The Thieves Pause: Israel “Open” to Summer Building Freeze

by James M. Wall                crop vineyard

“Israel Open to Settlement Freeze” was the New York Times headline over Ethan Bronner’s latest report from Jerusalem. How generous.

The occupiers who stole all that Palestinian West Bank land now offers to “freeze” construction for three months.  Why not? It is beastly hot in the West Bank from July to September.

The swimming pools and those “natural growth” houses next to grandma will just have to wait a little longer. The sheer absurdity of this latest Israeli governmental gesture boggles the mind.

Oh, but wait a minute. Even the freeze comes with caveats:

Israel would be open to a complete freeze of settlement building in the West Bank for three to six months as part of a broad Middle East peace endeavor that included a Palestinian agreement to negotiate an end to the conflict and confidence-building steps by major Arab nations, senior Israeli officials said Sunday.

The audacity of that offer is obscene.  As is the discussion being conducted this week by Ehud Barack, Israel’s Defense Minister, who will be meeting George Mitchell in Washington. (Bibi remained in Israel. He has settlement construction dust on his hands. His planned meeting last week with Mitchell in Paris was cancelled. Nothing to discuss.)

Barack will be pleading for a little family affection from Uncle Sam on this trip, as Ha’aretz reports:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was set to head to the United States Monday in a bid to end a quarrel with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration over Israel’s refusal to completely halt West Bank settlement construction.

Barak is expected to propose two potential compromises on the matter: Either a temporary complete settlement freeze, or the limiting of building in settlement blocs to high-rise construction only.

The defense minister, who is also the chairman of the center-left Labor party, will tell Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, that Israel cannot completely halt settlement construction.

To which Uncle Sam should respond: You got yourself into this fix with your support of the settlements. Now get yourself out. We have enough trouble already with our own right-wing domestic demands.

It will be enlightening to see how the New York Times‘ Ethan Bronner covers Barack’s trip. Bronner has clearly bought into the Israeli narrative which has long since forgotten some key moments in biblical history.

Which is why it is time for some biblical reflection on the theft of a neighbor’s vineyard.

Richard Silverstein, whose Tikum Olan blog is a reliable read on all matters Jewish, and Bronner, deeply rooted in Jewish culture, both know the biblical story of  ancient Israel’s King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, both of whom incurred the wrath of Jahweh for stealing Naboth’s vineyard and then killing him.

The theft of land is theft in the scriptures, in both ancient and modern Israel. Idolatry, worshipping the nation over Jahweh, also remains idolatry long after Jezebel was tossed from the Palace window for her leadership in the crime. Her body, by the way was left by a Wall, to be eaten by dogs.

“Thus says the Lord: In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours.And concerning Jezebel the Lord also spoke saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel”.

For a summary of the story, click here.

Apparently fearing neither God nor man, Bibi Netanyahu’s government offers to take a summer break in its expansion of settlements on stolen land, selling it as another “generous offer”.

Meanwhile, Ethan Bronner keeps looking for hopeful stories to demonstrate that not all Israelis are thieves.

He finds a story that warms the heart in its generosity, although in its telling Bronner cannot avoid taking an unfair and misleading swipe at Jewish peaceniks.

Richard Siverstein explains:

I don’t know what it is with Ethan Bronner, the NY Times’ Israel correspondent. He’s clearly intelligent. He knows the issues fairly well. But his problem is he is conflict about the politics of the Middle East. With a child in the IDF and married to an Israeli it’s almost as if he has to pull his punches.

It’s not that he’s a horrible journalist. After all, as I said he’s articulate and intelligent and knows the issues. But rather than come right out and say something definitive, he beats around the bush and tempers his judgments. He wants everyone to like him and is shocked when many don’t.

Silverstein is a close reader of media, and he is quick to note the duplicity in Bronner’s feature story on Israeli peace activist Ezra Nawi, an Israeli worthy of considerable praise.  Nawi has “adopted” the Palestinian villages of the south Hebron Hills, “defending them from the marauding neighboring settlers.”

Ezra is up for sentencing on Wednesday (July 1), so, Silverstein notes, “the scrutiny on Israeli justice from a major U.S. media outlet is quite welcome.” He also urges his readers to sign a Jewish Voice for Peace petition “to pressure Israeli authorities to end this sham judicial process”.  For another take on Nawi’s case, see this report by Neve Gordon.

