There is now and has been for years a valid internal debate in Israel over how much of the land of Israel Jews should be allowed to live in. Can we live in the ancient towns and lands, mentioned in the stories held holy by billions, or not?
Two nights ago I watched the profoundly depressing debate in the UK’s House of Commons over the recognition of Palestine. I live tweeted much of it and plenty of people have written comprehensively about it and it was nearly all a tirade of lies, half truths and distortions. More depressing was that, with a tiny couple of exceptions, even Israel’s supporters have swallowed the Arab line that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a Jew to live within another Arab state, calling itself Palestine on land that is ancestrally Jewish.
It was clearly the issue of “settlements” comes up again and again with astonishingly poor understanding of what these are, who lives in them and how many different types there are.
It’s not really relevant anymore whether Jews can debate if living in Judea, Samaria (and Gaza) is valid or reasonable: we have debated it for years and the result is now an accepted wisdom that Jews can only live in the land they managed to cling to at the end of the first, organised, Arab war against us in 1948/9.
There are a few optimistic notes about that debate: the House was half empty, approximately only half of MPs voted. Most reasonable supporters stayed away and didn’t bother to speak: the speeches really were a minority of MPs mostly grandstanding for their existing, entrenched, anti-Israel fan clubs.
But, and this is a huge but: as I saw in the summer when I spent two weeks in London, watching the news from Gaza on the BBC, I can fully understand how people are completely deceived. During the debate it was mentioned a few times that just this weekend, obviously in a calculated move ahead of the vote, the BBC showed the strongly anti-settlement film Gatekeepers interviewing a selection of former security chiefs who regard Israelis living over the green line with suspicion. What a typical move from the supposedly apolitical BBC.
I’ll conclude with Melanie Phillips latest blog post (which she has now taken to publishing exclusively on Facebook). She’s taking apart a string of falsehoods promulgated by Sir Alan Duncan, David Cameron’s special envoy to Yemen and Oman.
Hard on the heels of the Commons vote recognising “Palestine”, which I warned would strengthen those bent on Jew-hatred, comes this astonishing rant defaming both Israel and Jewish supporters of Israel by Sir Alan Duncan, David Cameron’s special envoy to Yemen and Oman.
Duncan’s tirade presents a picture of Israel that is false and wholly distorted. The core of his spitting hatred is his claim that Israel’s settlements are illegal. There is an authoritative body of legal opinion that shows they are not illegal at all; the illegality trope is merely an anti-Israel canard. But even if they were illegal, this would hardly justify Duncan’s venom and vituperation which seem quite out of control.
Thus he proposes that “settlement endorsing” should be regarded as on a par with sexism, homophobia and antisemitism. Pinch yourself: he’s talking about houses for Israelis – built on land that is either legally bought from Arab owners or else legally built on land owned by nobody. And this he equates with antisemitism, the prejudice that has caused the persecution and mass murder of Jews. This is on a par with the mind-bending libel that equates Israelis with Nazis, in which the Jews are smeared by accusing them of the vileness of which they are in fact the victims.
Bizarrely, he claims that British policy has been that “on no account should we ever rock the boat by talking in tough language to Israel for fear of jeopardising the so-called Peace Process.” But HMG constantly upbraids Israel for its “illegal occupation” and settlements which it claims (quite wrongly) are scuppering the peace process.
He raves that it is “impossible to overstate the criminal intent and strategic importance” of Israel’s recently announced plan to build 2,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, which would “finalise the severing of Bethlehem from Jerusalem…This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker,” he said.
It is impossible to overstate the wildness of these claims. Much of this building is only just over the 1947 ceasefire “green line”. It is all land which in every set of negotiations has been understood and accepted by the Arabs will always be part of Israel. It is not stolen from anyone because either it is lawfully purchased or else it is not owned by anyone. And as was pointed out in this article.
“Israel’s actual settlement construction pace has reached a historical low. Only 507 housing units were approved for construction by Netanyahu’s government in the first six months of 2014, a 71.9 percent decrease from the same period in 2013, with about one-third of those being built inside the major blocks that it is understood Israel will keep in any final status agreement. For a population of over 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, that pace of construction does not even allow for natural population growth, much less rapid expansion.”
Duncan makes claims about allegedly vile behaviour by Jewish residents of Hebron which I have no means of checking are true or untrue. He makes no reference whatever, however, to the murderous attacks on those residents against which they have to be permanently guarded. He also claims that Israel practises apartheid; “as a description of Hebron it is both accurate and undeniable”, he states. What is undeniable is that the apartheid claim is absolutely and ludicrously false. Hebron is not part of Israel and so its Arab residents are not Israeli citizens; the apartheid claim is therefore a baseless smear – and in its misrepresentation of the real thing also amounts to apartheid-denial.
And then there are Duncan’s most snake-like remarks of all:
“Sir Alan, a former Tory party vice-chairman, said that he deplored anti-Semitism and absolutely backed Israel’s right to exist as a state. But while the UK’s Jewish community should be valued for its contribution to the fabric of Britain, it was wrong to conflate all Jews with Israel. ‘Our politics has rules and one important such rule is that our political funding should not come from another country or from citizens of another country, or be unduly in hock to another country,’ he said.”
What exactly is he saying? That Israelis are secretly bunging bribes to British politicians? That Jews who fund British political parties must not be supporters of Israel? That any Jew who is such a supporter must be suspect? Is this the accusation of dual loyalty that gets routinely flung at British Jews who support Israel?
On BBC Radio’s The World at One earlier, Duncan’s Jewish conspiracy theory was rather less veiled.”The United States is in hock to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its policies”, he said.
There is only one decent course of action for the Prime Minister to take in the light of the venom and bigotry displayed by his envoy to Yemen and Oman. He should sack him.[Refers to this piece in the (£) Times]
Sitting on my balcony, in my sukkah, it was only the Goldstar (Israeli beer) followed by a couple of stiff shots of Glenmorangie that got me through the whole thing.