and Arabs, who constitute the 10% of the students as in other Israeli universities. The University of Ariel is recognized by the government and by the National Council for Higher Education. It has several faculties: engineering, architecture, natural sciences, Jewish thought, physiotherapy, health studies, media studies, sociology, and several others. The University of Ariel has substantially contributed to the development of the communities in Samaria. Both the University and the Cultural Center, which has significantly grown over the last years, are central points of reference for the whole population in the region. Before, people used to go to Jerusalem for cultural life, now they come to Ariel. Indeed, Ron Nachman, mayor of Ariel for almost thirty years, has significantly contributed to the development of the city. He has recently passed away, and I think it is important to remember him and the time he dedicated to such an important cause for his people.
Among the major problems that the communities of Judea and Samaria face, there is certainly security. For this reason, there are checkpoints, roadblocks, and in certain parts Israeli traffic is separated from Palestinian traffic. Many people consider these measures a form of apartheid. What is the reality on the ground?
There are security measures, but the whole system of security cannot be considered a form of apartheid. The urban reality is that checkpoints, roadblocks, and barriers can be removed in just one day. This will happen when Palestinians will stop terrorist attacks. As long as they keep attacking Jewish population, security measures will remain. But when the terrorist threat will cease, then blocks and walls will be torn down. For the moment, the threat persists, as Hamas and Abu Mazen declared. Apartheid is a racial segregation system that is pernicious, but it cannot be compared with security measures that are taken to protect a people from murderous acts committed by those who want to exterminate you. Indeed, life is much easier in Samaria and Judea than what people think. Many Arab Palestinians are employed by Israelis and live on the economy boosted by the Israeli settlements. The problem is the policy of the PNA and the ideology of the Israeli radical Left: they want to boycott cooperation, and by doing this they negatively impact not only Israeli communities but also the life of Palestinians. Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is extraordinary, and it is not influenced by political ideology. On the contrary, politicians want to impede cooperation. Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria may be seen as a way to connect Israelis and Arabs. I am an architect, and I work in the building sector. I personally meet and get to know Arabs working for Israelis, and talk to them: they are the first who fear a Palestinian State and do not want to see it coming to life. American and European pressure is counter-productive. Indeed, were there not pressure by the international community, we could find a real solution to live together. And this pressure is based on two aspects: the dependence on Arab oil, and anti-Semitism. The world needs the Arabs for energy reasons, because they are an economic force and therefore they can set the agenda regarding Israel. Maybe when they will run out of oil, we won’t have this problem any more.
Why do people want to live in Samaria and Judea? Is there any reason beyond politics?
There is indeed. People want to live in Samaria and Judea because of their Jewish roots, but there is more than that. Quality of life in this region is very high, stemming from nature, tranquility, and social values. It is very much like those people who are going to live in the kibbutzim: here, you can adopt a life style that you cannot achieve in the city. And I would like to add that there is something wrong in what people think about residents of Samaria and Judea. Certain political claims contend that government subsidies favor people settling down in this region more than in other parts of the country. This is not true. Subsidies are very much the same everywhere. The only difference is that if the government built lodgings anywhere else in the country, people would choose Samaria and Judea anyway, precisely because of the quality of life you can achieve here. And now even more with the cultural center, which has significantly improved the standard of living of this region.
Talking about the West Bank, people usually define the Israeli presence in terms of illegal occupation and usurpation of the land captured after the Six Day War in 1967. You deny this position: what are the founding rights of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria?
This is the Jewish homeland and it is, currently, being occupied by Arabs. We Jews lost our and independence in the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt, in the II century CE, when the Jews lost the war against the Romans. Then came Byzantines, subsequently the Persians, and then the Arabs; for short periods, the Crusaders dominated the land as well as others, and the Arabs came back. The Arabs are the conquering illegal occupiers of what is Jewish land. Throughout two thousands years of exile, the land of Israel has been a concept of national homeland. The Bible is full of references to places which still exist and that constitute our national heritage. I studied in a religious school in the US, where we learnt not only history but also the laws of the land, including agricultural laws, even though we did not apply them; but this clearly shows the ties to the land that have always been as real as possible. Moreover, Jews have always come to live here. I am collecting material for a publication I am working on, and there is not a decade without some happening involving a Jew on this land: Jews were thrown out from Jerusalem or Safed, Jews built up new cities, Jews founded new communities, etc. So when the Supreme Council of the League of Nations in 1922-1923 recognized the right of the Jews to reconstitute their historical national homeland in this region, it was but a confirmation of our right to stay here. Moreover, in 1937, after the recommendations of the Peel Commission under the British Mandate, and in 1947, after the UN Partition Plan, the Arabs consistently refused to accept the existence of a Jewish State. I believe, and I presume that the other Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria agree with me, that there is no way one can claim this region as Arab homeland.
