One of Avichai Mendelblit’s last decisions before his term as attorney general ended this week was also one of the most shameful. He legalized the illegal West Bank settlement of Evyatar. In his legal opinion, he wrote that the preparations for founding the settlement can begin now, and when they have been completed the government can authorize the construction of a new settlement on the site.
In other words, the government’s highest legal authority has approved a violation of the law – a takeover of land belonging to the Palestinian village of Beita and the establishment of a settlement in a place where Israel had previously evicted Jewish squatters. He thereby provided further proof that in the occupied territories, the most violent always wins. Violence pays, and there is neither law nor judge.
This behavior shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That’s simply how Israel appropriates West Bank land – through theft, dispossession and sometimes violence, all culminating in legalization and whitewashing. When Amnesty International called Israel an “apartheid state,” it based its claim in part on this behavior, which treats Palestinian property as free for the taking, under the auspices of the government.
Now the ball is in Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s court. Eight months ago, Gantz issued an eviction order against the squatters. Now that the settlement has been given legal approval, will he dare to stand in the way of Evyatar?
- In Last Days in Office, Israel's AG Okayed Settlement at Illegal Outpost
- Lapid Warns Bennett: Legalizing Settlement Can Harm Israel-U.S. Ties
- Jamil Protested Against Takeover of His Family's Land, and Was Shot Dead by IDF
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid actually exhibited signs of resistance. In a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Wednesday, he wrote that senior American officials had warned about the consequences of this step, which could undermine relations with the Biden administration and spark a harsh response from the international community. Even though experience shows that aside from lip service in the form of empty denunciations the international community in general and the United States in particular won’t lift a finger to prevent Evyatar’s establishment, Lapid did well to voice his opposition to the settlement’s founding. It’s just a pity that he opted to hide behind the United States instead of expressing his ideological stance.
Eight Palestinians – all residents of Beita, the village whose land was stolen – have already been killed in demonstrations against the takeover of the nearby hilltop. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced that the attorney general’s decision would intensify their popular struggle to get this land returned to its owners. Bennett must put a stop to this folly, which will result in Evyatar’s land being soaked with more blood, solely for the sake of appeasing the settlers’ appetite for annexation.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.