Editorial

The 'Distress' of the Israeli Settlers

The government broke a record for cynicism when it brought up the uncertainty and disruption facing those living in West Bank settlements

A young settler looks over a settlement near Amona in the West Bank, September 12, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The expropriation law is aimed at stealing Palestinian land on which homes for settlers were built. It passed the Knesset against the advice of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. Using contemptuous rhetoric that sounds like it was taken from George Orwell’s “1984,” the law was called the Regularization Law, because it indeed “regularizes” state-sponsored theft in blatant violation of the rules of occupation, which obligate Israel to preserve the rights of the occupied. MK Benny Begin (Likud) dubbed the law the “theft law.”

But the Israeli government doesn’t care about the injustice it causes to the Palestinians. It is determined to render its destructive occupation policy kosher and even the judgment of its own legal advisers won’t stop it. After all, there will always be someone ready to do the work that Mendelblit, who thinks the law is unconstitutional, isn’t willing to do. Thus the government hired a private-sector lawyer, Harel Arnon, and used him to formulate the preliminary response to the High Court of Justice in two petitions Palestinians filed against the law. After circumventing the person whose job it is to defend the state in court and thus degrading one of the central institutions of the Israeli administration, it also had to gall to argue that leaving the situation as it had been “seriously undermines public confidence in government institutions.”

The government broke a record for cynicism when it made its arguments against the petitions. In a perfect reversal of occupier and occupied, it explained that the expropriation law constitutes “a humane, proportionate and reasonable response to the real distress” of all those “Israeli residents” who live under “a cloud of uncertainty” that is “disrupting their lives.” It’s hard to believe, but this is not a description of the situation of millions of Palestinians living under occupation whose lands are being seized, but of the distress of the settlers, who chose to live outside the state’s official borders and whose very presence there is illegitimate.

The reversal of cause and effect doesn’t end there. The government also explained that the former situation created “a polarizing reality that repeatedly tears apart Israeli society.” In other words, the court is being asked to approve theft not merely as a purely legal act, but out of nationalist considerations of social unity. The Palestinians will be forced to part with their private property so that Israeli citizens won’t quarrel with one another.

Even if it’s true that in some cases the settlers built their homes “relying on the state’s assurance,” this doesn’t justify authorizing a continuous violation of the law. At best it provides grounds for the settlers to sue the state. But there is no legal way to legalize the theft of Palestinian lands. The court must categorically reject the state’s arguments and strike down this unconstitutional law.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.