This is the story of the beautiful Jewish village of Ma’ale Rehava’am.
One had to read and re-read the headlines just a few weeks ago when the Netanyahu government ordered the removal of palestinian activists from the illegal tent city they had built (named Bab Al-Shams) in the E1 corridor connecting Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
Even though this was not really a real settlement of any kind, but rather a protest circus, it is hard to recall Israel ever removing any Arab from anywhere. It is true, Israel sometimes deals harshly (as it should) with people involved in terrorism (and has in the past bulldozed their residences), but despite common perception to the contrary, peaceful Arabs live in a sort of legal utopia in the West Bank.
This is especially true in Area C (under Israeli jurisdiction), while those under Palestinian Authority rule are often victim of their own government’s abuses; Gaza being a case in point. Those under Israeli jurisdiction however, enjoy all the services and security provided by the Israeli government (they frequently call Israeli police in any dispute they have with other Arabs or Jews) including electricity, water, transportation and infrastructure while bearing none of the responsibilities of Jewish residents. They take land freely, building ever larger houses adding floors year by year, and taking over more and more hillsides (as is evident by even the most casual drive around the West Bank) without paying any property taxes, answering to any zoning restrictions, building codes or anything else.
One should note that in the world’s media (including Israel’s), there are never any Arab “settlers”. A massive amount of Arabs outside and inside the Green line (including vast illegal and sprawling Bedouin settlements all over the Negev Desert) live in illegal housing but they can never be “settlers” nor “occupiers”. This is a task that a Jew alone can do. The fact is that the very opposite holds true, and that virtually all (an overwhelming near total majority) Jews on both sides of the Green Line live in legal housing.
The Arabs in the West Bank lucky enough to escape PA rule, pay virtually no taxes whatsoever, engage in all sorts of business and agriculture (almost always breaking Israel’s environmental protection regulations and often on nature reserve land), abide by no Israeli law and enjoy complete freedom of movement (within the West bank of course) as well as freedom of expression under Israeli protection.
Their towns and villages are often filled with political advertisements and propaganda (always anti-Israel) that would never be tolerated in the neighboring Arab regimes. These Arabs often engage in trade with Israelis inside and outside the West Bank, find work in Jewish construction companies and other enterprises, and travel freely to and from Jordan as well as throughout the Arab world (when its not in revolution and civil war). Besides ignoring Israeli taxes, laws, and regulations, it is needless to say that they do not serve in the IDF. But in order to know any of that, you would have to actually visit the West Bank and its communities, Jewish and Arab, because watching CNN will not help.
Note that I do not fault them for ignoring all these laws, obligations and responsibilities; any population would do so in large part if they were not enforced, especially from a government they don’t even recognize. The point is simply to illustrate that Israel does not enforce virtually anything at all in the West Bank (except anti-terrorism), in rampant fear of world opinion… on Arabs that is. This is in stark comparison to life of the average citizen today in any industrialized nation, where millions of laws and regulations apply to all at all times, permits, licences and bans abound, and almost everything is illegal in some way or another. Fees, fines and taxes surround the average Westerner today; the Arab under Israeli rule in the West Bank, knows none of this, he is ironically freer than most of us unhappily will ever be.
This is why it was necessary to re-read the headline about the evacuation of the squatters at the E1 corridor repeatedly; it was very un-Israel like. This utter confusion quickly passed my mind when I realized “Oh, the elections”. Bibi Netanyahu, facing threats from the right namely in the form of the freshly energetic Naftali Bennett, was appealing to the right. His campaign posters all over Israel asked voters to vote for a “strong” Israel, and he had to back that up.
The election being barely behind us, the same government has now returned to what Israel does best, remove Jews from their homes because they are Jews.
In a surprising and unexpected move, IDF and Israeli police forces moved in on Ma’ale Rehava’m and other Jewish outposts to evacuate them. Homes were razed, families evacuated in the early dawn and given only 15 minutes to gather some belongings. Thankfully the bulk of Ma’ale Rehavam was spared; for now. Ironically, the government move seemed so unprecedented and outside the spirit of the rule of law that the Israeli courts, usually no friends to Jewish “settlers”, stopped the evacuation.