Silverstein, however, points out that Bronner has his own journalist caveat designed to “mollify his right-wing readers.” He writes on a progressive topic like the courage of Ezra Nawi but then he tosses in this slap at the Israeli political left:

Since the Israeli left lost so much popular appeal after the violent Palestinian uprising of 2000 and the Hamas electoral victory in Gaza three years ago, its activists tend to be a rarefied bunch — professors of Latin or Sanskrit, and translators of medieval poetry. Mr. Nawi, however, is a plumber.

No doubt, Joe the Plumber still resonates with the Times‘ right-wing readers, so why not do a little John McCain dance to contrast with the “rarefied bunch” to which the Israeli left has been reduced.

Silverstein acknowledges that in his story Bronner does quote an Israeli peace activist, David Shulman, a professor of Sanskrit at the Hebrew University.

But it’s as if this single source has somehow become emblematic of the entire Israeli peace movement. Not just emblematic, but in Bronner’s eyes the entire Israeli left has been reduced to David Shulman. While Prof. Shulman, a leader of Ta’ayush, IS an extraordinary scholar and human being, it is s deep disservice to him and the Israeli left to imply there aren’t many tens of thousands of others doing work equally valuable.

Silverstein then offers Bronner some examples:

Bronner: have you forgotten about B’Tselem, Gisha, Yesh G’vul, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights, Hadash, Peace Now, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Courage to Refuse, Parent’s Circle, Anarchists Against the Wall (just to mention organizations)?

And individuals like Uri Avnery, Rabbi Menachem Froman, the Sheministim, Michael Sfard, Jeff Halper, Shulamit Aloni, Robbi Damelin, Yitzchak Frankenthal, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Dov Kheinin. Are these all nothing but effete European professors of obscure humanist subjects? The very notion is absurd and offensive.

Now, as always with Bronner’s howlers–there is a kernel of truth there. The organized Israeli left has shriveled and failed in a massive way since the first Intifada and especially during the Lebanon and Gaza wars. Note I said the “organized” left. I say this deliberately because Israeli NGOs and individual peace activists are doing work as vital as any done by the Israeli left when it was a more powerful political force. So for Bronner to dismiss the constituency of the Israeli left as he has done is deeply insulting and false.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, has a much better read on the “settlement freeze” than the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner. She also sees the thief parallel which appears to have eluded Bronner.

The debate over Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is often framed in terms of whether they should be “frozen” or allowed to grow “naturally.” But that is akin to asking whether a thief should be allowed merely to keep his ill-gotten gains or steal some more.

It misses the most fundamental point: Under international law, all settlements on occupied territory are unlawful. And there is only one remedy: Israel should dismantle them, relocate the settlers within its recognized 1967 borders and compensate Palestinians for the losses the settlements have caused.

And there you have it, as plain as Yahweh’s anger at Ahab and Jezebeel, “all settlements on occupied territory are unlawful”.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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4 Responses to The Thieves Pause: Israel “Open” to Summer Building Freeze

  1. Karin Ryan says:

    Dear Jim,

    Thanks for pulling all these sources together, as you always do. Of course, “natural growth” is a complete travesty, as the Israeli government is using it now in its appeal for mercy to the Obama administration to allow the settlers to go on having children…goodness.

    For a real story about natural growth and the cruelties of the demographic war now underway there, see the story our press person, Debbie Hakes, put together during President Carter’s recent trip to Jerusalem. Goes something like this…A Palestinian family of 13 living in one room, baby on the way, dare to add a room on top, get fined by the municipality, you know the drill. Stunning photos included.

    Keep up the great work…

    Karin Ryan
    The Carter Center

    http://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/democracy/palestinian-home-demolitions.html

  2. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: Thanks again in regard to keeping us informed about the latest news dealing with Israel. It is appreciated. Harris

  3. Cotton Fite says:

    Thanks, Jim. You improve my critical eye for reports from the Middle East. I think the phrase which got my attention came from Netanyahu when he described it as “inconvenient” for Israelis living in settlements not to be allowed “natural growth”. If inconvenience is the criteria, I would say the Palestinians have it all over the Jewish settlers.

    Good wishes, Cotton Fite

  4. Jim Winkler says:

    Jim,
    You’re right. These ‘offers’ are obscene and theft is theft.

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