Border Control / Sovereign Over No-man's Land

When Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's peace administration is transformed from a newspaper report into an element that carries weight (mainly in the eyes of the defense and security people), there will be a need for a magnifying glass to find available territories to exchange for Ma'aleh Adumim and other Jewish settlements in the West Bank that the government wants the Palestinians to relinquish. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas does not intend to hand out gifts to Israel; he has already declared publicly that the area of the Palestinian state has to amount to 6,502 square kilometers - including the demilitarized zone ("no-man's-land") between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan that Israel occupied in the Six-Day War. This constitutes the 46 square kilometers where Maccabim, Kfar Ruth, Shilat, parts of Lapid and the Jewish-Arab moshav Neveh Shalom are located.

According to the Bush formula and the road map (which refer to "withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967"), Israel has to compensate the Palestinians for this territory as well, but it turns out that even officials at the State Prosecutor's Office are not entirely certain about Israel's sovereignty over the demilitarized zone. This uncertainty emerged during the twists and turns of a criminal case against an Israeli named Eitan Kramer, who was charged with having driven an inhabitant of the territories, an illegal sojourner, along the road that passes through the area of Neveh Shalom. In a detailed and thorough ruling that was handed down in March 2005, which exonerated the accused, Beit Shemesh Magistrate's Court Judge Alexander Ron ruled that "no one disputes that Israeli law has not been imposed on territory that was demilitarized prior to the Six-Day War." He thus rejected the sworn statement ("the foreign minister's certification") by Tzipi Livni to the effect that "in the entire no-man's-land, the law, the judiciary and the administration of the state of Israel have been in effect since 1947" (the letter was originally submitted in September 2006, to the Magistrate's Court in Rehovot, in the framework of deliberations on a different case). The judge ruled that the minister's letter does not relate to the question of what legal basis Israel adopts to apply its law in this territory.

The State Prosecutor's Office appealed to the Jerusalem District Court, but two weeks ahead of the deliberations on the appeal, District Attorney Eli Abarbanel requested the ruling be canceled and with it, of course, the appeal. Officials at the Justice Ministry had come to the conclusion that it is better to eradicate the problematic document from the face of the earth than to get embroiled about Israel's sovereignty in the demilitarized zone.

And indeed, the court ruling does resemble an indictment against Israel's political leadership throughout the generations. The judge wrote that had the status of the territories annexed to the state at the end of the War of Independence and following the signing of the truce agreements been absolutely clear, it would have been possible to determine whether the demilitarized zone, in which Neveh Shalom was established, is among the territories that were annexed to the state afterward. Consequently, the things that are written in the ruling would never have come into the world. Instead, Ron complains, the legislator chose to deal with the extent to which Israeli law applies to various territories.

"It is doubtful that it is possible to consider the 'foreign minister's certification,' which was submitted by the plaintiff, as constituting sufficient evidence of the existence of effective rule by the state of Israel in territories that were demilitarized," wrote Ron. "That is, if the documents merit the name 'the foreign minister's certifications' at all." According to the judge, recognizing Israel's sovereignty over a territory by claiming effective rule over the place does not concord with the accepted perceptions in Israel and it has no validity. "The fact that there is an Israeli locale in a territory where Israeli citizens live is not indicative of intended sovereignty." Evidence is provided by the many dozens of such locales (the Israeli settlements in the territories) that are spread throughout the region - when it comes to them, it is not argued that they are located within the sovereign territory of the state of Israel. According to Ron, judicial authority with respect to persons will never constitute a basis for a claim to effective rule in a territory. "And if it is a matter of a decision that has its source in the administrative ranks or some police officer or other - does this suffice to constitute a basis for far-reaching conclusions?!"

The judge commented that law enforcement by the Israel Police is not at all the subject matter of the foreign minister's certification. Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, an expert on Israel's borders and a partner in the Geneva accords, assesses that Israeli will likely insist on keeping the territory in question under its sovereignty - because of the population centers in the no-man's-land, its location adjacent to Highway 1 linking Jerusalem to the center of the country and its proximity to Ben-Gurion International Airport. At the same time, he also expects that Israel will have to compensate the Palestinians for half of the territory in the context of a compromise consisting of exchanges of territories.

The price of a phone line

Ronit Balaban was a rather unusual phenomenon in the religious Jewish settlement of Ganei Tal in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to most of her neighbors, Balaban did not believe that the grace of God, or the rabbis, would spare Gush Katif from the disengagement. She refused to give up her family business and the reputation it had acquired in Israel and abroad during its 20 years of existence. In March 2005, half a year before the disengagement, Balaban contacted Yonatan Bassi's Sela Administration, responsible for implementing the disengagement plan, with a request to help her locate alternative land for her flourishing 30 dunams of houseplant hothouses. The new plot of land, in the Ashkelon area, was allotted five months later, barely two months prior to the evacuation. The crowded timetable forced the family to acquire an electricity generator, to improvise a hookup to the water grid and to dig cesspits. Balaban said yesterday that in order to complete the picture all they lacked was a horse and cart.

The Bezeq telephone line was replaced by a mobile phone but you can't run a business with wireless Internet and without a fax machine. From each of the dozen farms that were established by Gush Katif evacuees in the region, Bezeq demanded NIS 160,000 for each individual line. No less. It is obvious that this hallucinatory demand had an explanation: Installing a new phone line requires complicated excavations under the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline and under a main highway. Balaban has a different explanation. She relates that after Bezeq staffers came up with these astronomical prices, they sent her with the bill to the Sela Administration. What do you care, Yonatan Bassi will pay.

But Bassi, too, stopped being a patsy. Who wants to sign a check for NIS 160,000 for a Bezeq line? With regret the former Jewish settler in Gaza turned to MK Avshalom "Abu" Vilan of Meretz. Vilan, who heads the Knesset's agricultural lobby, went out for a tour of the hothouses. He found that the distance between Balaban's hothouse and some of the manufacturing plants in the Ashkelon industrial zone amounts to no more than 200 meters. Moshav Mavki'im is located 700 meters from there. Vilan contacted the new CEO of Bezeq, Avi Gabbay, and informed him of his sensational discovery. Last week Balaban informed her neighbor from Negba that the oil pipeline is no longer delaying the telephone line. Now it will be easier for her to contact the lawyers so they will sue the government to compensate her for the NIS 3 million her farm has lost because of the negligent treatment of a family that evacuated willingly.