Ma’ale Rehava’am is no illegal squatter hilltop with crazed religious fanatics who evicted peaceful Arab villagers (as the media would portray). It has been around for nearly one and half decades. It was established on empty state land with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s go ahead. No Arab was forced out of his home, no land was stolen, and it was established with government approval. As is not commonly known, Jewish “settlers” in the West Bank most often are the most legitimate residents of all Israel. Israelis living within the Green Line, often do live in land that was taken from fleeing Arabs during the 1948 war. Leftist Tel-Avivians who desperately want to give away all of Judea and Samaria to their enemies, often live on stolen private land. Some Arabs abroad still have their original deeds from their former homes in Tel-Aviv and elsewhere. They have yet to be paid by their well meaning leftist home squatters.
In sharp contrast, Jews living on the other side of the Green Line have a much different story. They began moving there after the Six Day War. Of course there had been many Jewish communities there since time immemorial previously but they had been destroyed and their residents massacred or forced to flee by Arab armies in 1948. Thus the West Bank was “Jew-free” from and ONLY from 1948 to 1967. After the war, Jews were allowed to re-establish some of their communities and establish new ones by the Israeli government. This was an organized process, with a great deal of legal due diligence conducted to make sure there was no private Arab claims on the land. No Arabs fled, none were pushed out, no homes destroyed, all the Arab towns, cities and villages remained in tact as they do so today (the endless source of Israel’s security problems).
Jewish settlements are either established on empty unclaimed land or on private land that is purchased from their owners. When an Arab buys a house in Israel, whether it is Tel-Aviv or Abu Gosh, no one calls him an occupier or settler. When a Jew buys a home in New York or Paris, he is also deemed to be perfectly legitimate in his residency even if his neighbors are Muslim and resent him, but when a Jew dares buy, build or rent a home in his ancient Biblical homeland of Judea, he is a criminal occupier.
The question of political jurisdiction aside, it is absurdly amusing to see that the Western World today holds in contempt nothing more than ethnic cleansing except when it is applied against Jews in Judea. Jews have a right to live anywhere on earth, other than Judea we are told. In reality, they cannot live almost anywhere in the Muslim World, which we do not seem to mind too much, and cannot live in much of tiny Israel, which we do mind more. This means that even if one supports PA rule over the West Bank, why does it include ethnic cleansing? When Israel was established in 1948, it did not (and the world would not support) demand to evict all Arabs from this newly established Jewish State. On the contrary, those Arabs were given citizenship and have all the same rights and privileges as all other Israelis (but again not all the responsibilities including taxes and military service).
In any event, Ma’ale Re’hava’m was slowly given water, electricity and even telephone and internet service by various Israeli government ministries. The IDF has often guarded the settlement since its early days, and hundreds if not thousands of soldiers could tell of the joyful week spent there (a break from the toils of regular service) due to the hospitality of families there. Your humble author himself had the pleasure of living in Ma’ale Rehava’am during much of his IDF service.
Its scenic beauty is unexplainable, and ancient Judean wells and caves in its surrounding are awe inspiring to withhold. We once gave a tour of the area to a prominent leftist attorney (who advocated immediate withdrawal of the entire West Bank) to remain unnamed herein, who could do no more than weep at one of the most specials sites near the Yshuv. It is hard to imagine that a Jew could feel more at home anywhere else.
The community is a mixed religious and secular community. Unlike most other Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are thoroughly fenced in, Ma’ale Rehava’am rejected this “Ghetto Mentality” and has no security fence. “Let them build fences”, they used to tell me, “We are not afraid”. This inspiring ideology allowed the small group of families to actually exert security control over a large part of the empty terrain, to use in agriculture and keep Arab smugglers, squatters and worse out. Settlements that are fenced-in usually exert no influence outside their fence and are typically continuously surrounded by Arab shepherds and their herds right up to the fence. The message clear , that the Jews can have their ghetto but the Arabs hold the terrain.
