Six Day War: Legality of Settlements Debated Since 1996, Israelis have built more than 100 outposts — consisting of a few trailers or tents on a hilltop — in the West Bank that were never officially authorized by the Israeli government. But most of them were constructed with direct help from the state.
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Six Day War: Legality of Settlements Debated

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Six Day War: Legality of Settlements Debated

Six Day War: Legality of Settlements Debated

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We come to the end of our series on the Six Day war at a settlement - Israelis living illegally in the West Bank. Yesterday, we heard how Jewish settlements have grown there since Israel occupied the West Bank after that '76 war. Some those settlements began as smaller outposts, a few trailers or tents on a hilltop. In the last 10 years, Israelis have built more than 100 of these smaller West Bank outposts that were never officially authorized by the Israeli government, but most of which were constructed with direct help from the state.

Today, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports on the Migron, one of the newer outposts.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Migron began in 2002 as a cell phone tower on a hilltop overlooking road 60, a major West Bank artery.

Israeli authorities decided the tower needed security, so the Army posted guards. Soon after, Jewish settlers brought in some 60 trailers, or mobile homes. Israeli ministries built roads and helped provide all the basic services, and there's round-the-clock security, courtesy of the Army. Today, 180 Israelis call this hilltop home.

Ms. AVIVA WINTER(ph) (Resident, Migron): You just feel that it's so right, so natural to be here.

WESTERVELT: Aviva Winter sits in the covered section of her trailer home's front yard. She's gently juggling her 1-year-old daughter, Halel - or praise -on her lap. Except for the temporary housing, Winter says, Migron looks like any other Israeli suburb.

Ms. WINTER: You know, post office, phones, the electricity, the water, all the systems - the educational systems. We have here educational systems. We have here a library, a Gymboree for kids. And everything is by the government and by the regional council that we're part of.

(Soundbite of wagon wheels on pavement)

WESTERVELT: In the late afternoon sun, several children happily push toy wagons and plastic cars on the roadway that snakes around the outpost. One of Aviva's neighbors is planting strips of lush, green grass in his front yard.

Aviva, her husband Netzer(ph), and their children moved to Migron from Jerusalem in 2003. Winter says she sees herself and fellow settlers as a natural continuation of the pioneering tradition of early Zionists. She calls Judea and Samaria - the Biblical name for the West Bank - the heart of Israel.

Migron is mentioned in the book of Samuel. And Aviva claims settlers have a Biblical right to this land — something she says all settlers here are reminded of daily when they read the Torah.

Ms. WINTER: We are reliving it, all the biblical stories. We're talking about Jacob's dream, Abraham, everyone passed through this area. It really is a dream that's coming true after 2,000 years, to relive it.

WESTERVELT: Winter says it's natural that everyone knows they have their own land to which they belong.

Ms. WINTER: And the Arabs have 21 lands where they belong to. I think that's the way God created the world, that every nation has his own right place to live. That and if you're not in your right place, then there is a lot of problems.

WESTERVELT: Asked if she thinks the 2.4 million Palestinians currently living in the West Bank are in, quote, "the right place," the Tacoma, Washington-born Winter claims, erroneously, that most Palestinians were brought into the West Bank during Jordanian rule in the 1950s.

The problem with Migron, according to court papers, is that the outpost was illegally built on land owned by Palestinians in the adjacent villages of Deir Dibwan and Burqa.

Dror Etkes is settlement watch coordinator for Israel Peace Now.

Mr. DROR ETKES (Settlement Watch Coordinator, Israel Peace Now): Israel claims that it respects to ownership rights in the West Bank, but Migron was constructed fully on a registered private Palestinian land which belongs to the two villages around Migron.

WESTERVELT: In February of this year, responding to a lawsuit by Peace Now, the Israeli government said the outpost was unauthorized, that it was built on private land and, the state said, should be dismantled.

In 2005, the Israeli-government-created Sasohn Commission(ph) concluded that the state illegally spent more than 4 million shekels, or about $1 million of public funds building Migron.

The state has successfully petitioned the court for more time to create an evacuation plan before dismantling the outpost. Etkes calls that just another stalling tactic. He calls Migron a prime example of how settlers continue to establish facts on the ground in the West Bank — backed by the government - that, over time, often become larger settlements.

Mr. ETKES: And what we see here is, not only that the state hasn't enforced law in the West Bank - on Israelis in West Bank. What we see actually here is that the state is participating, is subsidizing law violation in a massive scale.

WESTERVELT: The ongoing legal fight over Migron is likely to become a key test-case for other outposts. Settlers are fighting back hard in the courts, Etkes says, because a loss in Migron could make other more vast Israeli-built areas in the West Bank legally vulnerable.

Mr. ETKES: They are extremely afraid of Migron. They understand very well that once a precedent will be done in Migron, there will be dozens and hundreds of sites in the West Bank. And it's not only outposts, it's official settlements, which are partly or fully built on private Palestinian lands.

WESTERVELT: According to the government's own Sasohn report, more than 100 new unauthorized outposts have been built in the West Bank since 1996. The report says most have basic infrastructure provided with help from the state.

The first Israeli settlements in the West Bank began cropping up in the fall of 1967 — just a few months after the Six Day war.

Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg says back then, there were warnings at the highest levels within the government that settlements would be viewed by some as neocolonial occupation and could backfire. But parliamentary proponents of settlement consistently won out. The romanticized allure of settlement, Gorenberg says, was hard to stop. It was the way Jews in the late 19th century returned to their homeland before independence.

Mr. GERSHOM GORENBERG (Israeli Historian): And so it had this sort of, you know, log cabin, frontier mystique, or the equivalent of that in Israeli terms. And people who settled the land were heroes. But in 1967, this was an anachronism. It was this out of date ideal that when applied to the post-'67 reality, led Israel into a quagmire.

WESTERVELT: Today, the Israeli government on the one hand concedes that Migron and the other outposts like it are illegal and contrary to established government policy. Yet at the same time, the government has actively supported their development and so far has done little to remove them.

Mr. GORENBERG: That's a pattern that began in the summer of 1967. What it reflects is that the conflict between the rational understanding that settlement is destructive for Israel and the emotional, almost mythical romance with settlement has not been resolved.

WESTERVELT: Polls here show that a majority of Israelis have increasingly soured on the mystique of settlement and no longer believe they'll be able to hold on to the majority of West Bank land captured 40 years ago.

Yet, near daily rocket fire from Gaza Strip — from which Israel unilaterally withdrew two summers ago — has made Israelis more fearful than ever of implementing a West Bank pullout. As one analyst here put it, the incredible irony is that at a time when the majority of Israelis have finally reached a conclusion it's impossible to stay in the West Bank, they're terrified of what the divorce will bring.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

MONTAGNE: And if you'd like to hear our entire series on the Six Day War and the 40 years that followed, go to npr.org.

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