Two stories that appeared in Haaretz Wednesday dealt with the symbiotic relationship between government institutions and settler organizations – a relationship that not only facilitates and expands the settlement enterprise, but makes a mockery of the Israeli claim that these land appropriations are merely private, free-market real estate deals.
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The first story, by Chaim Levinson, dealt with the decision by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to permit the expansion of the Gush Etzion Regional Council’s borders to include a former church-owned property that has been dubbed Beit Bracha. The compound was purchased at the initiative of right-wing activists by an American group using funds provided by billionaire Irving Moskowitz, a patron of the settlers.
The second story, by Nir Hasson, investigated the close ties between the Justice Ministry’s Administrator General’s Office and the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization. These ties allowed the establishment and expansion of a small Jewish enclave right in the heart of the Arab village of Silwan, near Jerusalem’s Old City.
The investigative report revealed that the Administrator General’s Office supported Ateret Cohanim’s request to have its people be appointed trustees of the historical hekdesh – the association that purchased property in Silwan in the 19th century and is still the property’s legal owner. The Administrator General also sold the hekdesh additional plots without a tender and at an astoundingly low price, while backing its lawsuits to evict the Palestinian residents of these plots.
The objective of the settlers is to subvert any effort to divide Jerusalem and torpedo any chance for a diplomatic settlement with the Palestinians. A police situational assessment explicitly states that the presence of Jews in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods is a source of friction that increases violence.
Israeli taxpayers must also be aware that of all the settlements, the one in Silwan is one of the costliest. Every entry and exit of Jews from the enclave is chaperoned by armed guards and armored vehicles. Last year the Finance Ministry estimated that each Jewish settler living in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem cost the government 30,000 shekels ($7,700) a year.
Official government spokesmen argue that settlement activity in East Jerusalem and in some parts of the West Bank is not the government’s responsibility because the property transactions are conducted between private individuals, and the government cannot legally prevent them. But as has been repeatedly demonstrated, these transactions not only have the backing of government ministries, but are facilitated by government officials and decision makers, who time after time give the settlers what they want.
This servility toward the settlers under the cover of government bureaucracy must stop. The government must be transparent regarding property transfers to the settlers, and public officials must act in the public interest, not to please the tendentious political leadership.