This was not the case at Ma’ale Rehava’m. The toils and struggle that the founders overcame could fill the pages of a book. The families there represent the very best that is Israel. They are polite, educated, thoughtful, patriotic and industrious. The Zionist pioneering feeling of the early days of the state is alive and well in them. Some of them work in high-tech firms in Jerusalem, others run their own small businesses and most contribute to the settlement’s beautiful gardens, vineyards, orchards and olive groves. They work by day and often guard by night.
Instead of using Arab labor (most construction in Jewish settlements is done by Arab workers), the residents of Ma’ale Rehava’m believe in Jewish labor, and build their homes with their own two hands. Starting as a small outpost with “caravans” or trailers, the Yshuv now mostly has beautifully built small permanent homes. I myself had the honor of contributing with a large Green House built for aquaculture (with most of the credit there, owed to my father’s unmatched adroit resourcefulness).
Ma’ale Rehavam lies at the very edge of the Jewish presence in Israel, east and southeast of it there is nothing but beautiful Judean hills and Judean desert. Ma’ale Rehava’m is a critically important strategic point that guards the desert smuggling routes, and stops more illegal Arab sprawl to continue southward to fill the now nearly desolate part of the Southern West Bank. Northwards over the ridge overlooking Ma’ale Rehava’m, one can look down at Zatra (or Za’tara), the southern edge of the Arab sprawl that extends for miles up to Bethlehem. Ma’ale Rehava’am is the only thing stopping this sprawl from extending and surrounding Gush Etzion.
When the outpost was first established during the Intifada, one of the leading founders, Gidi, had gone over the hill unarmed and alone to see the Sheikh of Za’atra. He told him that they meant to be good neighbors, and they would not bother them, and in turn should not be bothered by them. While he assured him that the Jewish residents will not enter his town, he also told him that his Arabs should not enter theirs (Ma’ale Rehava’am). The Sheikh and his company laughed mockingly at the Chutzpah of the lone unarmed Jew, but Gidi’s strength is hard to miss in his eyes. The Sheikh not knowing if to be enraged or terrified asked “Yea, and what if they do go over there, what are you going to do about it?”. Gidi simply answered that he was free to find out. Za’tara did not wish to test Gidi and his band, and remained peaceful and respectful neighbors.
In the Yshuv’s absence, the area would already be filled with tents and shacks that precede the subsequent urban Arab build up that has occurred so often elsewhere in Israel.
Just West (no more than 1 kilometer or 2) of the Yshuv, and behind its protection are the thriving and larger Jewish settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim, and a new highway connecting them to Jerusalem by an 8 minute drive. The well known Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a resident in Nokdim. Also in the cluster is Kfar Eldad, an innovative boarding school (established by a former IDF officer) for at-risk and troubled children who learn not only academics, but self sufficiency and hard work. They go on to be outstanding conscripts in the IDF. Kfar Eldad is well known for its outstanding cheeses (goat, cow and sheep’s milk cheese) that the students themselves make.
The government should be strengthening Ma’ale Rehava’am rather than removing it. After having been established with all the government’s blessings, as the Sharon government turned anti-settler with the Disengagement on the horizon, things legally got more complex. Some ministries continued to recognize the settlement while others did not. The pro-Arab Civilian authority in the West Bank ordered its removal, but the government stopped this action based on the town’s legitimacy. This was all purely a inter-ministerial dispute, and had nothing to do with the fact that the settlement was established on unclaimed and empty state land.
Always most disheartening to the residents was the looming threat of Israeli evacuation. The residents are the kind of people who by choice lead their lives pursuing ideas greater than themselves. They do not mind the danger (though incidents within the Yshuv are rare to non-existent, incidents of Arab violence along the roads are almost daily occurrences), the lack of comforts their fellow citizens in the city enjoy, the physical and financial exertion building up the settlement required, and they certainly do not mind defending it – from the enemy…. but the fact that it will not be an Arab mob or army coming over the hill to eradicate them, bur rather their own beloved IDF is a fact hard to swallow. It is not only extremely depressing and demoralizing, but also ultimately unfair (to all involved including the soldiers) and leaves the residents helpless as they would not and could not fight their brothers.
