Gilad Farm and Middle East Peace

Where is Gilad Farm and why should anyone care? A tiny community of twenty families living in a cluster of shacks and tents, it is located on a barren hilltop near Nablus in the northern West Bank. Established in 2002 on land privately owned by Moshe Zar, it was named in memory of his son Gilad, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Labeled an illegal outpost by the Israeli government it has been demolished several times only to be rebuilt by the militant religious Zionist settlers who many Israelis ­ and not only Israelis - love to hate. 

Gilad Farm lost its anonymity on February 28.  Before dawn Israeli security police arrived in force and demolished a family home, a tent housing five young men, and the foundation for a new structure. Although police claimed that they only fired paintball guns in self- defense after stones were thrown, 13 civilians were hit - two in the back - by plastic bullets.

Filming the police assault, a resident was shot in both knees at close range. A police investigation concluded that the actions were professional and restrained.

Enraged by the violent attack, protesters blocked Jerusalem streets and West Bank intersections, distributing leaflets saying Jews don't shoot Jews. Shimon Weizman, a Gilad Farm resident and IDF soldier, said that he would not return to the army until his destroyed home is rebuilt. He was dismissed from his unit and received a 30-day jail sentence.

"What was the crime," asked Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post, "which prompted this outburst of state-sponsored violence?" To be sure, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is well known for his hostility to Jewish settlers, even when they inhabit Jewish-owned property. In 2008 Israeli security forces under his command stormed a four-story building in Hebron, purchased by a Jew from its Arab owner, forcibly evicting eight Jewish families. Gilad Farm was merely a reprise in a minor key.

But why now? The answer lies in the Security Council veto by the United States, ten days earlier, blocking a resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. The American vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu explained to his Likud colleagues, was "only achieved with great effort." It now seems evident that the Gilad Farm attack represented Netanyahu's prompt repayment for American support. An obscure outpost that few Washington officials could locate on a map had suddenly become the sacrificial offering in a larger struggle.

Ever since the first settlements were built (on land where Jews have every historical and international legal right to live), American government officials have claimed that they constitute the primary obstacle to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, while fomenting turbulence throughout the Muslim Middle East. It was, in other words, all Israel's fault. If only it would freeze settlement construction, the Obama administration insisted more than a year ago, the kumbaya moment of Middle Eastern peace would surely follow. The Netanyahu government complied; ten months passed; and the Palestinian Authority still refused to resume peace talks.

Far more momentously, in one Arab country after another, the Middle East has erupted in rebellions against autocratic rule. Spreading from Egypt across North Africa and into the Gulf states, "social network" rebels confronted ­ and toppled ­ their oppressors. Throughout these historic weeks, nary a word was heard in any of the protest movements about Jewish settlements or suffering Palestinians. Clearly they were irrelevant to the struggles against Mubarak, Ghadafi, and assorted ruling monarchs. Arab protesters knew that their problems were local, not imported. Only after weeks of rebellion did the embattled president of Yemen absurdly claim that everything was controlled from Tel Aviv. Understandably, no one paid attention.

Yet for the Obama administration, and so many Middle East pundits, Israeli settlements remain the primary obstacle to Middle Eastern peace. Worse yet, such nonsense now seems to have been internalized by the Netanyahu government, as its attack on Gilad Farm suggests. There is far too little recognition of the substantial benefits that Israel ­-- even with Gilad Farm -- provides to the United States.   

Among them, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) indicates: a democratic, strongly pro-American, political system; location in a crucial neighborhood; modern air facilities, a deep-water port (Haifa), and proximity to international sea-lanes; and a military with advanced research and development technology that enables Israel to support American operations in the region.

Shared democratic values have long bound the United States and Israel, even if their relations are not lubricated by oil. If this is insufficient, the demolition of Gilad Farm is unlikely to help.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Brothers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena, to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.
Where is Gilad Farm and why should anyone care? A tiny community of twenty families living in a cluster of shacks and tents, it is located on a barren hilltop near Nablus in the northern West Bank. Established in 2002 on land privately owned by Moshe Zar, it was named in memory of his son Gilad, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Labeled an illegal outpost by the Israeli government it has been demolished several times only to be rebuilt by the militant religious Zionist settlers who many Israelis ­ and not only Israelis - love to hate. 

Gilad Farm lost its anonymity on February 28.  Before dawn Israeli security police arrived in force and demolished a family home, a tent housing five young men, and the foundation for a new structure. Although police claimed that they only fired paintball guns in self- defense after stones were thrown, 13 civilians were hit - two in the back - by plastic bullets.

Filming the police assault, a resident was shot in both knees at close range. A police investigation concluded that the actions were professional and restrained.

Enraged by the violent attack, protesters blocked Jerusalem streets and West Bank intersections, distributing leaflets saying Jews don't shoot Jews. Shimon Weizman, a Gilad Farm resident and IDF soldier, said that he would not return to the army until his destroyed home is rebuilt. He was dismissed from his unit and received a 30-day jail sentence.

"What was the crime," asked Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post, "which prompted this outburst of state-sponsored violence?" To be sure, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is well known for his hostility to Jewish settlers, even when they inhabit Jewish-owned property. In 2008 Israeli security forces under his command stormed a four-story building in Hebron, purchased by a Jew from its Arab owner, forcibly evicting eight Jewish families. Gilad Farm was merely a reprise in a minor key.

But why now? The answer lies in the Security Council veto by the United States, ten days earlier, blocking a resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. The American vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu explained to his Likud colleagues, was "only achieved with great effort." It now seems evident that the Gilad Farm attack represented Netanyahu's prompt repayment for American support. An obscure outpost that few Washington officials could locate on a map had suddenly become the sacrificial offering in a larger struggle.

Ever since the first settlements were built (on land where Jews have every historical and international legal right to live), American government officials have claimed that they constitute the primary obstacle to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, while fomenting turbulence throughout the Muslim Middle East. It was, in other words, all Israel's fault. If only it would freeze settlement construction, the Obama administration insisted more than a year ago, the kumbaya moment of Middle Eastern peace would surely follow. The Netanyahu government complied; ten months passed; and the Palestinian Authority still refused to resume peace talks.

Far more momentously, in one Arab country after another, the Middle East has erupted in rebellions against autocratic rule. Spreading from Egypt across North Africa and into the Gulf states, "social network" rebels confronted ­ and toppled ­ their oppressors. Throughout these historic weeks, nary a word was heard in any of the protest movements about Jewish settlements or suffering Palestinians. Clearly they were irrelevant to the struggles against Mubarak, Ghadafi, and assorted ruling monarchs. Arab protesters knew that their problems were local, not imported. Only after weeks of rebellion did the embattled president of Yemen absurdly claim that everything was controlled from Tel Aviv. Understandably, no one paid attention.

Yet for the Obama administration, and so many Middle East pundits, Israeli settlements remain the primary obstacle to Middle Eastern peace. Worse yet, such nonsense now seems to have been internalized by the Netanyahu government, as its attack on Gilad Farm suggests. There is far too little recognition of the substantial benefits that Israel ­-- even with Gilad Farm -- provides to the United States.   

Among them, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) indicates: a democratic, strongly pro-American, political system; location in a crucial neighborhood; modern air facilities, a deep-water port (Haifa), and proximity to international sea-lanes; and a military with advanced research and development technology that enables Israel to support American operations in the region.

Shared democratic values have long bound the United States and Israel, even if their relations are not lubricated by oil. If this is insufficient, the demolition of Gilad Farm is unlikely to help.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Brothers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena, to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.