What is, in your opinion, the relation between Jewish and Arab Palestinian residents in the West Bank?
I have lived in Shilo, in North-West Samaria, for 31 years, and in Israel from 1970, so I guess I have a bit of perspective on the entire period that Arabs call “occupation.” We went through two main stages. The first goes from 1967, when I was here in Israel as student on an exchange program, until 1987, the year the first Intifada began. During this period, of course there were incidents of security, with some clashes, but we had no problems visiting Arab villages; we also used to attend Arab commercial interests. From Shilo, we used to walk to the surrounding Arab villages; we went on foot: we carried weapons, but we were not afraid and did not feel an immediate threat. The second stage goes from 1987 onwards. From the beginning of the First Intifada, the situation has become much more difficult until it broke down. There were stones, firings: people were killed and roads became dangerous. We started using security measures, so first we put wire netting over the windows, then we put plastic windows, then we had reinforced windows. Then came Oslo, when Arabs were given weapons, and with the Oslo Agreements, this region was divided in areas A, B, and C, under Palestinian, joint, and Israeli control respectively. After the division, I now cannot go in many places of Judea and Samaria. And this is pretty much the relationship with Arab neighbors of this region. I have one story to tell, about Zaki, an Arab Palestinian of the village Khiberet Samra, who used to work in Shilo. He was taken to Shchem (also known as Nablus) and tortured, because he used to work with us, and for this they presumed that he was a spy or a traitor. So why should Arabs work with us if they may have their fingers taken off? That is a general picture of Jewish-Arab relationship in the region.
Were there any Jews living in this region, Judea and Samaria, before 1947, that is to say before 1967 and the capture of this land from Jordan?
Yes there were Jews and Jewish communities founded during the Mandate. Indeed, the British Mandate, in a certain sense, allowed the final ethnic cleansing by Arabs of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as well as in Gaza between 1920 and 1947. The British Mandate was supposed to reconstitute the Jewish homeland, but actually permitted Arabs, directly or indirectly, to complete a campaign in which Jews who were living in Hebron, Shchem (Nablus), and Gaza up until 1929 were simply kicked out. Jewish communities that were set up in the Gush Etzion block, 4 kibbutzim (agricultural cooepratives) and 2 moshavim (settlement communities) north Jerusalem, Ataroth and Neve Ya’akov, were wiped out in the 1947-1948 War; there was a kibbutz, Bet ha-Arava, in Dead Sea, which was forced to dismantle because of the war. Not to forget all Jews who were living in the old city of Jerusalem, who first were kicked out of the Muslim quarter in 1936-1939, and then were kicked out of the Jewish quarter in 1947-1948. According to my figures, during the 1947-1948 War, about 17,000 Jews were kicked out of what now the world would call the West Bank. To this, you also have to add 5,000-7,000 Jews living throughout other areas in previous years, including Gaza, Hebron, Shchem (Nablus), and a few other places. To be conservative, let’s say that 20,000 Jews were expelled from their properties during 1930s and 1940s.
So they were refugees, Jewish refugees…
Yes, they were refugees. This is a topic I started working on almost ten years ago, and I confirmed it by confronting with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency. Until 1952, about 3,000 Jews were being assisted as refugees by UNRWA. According to the original decision, this agency was first established for “Palestine refugees,” not “Palestinian refugees”! Today, “Palestinian” only means Arabs, whereas, the original resolution talked about “Palestine refugees,” including both Jews and Arabs. In 1952, Israel told UNRWA that it would deal with Jewish refugees alone and ceased UNRWA support.
Beyond Zionism, what are the political and societal principles that found the life of Judea and Samaria communities?
