Israel has every right to expand settlements
by Michael Freund
Don't tell this to Secretary of State Colin Powell, but a friend of mine in a West Bank Jewish settlement is thinking of adding an extra bathroom to his home.
Normally, the lavatory layout in a private Jewish household outside of Jerusalem would hardly be a matter of international diplomatic concern. With the war on terror in its early stages and America gearing up for battle against Saddam Hussein, one would assume that the U.S. foreign policy establishment has more important things to worry about than how many flush options will be available to my friend and his family.
That assumption, however, has proven to be wrong. In a series of recent statements, Powell has repeatedly insisted that Israel should halt all construction in Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking on NBC's ''Meet the Press'' on May 5, Powell said, ''Something has to be done about the problem of the settlements, the settlements continue to grow and continue to expand.''
To which I cannot help but respond: What is wrong with that?
Down the road from my friend's community lies an Arab village, where building proceeds apace, unrestricted and unhindered. No one has gone on the Sunday talk shows to denounce such activity, for the simple reason that it isn't anyone's business what a person decides to do in his own home. Why, then, does construction become an international issue simply because the person involved is a Jew?
Indeed, there is something very troubling about the fact that a U.S. secretary of state would object to the erection of a house based on the religious or ethnic identity of its owner. In the olden days, we had a word for such views: racism. And segregation.
To deny people the right to live in a certain area because they are Jews is no different from denying African Americans or Hispanics or any other ethnic group the right to live where they please. And to suggest that the exercise of that right is somehow an ''obstacle to peace'' and must be halted is to capitulate to the haters and allow them to dictate who may live where. We cannot allow that to happen.
The fact is that Jews choosing to live in the West Bank and Gaza are pioneers. They are returning to live in the heartland of Israel, the place that served as the cradle of Western civilization and religion.
These areas--which we in Israel refer to by their original names of Judea, Samaria and Gaza--were the scene of much of the drama described in the Bible. It is the place where King David walked and where the prophets of Israel gave the world a vision of peace and brotherhood.
Ancient synagogues and archeological sites attest to the long-standing Jewish presence in the region, a presence that is once again flourishing despite Arab opposition. Moreover, Israel did not ''occupy'' these territories, as the Palestinians and others would have you believe. In the 1967 Six Day War, Arab armies massed on Israel's narrow borders, vowing to destroy the Jewish state.
In a war of self-defense, Israel succeeded in overcoming its enemies, in the process taking control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Under international law, territories are considered ''occupied'' only when they are taken in an act of aggression--which clearly does not apply to Israel's case.
It was 35 years ago this month that Israel prevailed in the 1967 war, returning to places such as Hebron and Shilo. For 2,000 uninterrupted years, Jews had lived in the ancient Jewish quarter of Hebron, near the
Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried. Only in 1929, when local Arabs massacred them, was the Jewish community forced to flee the city. What could be more historically just than to rebuild the Jewish presence there?
Jews have a moral, legal, historical and Biblical right to settle the territories. And despite the threat posed by Palestinian terrorism, that is precisely what they continue to do. The number of Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza has more than doubled in the past decade, with more than 200,000 people now living in some 150 communities. They work and play and hope and dream just like the rest of us.
Israel's settlements matter, then, because they are at the forefront of righting a historical wrong, one in which Jews were previously barred from living in their ancestral homeland due to Arab rejectionism and hatred. But as the American people so bravely demonstrated in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the best response to one's mortal foes is to go right on living. And building. And that is what the Jews of Israel will undoubtedly continue to do as well.
(Michael Freund is an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post.)