Purim in Israel, a Time for Rejoicing and Plundering Palestinian Property

The holiday's ethos of 'On the spoil, they laid not their hand' is considered fit for religious study but not for treatment of the Palestinians.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

One of my jobs as the adopted aunt of A. and D., two teens from Jerusalem, is to help them prepare for their exams in Bible studies. So last week I refreshed my memory of the Book of Esther.

One of the prep questions given by their teacher was "Why is the sentence 'On the spoil, they laid not their hand' repeated three times in the text?" King Ahasuerus commanded that the Jews be permitted to kill everyone (or rather, everyone who attacked them, as the interpreters reassure us), "and theirgoods to plunder," but the Jews, the Book of Esther says in their praise, settled for killing them "only." That's the answer to the question; to prove that the purpose was not to plunder.

Leaving aside the question of historicity, in rereading these verses I recalled something I heard in the Gaza Strip immediately after the Israeli offensive in the winter of 2008-09, when the Palestinian Center for Human Rights recorded testimonies from survivors. According to one lawyer, experience shows that the Israeli military authorities are quick to investigate complaints about thefts by soldiers; they even order compensation. But they drag their feet and deny responsibility for the killing of civilians, including entire families.

The ethos of "On the spoil, they laid not their hand" is a suitable subject for yeshiva study, but not practiced in reality. The state does on a grand scale the acts it prohibits its soldiers from doing on a small scale. Plundering Palestinian property while exploiting our military superiority is our daily bread. The habits, tricks and methods developed in 1948 in order to appropriate portable and non-portable assets are still being refined and entrenched. There is nodifference between Jews who memorize verses from the Book of Esther and others.

In January 2012 the Israel Lands Administration informed representatives of Kibbutz Merav – in sovereign Israeli territory – that around 1,200 dunams (300 acres) of land farmed by the community had been assigned to it by mistake about 30 years ago. By mistake, since the land is in the Jordan Valley, territory that was captured by Israel in 1967 and therefore is off limits to the ILA. The right to grab Palestinian land in this area and hand it over to Jews is reserved by the army and the Civil Administration.

Taking over the Jordan Valley

For years residents of Tubas and Bardala complained that this 1,200-dunam plot, located in the Qa'un plain, had been taken from them. It should be said up front that in terms of the loss of land, livelihood, water sources and freedom of movement there is no difference between private and public land that has been taken from Palestinians and given to the Jews to use exclusively. About 77 percent of the enormous area of the Jordan Valley is beyond the Palestinians' reach.

And there is certainly no difference – in terms of the loss of land and the means to earn a living – between the approximately 20,000 dunams of private Palestinian land that was seized and given to Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley and the portion that was included in the tilled land of Kibbutz Merav (a member of the religious kibbutz movement).

In bureaucratic terms, however, there is a big difference, as was tracked down by Dror Etkes. Etkes studies the varieties of Israeli looting not out of love for dustyarchives but out of an unquenchable thirst to restore the plundered property to its owners. An article by Haaretz's Akiva Eldar in November 2011 on the mystery surrounding the allocation of land to Kibbutz Merav accelerated the search process before the ILA informed the kibbutz of the error more than a year ago. But it was not until around two weeks ago that the land agency officially admitted the mistake to attorney Tawfiq Jabarin, who represents the legitimate owners of the land.

We have reported the developments previously, but we are strict adherents to the commandment to reiterate and memorize the facts, and this is a story that bears retelling. The fact is that the kibbutz continues to work this parcel – about one-third of its farmland. And as Merav's Ran Ben Nun said to me last week: "The ILA allocated this land to us, and if the ILA wants to take land away, it knows how to do it. All these years we’ve been using this land that was allocated to us, including now. We are cultivating it as usual; why not?"

Take it from Hanan Porat

In contrast to the ethos of not looting, the other Purim ethos, that of rejoicing and making merry, is strictly observed. That's why the late settler leader Hanan Porat said "Happy Purim" shortly after a Kiryat Arba resident massacred 29 Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994, 19 years ago this week.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, outraged by Dr. Baruch Goldstein's slaughter of Palestinians, punished Hebron's Palestinian inhabitants. Curfews; closures of roads, alleys and stores; and roadblocksgave a big push to Jewish construction in Hebron's Old City. The other side of the joy: Thousands of the city's Palestinian residents were forced to leave due to harassment and the elimination of their sources of income. It's the arithmetic of glee: For the sake of around 500 Jews, a commandment is issued to disrupt the lives of around 200,000 Palestinians.

After the massacre in February 1994 the Israel Defense Forces closed Shuhada Street, Hebron's main thoroughfare, to Palestinian vehicles in order to protect the Jewish settlers. Since 2000, Palestinians living on the street have been prohibited from walking on it as well. I repeat: Even those Palestinians who live on the street are barred from it. To reach their homes and leave them they must use backstreets or jump from one roof to another.

On Friday, around 1,500 Palestinians (and a few Israelis and foreigners) demonstrated to demand the reopening of Shuhada Street. The soldiers obeyed orders and prevented demonstrators from entering their stolen city, so that the Jews could continue to rejoice there.

A Jewish settler, dressed in costume, stands near Israeli soldiers as they guard a parade for the holiday of Purim in Hebron, February 24, 2013. Credit: Reuters
A crane lifts a concrete block for the construction of a section of the controversial Israeli barrier in Shuafat refugee camp in the West Bank near Jerusalem, December 5, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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