During the Olmert administration, the future looked gloomy with many threats of removal, but through it all, Ma’ale Rehava’am’ residents continued to work and achieve. The small town grew, children were born and raised on it. The residents work, guard, send their children to the best combat units in the IDF, and abide by Israeli law and pay taxes. The settlement is a member of local regional council, the formal government body established by the Israeli government. The regional council collects taxes from the settlement which residents must pay, and provides certain services and assistance from time to time. In a country who is only about 6 decades old in total, Ma’ale Rehava’m is pretty old and firmly established.
Olmert gone, the storm seemed to have passed, and the government declared on several occasions that it would formally end the controversy and declare the settlement fully legal. Last year, Netanyahu ordered the Levy report, which reinforced those statements and concluded that there was absolutely nothing illegal about Ma’ale Rehava’am and other similar outposts in the area.
This is why yesterday’s sudden assault was unexpected and shocking. Politics is at play here, and while the Israeli people voted for a more right wing Knesset in the January elections, the current leftist figures in the government are using the interim period (until the new coalition is in power) to quickly advance their agenda of appeasement and withdrawal. The human rights of the patriotic citizens involved does not concern them.
Formally, since Israel has not annexed the West Bank into Israel proper, Israeli law does not hold in the West Bank. This means that theoretically for example, there is no speed limit in the West Bank and a police officer cannot give you a ticket for speeding (although he does). The law of the land is a combination of Jordanian law, traditional Arabian law and Ottoman law that was in place at the time of the Six Day War. In addition, the military authority, as the ruling power, can also make enforceable military laws when needed, though these only usually relate to security matters.
Under this theoretical regime, the Arabs as explained previously enjoy near complete freedom since Israel applies no law AGAINST them, but provides every service of government to them in an abusive one-sided relationship. Israel will not really enforce Jordanian or Ottoman law against the Arab population. The problem is that towards Jewish residents in the West Bank, Israel acts quite differently, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at them.
Security forces will enforce Ottoman, Jordanian, military and Israeli law against the Jewish settlers. Israeli citizens do not escape Israeli law or taxes simply by moving to the West Bank, they continue to pay taxes, property taxes (as Ma’ale Rehava’am residents do), abide by all environmental laws and serve quite happily in the army. Settlers tend to be the most patriotic of Israelis. At the same time, Jews are literally laughed at if they try to CLAIM any protection under any of these laws.
For example, under Ottoman and Jordanian law, land was claimed by one of two methods; either by planting Olive trees (that is why the West Bank is literally covered in them) or standing in the middle of it and shouting. If no one could hear you, this was empty land that you could claim. In essence, uninhabited land could be claimed.
The Arabs use these pretexts (if they need to use any at all) all the time to continually grab more land, on BOTH sides of the Green Line. By these standards, Ma’ale Rehava’am is fully legitimate from the moment it was established, since it was done so on unclaimed land and they have vastly improved it and planted on it.
The fact that Israeli ministries exert their control over the West Bank (only on Jews), breaks the very principle that Israeli law does not hold in the West Bank since it was not annexed. Therefore, Ma’ale Rehava’am would not even need their permission to exist. Even so, it has gotten it on repeated occasions. The situation is such that basically while Israel refuses to annex the West Bank (which ironically all the Jewish settlers would love) and apply its law there, it continues to apply its law when and how it chooses against Jewish citizens while enforcing no laws whatsoever on the Arab residents. No more than a continuation of the policy of weakness and appeasement. It continues to encourage the conflict and our enemies to continue until the total victory they see so near. Meanwhile, the rule of law in Israel becomes a joke.
