For the settlement movement, there is poignancy in the fact that the Hebron Jewish community has branched out into a previously Palestinian neighborhood just before Passover. It was Passover 1968 when settlers first got their foothold in Hebron, after renting out a hotel and refusing to leave.
For critics of the settlement movement, the echo of 1968 is also relevant. When the Israeli government decided yesterday that settlers could move into a building surrounded by Palestinians, it was a reminder of just how much Hebron settlers have increased their holdings over the years.
In ’68 they left the hotel in exchange for the promise of a settlement next to Hebron. Today, they have this adjacent settlement as well as four (or, as of yesterday, five) enclaves in Hebron itself.
The big story in Israel is no normal decision to build a few extra settlement homes; it is a highly unusual development for the occupied West Bank.
According to an as-yet unconfirmed report, the state is setting the wheels in motion for an appropriation of nearly 250 acres of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Jerusalem.
Israeli settlement announcements in recent years have generally focused on building within the existing borders of settlements. In fact, one of the defenses of settlement announcements in government circles has been that building isn’t even settlement expansion, because it’s just a matter of increasing the housing density within settlements. The argument has often been that given the footprint of settlements isn’t growing, Palestinians should stop worrying about settlements.
However, if today’s report is correct, the government will actually be increasing the settlement footprint. An outpost which is currently illegal in state eyes will be legalized, in a sense creating a new settlement, and the rest of the land to be appropriated would be available for zoning for brand new settlements.
As well as the appropriation report, today has been party day in the Jewish community of Hebron, which received go-ahead from the Ministry of Defense to move in to a new enclave in the city.
In early 2007 some Jewish Hebron families lived in the four-storey building where the ceremony took place. However, after 18 months the Israeli government ordered them to leave. While they claimed that they were entitled to live there, because one of their supporters in America, Morris Abraham, purchased the property, the original Palestinian owners claimed the purchase was fabricated.
Last month, an Israeli court ruled that Abraham does own the building, and now the Ministry of Defense has said that the Jewish community can move back in.
If the peace process doesn’t get back on track, today may well be remembered as the day when Israel threw caution to the wind and backed settlements with a whole new gusto.
Two years after the Tel Aviv social protest movement was born out of anger at high property prices, Israelis have been told that they’ve misunderstood the problem all along. It is, the new Housing Minister insists, that there’s too little settlement activity.
“The key to immediately stopping the rise in home prices is massive building in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,” Uri Ariel, who represents the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, claimed in a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday.
In his view, measures that are underway to ease the housing crisis will yield results in one to two years, “whereas in Judea and Samaria, we can immediately market tens of thousands of housing units.”
There’s a pie-in-the-sky optimism in his suggestion that current measures will yield results within a couple of years — even if they are far weaker than anything that the protest movement had in mind. But more importantly, his mixing up of Israel’s deep social problems with jingoistic policy statements relating to the West Bank raises important questions about the direction of the Housing Ministry.
Firstly, there’s the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Having a Housing Minister with such zeal to build the West Bank obviously increases tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and her international allies. If he manages to realize his plans the reaction would be strong — but even if he doesn’t the statements reverberate around the Arab and international media.
But secondly there are the less obvious internal ramifications for Israel. With Ariel so set on a West Bank agenda, the main and most challenging task of the Housing Minister, namely easing the housing crisis within Israel’s 1967 borders, where the vast majority of the population lives, could play second fiddle, and suffer as a result.
In the long term, if Ariel succeeds in settling settlement building as a solution to the housing crisis, it could prove an expensive exercise. After all, if the homes are one day evacuated in a peace deal, it’ll be the state that foots the bill.
Move over Bud Lite and GM, SodaStream is coming to the Super Bowl XLVII. While the Israeli-made home soda maker will not be seen in the stands, it will be viewed on TV screens across the country and around the world, making it the first Israeli product to be advertised in a Super Bowl commercial.
With record third quarter revenues and sales increases, it appears that SodaStream is ready to drop something in the environs of $3.8 million on a 30-second spot.
Those who follow the advertising business may be wondering if the company, which has been publicly traded on Nasdaq since November 2010) will change concepts for its Super Bowl ad, given the frustration it has endured recently as a result of its current commercial showing hundreds of soft drink bottles exploding when a person uses a SodaStream machine. The message is obvious—you can save a lot of plastic (2,000 bottles per year, the ad tells us) and a lot of money by buying a SodaStream.
SodaStream claims it is simply “setting the bubbles free,” as it slogan goes, but Clearcast, the organization that pre-approves television advertising in the UK, banned the commercial on the grounds that it “denigrates” the bottled drink industry. In response, SodaStream is investigating its legal options.
With brazen defiance, just a day before he is due to meet with the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over the Green Line and defended building there.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, we have a full right to build in it,” he declared today in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood build on land that Israel conquered in 1967.
Netanyahu has been under strong international criticism, including from Ashton, for a plan which became public last week to build 797 new homes in GIlo.
Standing not far from the site of the new homes he said: “We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem and we will continue to build Jerusalem. This is our policy and I will continue to back building in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu was doing what the Israeli right loves the most, namely showing that he’s a strong leader who won’t be bullied from his Zionistic credentials (which are seen as synonymous with pro-settlement credentials) by even the most powerful of world leaders. And yes, if you think it has the whiff of election posturing to it you would be right. But which elections?