It is important to stress that our presence here is not simply a personal advantageous type of situation. We are accused of wanting to live here just to get subsidies and financial incentives by the government. Almost all of this has gone; in the early years, we use to get financial support by Israeli governments, as well as reduced investment grants and all sorts of benefits. All this stopped when Rabin reduced the incentives and Barak, in early 1990s, definitively changed policy. Therefore, to live out here actually means not only that you have to spend extra money to drive here, and that we do not have the best stores, but it also means that we suffer from the security situation. With all this, we are told that we are making money, but indeed, we are not. Houses here are cheaper than in Jerusalem, but that is also true for Tel Aviv. Many of the small and middle communities are ideologically hard-core and also religious, which implies a certain life style. For example, when someone gives birth, people gather to help the family with the newborn, because the mother is busy with the baby and the father keeps working. And the same happens for other events. People living in these communities are committed to social life, doing “acts of grace”—the Hebrew word is hessed. In Shilo, we have about 30 gamahim (which in Hebrew stands for gmilat hassadim), and could be translated as acts of kindness. For instance, if you want to organize a wedding, you go to the gamah and you will get all you need for the event. All this is an expression not only of our religious belief, but especially an expression of the religious Zionist stream, which basically means to bring the land to life. When we are on this land, we do not just see nature and a beautiful landscape, but we feel a connection. It is our belief that we have a covenant with G-d, just as Abraham was told, "go to the land of Moriah." The connection we feel is not only because we are safe here physically, but also because this is what we are. To be a Jew, to live in the Land of Israel and make it grow, to make the fruits come out of it, also means for instance to make good education institutions, from nursery schools to kindergarten etc. Just in Shilo, there are 1,000 children studying in primary school. In Judea and Samaria communities, the rate of criminal violence is extremely low compared to other cities in the country. Episodes of violence exist and are caused by land disputes with outpost communities that have expanded out of consolidated settlements. For the development of these outpost communities, no Arab has been displaced. In some cases we may be wrong, but in most cases we are very right.
One of the arguments against Judea and Samaria communities is that they cost money to the government. What is your opinion?
The idea of disengaging from Judea and Samaria will not bring any benefit to Israel. In order to return 350,000 Jews from Judea and Samaria to the other side of the Green Line will not save Israel any money, because we will have to re-build homes and schools, to increase medical services in the new areas of residence, and all this will cost a lot.
The relations between Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria have been hostile, with several episodes of violence. Israel has responded with a series of security measures, including roadblocks and checkpoints. These measures are perceived as a form of apartheid. Is this the case?
That simply does not exist. Arabs come into our roads, while we cannot go into theirs. If you go throughout areas C, you can see that more than 50% of the traffic is of Palestinian license plates.
What is the state of Jewish radicalism in Judea and Samaria religious communities, known for the price tag policy (violent acts targeting Arab properties and to a certain extent Israel left-wing activists as well)? Is it a minority? And why does it draw the attention of the media?
There is media obsession about it, because there are major media outlets, like the daily newspaper “Haartez” in Israel, which are, so to say, the Bible of left-wing media. Have anyone heard about a price tag episode in the last month? No. Does it happen? Yes. So the point is not price tag, but the perception about these episodes of violence and about the people who implement it. In this respect, I can point out at four or five communities, which I would define as problematic; I could name 5 people, who I think of as problematic. Altogether, we are talking about 300, 500 people, maybe less. Most of the times, these episodes of violence are not initiated, but response attacks. There are problems, because there are people urging a violent response to the situation, which is unnecessary, immoral, and illegal. The Council of Judea and Samaria has always denounced these episodes of violence and has even asked the police to do their job. Security forces have been unsuccessful in catching people. In the last two years, more than ten people have been caught, but only five of them are on trial. A year and a half ago, some rabbis were involved in this; they were arrested and then released, but to the media they remain rabbis that are inciting violence, with no proof, no charge, and with no court. I am not saying there is not anything of all that, but I would expect at least a bit of respect, if not for us, at least for the law and the due process of law. It seems these basic democratic principle do not apply to us, because we are “radical,” we are “religious fanatics,” because we are “doing damage to the State of Israel.” The misperception of Judea and Samaria communities is quite evident if you see how media depict us. About eight months ago, the Council of Judea and Samaria issued the results of a demographic study: one third of the population is national-religious, one third is haredi (what is translated in English as Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox), and one third is secular/traditional. Why should the secular people be punished with our shame label for what some kids are doing? Similarly, if there are rapes in Tel Aviv, should I say everybody in Tel Aviv is a rapist?
East Jerusalem is often included in the label "occupied territories". What is the urban and social reality on the ground of East Jerusalem?
It is not under our responsibility as Judea and Samaria Council. East Jerusalem is under the responsibility of the Municipality of Jerusalem. It is responsibility of the mayor of Jerusalem to make sure that there is proper sewage, electricity, schools, and infrastructure. This intensely improves the situation on the ground. However, many tens of thousands of Arabs residing in East Jerusalem have Israeli identity cards, but they do not vote even though they can. They want their residency assured, but they do not want to be identified with Israel. There are many claims that the city is still divided, and that Jews do not visit Arab neighborhoods, but when they do, they get yelled at. In such a situation we would say in English “damned if you do, damned if you don't.” There are thousands of Arabs living in West Jerusalem, so that the city is indeed united. However, a lot has yet to be done in terms of physical, educational, and social work to properly deal with more disadvantaged situations. Again, that is a problem of the Jerusalem Municipality. Teddy Kollek was the major longtime mayor of Jerusalem, for more than 20 years or so, and he was a pragmatic secular man, but he did not do it, so it is not the fault of the so-called “right-wing religious fanatics.”