Ma’ale Rehavam was named after the legendary General Rehava’am Zeevi Z”L, “Gandhi”. A larger than life figure in the establishment of the state, Zeevi was known for his enormous love for the land of Israel. A hero of Israel’s wars, he was along with Sharon and Raful, one of the last of that giant generation of leaders. Unlike many of his colleagues he did not veer left with age in his ideology but rather strengthened and enlightened his patriotic positions. He was respected, feared and even liked by the Arabs who often had pictures of him in their homes. His life of course is plenty subject matter for many books, but an anecdote here will suffice. After the Six Day War, a knife-wielding Arab attacked the military governor of Hebron, Zeevi who was nearby shot the assailant in the leg, and then carried him on his shoulders to his personal vehicle to drive him to the Hospital.
The Spirit of Israel
As many an Oleh (immigrant to Israel) knows, arriving in Israel full of Zionism and expectations of what the Jewish state ought to be can be a demoralizing proposition. Israelis, being human, and pre-occupied with their daily lives, can fall short of such idealists’ expectations… Ma’ale Rehava’am (along with many such similar communities) is their paradise. Rather than disappointment one would find endless inspiration there. The pioneering spirit, camaraderie, Zionism, patriotism, family, all alive and well together with a down to earth attitude and intellectual awareness that is most impressive. In fact, these qualities are combined within them along with more traditional European Jewish values, education, manners, intellectualism, garments which many Israelis have completely cast out. Quite unlike the fanatic lunatics the media portrays as settlers, the breadth and depth of political, historical and philosophical discussions I heard around the Yshuv’s dinner tables (and unforgettable open air star-filled BBQs with fresh meat and wine) were not only extremely impressive but remain uncontested in comparison to those many more I have heard on the “right” side of the Green Line.
It is no surprise that those who care deeply about issues, such as their history, heritage, land and country would be rather well versed in them compared to citizen’s whose main concern is at best their love life, their upcoming raise, their apartment and at worse what the Kardachians are up to.
It is easy to go with the stream, difficult to dare stand against it, on issues ranging from morality to freedom, the public would be surprised at the thoughtfulness of Jewish ideology within these communities, especially Ma’ale Rehava’am. Even understanding and respect for Arabs, is far deeper therein (and based on reality and knowledge) than in Tel-Aviv where the Arab is all too often simply an unstoppable monster that needs to be either appeased with tribute for peace, or simply enlightened to our good intentions in order to love us.
It is hard to imagine what possible good for Israel or anyone else these evacuations can have… they go unnoticed in the world press, and if they were noticed, it would only be worse since it would lead to even more. Israel was “occupying” the West Bank before Oslo, it was occupying it after, it was occupying it still after Operation Defensive Shield (when we took much of it back under Sharon before he lost his touch) and occupying it after we withdrew once again from Zone A. Gaza being a prime example… there is always the “Gaza issue”; Gaza has been independent since Oslo in the 90s, then enlarged nearly a decade ago with the Disengagement and eviction of ten thousand Jews from Gush Katif… no matter it remains “occupied”. At best, if Israel is inside it, it is occupying, and if it withdraws it is “sieging”. It would be absurdly funny if it wasn’t so sad. We (Israel) have only ourselves to blame for being so ignorant, weak and stupid.
Perhaps the Jewish residents of Judea are destined to be demonized, and be categorically denied their rights to live on their land as long as they do not engage in terrorism against their brothers. The left ingeniously discovered “palestinian” rights of nationhood and all other sorts as soon as Tel-Aviv cafes and school buses started exploding.
The residents of Ma’ale Rehava’am will never do that, they will remain as always, wherever they are, good warm patriotic Jewish families that go on loving their country though it seldom seems to love back. We abuse their virtues unjustly and at our peril, not because they will strike back because they cannot, but because they will tire of offering them… when the line they hold goes backwards and backwards until it is no more, then who then will protect Tel-Aviv from the barbarian hordes? The people watching the kardachians?
This is the story of Ma’ale Rehava’am, may it only be its beginning.