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September 17, 2014 7:07 am

Jeremy Ben-Ami’s Dishonest Editorial on the Land in Gush Etzion

avatar by Abraham H. Miller

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J Street Founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami. Photo: Wiki Commons.

J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami is certainly entitled to his opinion that giving land to the Palestinians will result in peace, even though, to date, that formula has failed. But his characterization of the most recent Israeli land “seizure,” as he calls it, begs the question of what was seized and from whom?

What Ben-Ami fails to mention in his Los Angeles Times opinion piece is that the land he refers to as near Bethlehem is actually land in Gush Etzion, in the southern part of Jerusalem, which has been populated by Jews since before 1948. In no set of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have the Palestinians ever claimed this land, as Ben-Ami now does for them.

In the 2008 negotiations between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Abbas recognized that this land was not in dispute as being part of Israel. Twenty thousand Israelis live in Gush Etzion, which borders the 1948 Green Line.

Former president Jimmy Carter, the man who characterized Israeli settlements in the West Bank as Apartheid, announced that this land was always understood to belong to Israel. As Carter noted, “This particular settlement area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory.” Carter went on to say that Gush Etzion was part of the close settlements that will be forever a part of Israel.

Carter met with families of the victims of Palestinian terrorism in the Etzion block and announced that they provided him with a new perspective on the conflict, one he hadn’t seen before. One of the most  heart wrenching stories came from Ruth Gillis, the widow of Dr. Shmuel Gillis. In 2001, he was killed by a Palestinian sniper as he was coming home from treating his last patient at Jerusalem’s Haddasah Medical Center. That patient happened to be a Palestinian, and Dr. Gillis, throughout his medical career, never distinguished whether his patients were Arabs or Jews – and of course, neither does the Haddasah Medical Center.

Gush Etzion has emotional and historical  significance  for Israelis. It is the place where Arabs destroyed four Jewish villages in the 1948 war. In the Jewish Village of Kfar Etzion, the Jordanian Arab Legion murdered every man, woman, and child.

Kfar Etzion was the first village rebuilt on the West Bank after the ’67 war. It was a resurrection of a Jewish presence that had been brutally extinguished nearly twenty years earlier.

The Jordanians who conquered Gush Etzion parceled out Jewish land among Arabs. And in 1969, Israel reclaimed that land, but unlike Jordan, Israel offered compensation to the Arabs for land they did not own.

The common narrative, the one that Ben-Ami spins, is that Israel took land from the Arabs. It is never that Israel reclaimed land that was taken from murdered Jews.

Contrary to Ben-Ami’s assertion, nothing has been seized, and no one has been expelled from the current parcel. There are no private claimants to the land. There are not even proposals for construction. All that has happened is the land was designated state land, a description that simply affirms the facts on the ground.

Ben-Ami fans the flames of hysteria. He falsifies the facts to pursue his belief that peace will come when the Israelis return to what Israeli statesman Abba Eban called, the Auschwitz borders, the indefensible borders that almost resulted in Israel’s stillbirth as a nation. He raises the cry that the settlements are illegal as if that were a fact, but the issue is complex, unsettled, and continually debated by prominent and serious legal scholars.

Ben-Ami’s duplicitous transformation of the bureaucratic designation of a parcel of land in Gush Etzion into a major assault on the peace process says more about J Street’s agenda that it does about Israeli expansion. After all, J Street has rarely seen an Israeli policy it could support. Its political action group funded  all eleven members of congress who either voted against or abstained from the critical vote of resupplying Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, during a time of war. On campus, J Street partners with the anti-Semitic Students for Justice in Palestine and with groups that directly support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. With friends like J Street, who needs enemies?

Note: The Los Angeles Times declined to publish this rebuttal to Mr. Ben-Ami.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, who also served on the faculty at the University of California, Davis. He is currently a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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