Last week Israel demolished 13 illegally built buildings which were being erected by Arab Palestinians. Arab leaders screamed “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing.” That the denunciations were absurd and based on utterly false predicates had no impact on the international response. In a perfect Pavlovian chorus, the media amplified the hysteria, followed by the United Nations the EU and other European leaders who claimed Israel’s action was akin to the destruction of peace in the Middle East. Only the refusal of the United States to join in the lynch mob prevented a formal UN Security Council measure against Israel.
But the real outrage was not Israel’s action in demolishing the buildings. The audacity, and the sloppiness, of the international media and international political leadership is the real outrage.
Because as anyone can see by reading the Israel Supreme Court opinion authorizing these demolitions, every single material “fact” asserted by these outraged protectors of the peace process is wrong:
– The land on which the buildings stood is not under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, but, as explicitly provided by the Oslo Accords, under the jurisdiction, for security purposes, of the Government of Israel
– Instead it was included inside Israel’s security barrier at the request of the very Arabs who are now complaining;
– The Arab complainants had the benefit of years of due process, which they flaunted by continuously disobeying orders of the Israeli courts that required both the Army and the Arabs to maintain the status quo until the courts could assess the legal merits of the Arabs’ claims;
– The Arabs chose to build right up against Israel’s security barrier even though they had clear notice that such construction was illegal because it impeded the Israeli army’s ability to defend Israel’s citizenry from Arab terrorist attacks.
The fact that these realities are completely ignored by all of the outraged international “authorities” is a disgrace.
THE LEGAL BASIS FOR THE RULING
Israel follows the rule of law. Seven years ago it passed a law which, for security reasons, prohibits the building of a structure within 250 meters (820 feet) of the Security Barrier
The Barrier was built starting in the early 2000s after the second Palestinian Arab Intifada (“Uprising”). Hundreds of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks murdered and maimed more thousands of Israeli civilians during that Uprising. Those acts of terrorism were committed by Arabs sneaking into Israeli cities and towns and blowing up buses, cafes, pizzerias, and ice cream stands. Once Israel commenced building and patrolling the Barrier, terrorism dropped dramatically, ultimately leading to a 90 percent decrease in terrorism within Israel.
THE ARABS REPEATEDLY IGNORED COURT RULINGS AND CONTINUED BUILDING
Ignoring the law and an Israeli military injunction prohibiting construction based on it, Palestinian Arabs of the neighborhood Wadi Al Hummus, an outpost of the Arab village Sur Behar in southeastern Jerusalem, chose to build apartment buildings fewer than 250 meters from the Security Barrier. Now they have been called to account for that violation. Predictably, but falsely, they and their enablers are crying war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other hyperbolic outrages.
Let’s start with why the Arabs are on the Israeli side of the security barrier in the first place. As the Arab builders have never denied, they were there because they asked to be there. The initial route of the fence would have left them on the Arab side of the fence and under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. But they wanted to be near a neighborhood that was on the Israeli side. They asked, on humanitarian grounds, that the route of the fence be moved so they could be on the Israeli side. Their request was granted. Talk about no good deed going unpunished.
Years after the fence was put up and before they started work on any of the buildings at issue, the Arabs received notice from Israeli authorities that no construction could be located within 250 meters of the fence. But the Arabs chose to ignore the law and proceeded to plan for and then to commence building the structures within the proscribed area.
The Arabs protested the Israeli injunction against building, bringing a claim in Israeli courts. For seven years the Arabs’ complaint wound through the Israeli judicial process, several times reaching the Israeli Supreme Court, as the courts demanded that they Israeli government explain why it was building the fence where it was; why it had to be a fence rather than a soft, “high-tech” barrier; why the route of the fence, or of the security road used by the IDF to patrol the fence, could not be put somewhere else; why each particular building posed a danger; and whether the danger could be sufficiently reduced if the buildings were modified but not destroyed. During that time the complainants were granted several stays on the demolition orders, conditional on their cessation of building while the legal matter was being decided. These are the steps taken by a country governed by the rule of law. Governments committing “war crimes” or “ethnic cleansing” don’t call their own executive to account in anything remotely like this.
The judicially-granted stays issued throughout this process were conditioned on both the Army’s staying its hand on destruction and the Arabs’ freezing future construction. The IDF obeyed the stays. The Arabs ignored every single one, even while they repeatedly asked the Israeli courts to respect the equities of their position. They kept building the whole time, in clear violation of the courts’ orders.
The Israeli Supreme Court – frequently condemned by many Israelis for leaning far left of center – held multiple hearings to allow presentations by the legal representatives of the Arabs. When these lawyers had finished saying everything they wanted to say, the Court ruled last month that the structures were indeed in violation of the law. It decreed that 13 buildings at issue would have to be demolished.
Cue the outrage: Comparing these years of careful judicial process granted to Arabs who specifically asked to be on the Israeli side of the security barrier with claims of war crimes and obstruction of peace. Ignoring clear provisions of the Oslo agreements that leave Israel in exclusive control of all security issues in Judea and Samaria with a Palestinian Authority minister and head of the National Committee to Resist the Wall and Settlements which is affiliated with the PLO claimed in a video that the Israeli action was “the biggest and most dangerous operation outside of war operations.” Of the 13 buildings which were demolished, only three apartments were completed and inhabited, affecting a total of 17 people. Three apartments! Seventeen people!
ISRAELI SUPREME COURT FOUND THE BUILDINGS SECURITY RISKS
The Justices agreed with the Israeli military that extensive construction alongside the fence “substantially impacts the barrier’s security effectiveness, while endangering the lives of civilians and members of the security forces.” It confirmed a “military-security need to restrict construction next to the fence in order to prevent this risk.” It pointed out that such buildings “may also serve as a hiding place for terrorists or persons residing illegally within a non-involved civilian population, and enable terrorists to smuggle weapons or even enter into Israel from that area.”
THE SECURITY BARRIER WAS BUILT BECAUSE THE PA IGNORED ITS COMMITMENTS UNDER THE OSLO ACCORDS
In other words, the proximity of the buildings to the Security Barrier threatened to impair its effectiveness in protecting Israeli lives and diminishing acts of terrorism. Construction of the Barrier began only after the Palestinian Arab leadership spat on its commitments under the 1990s Oslo Accords, under which the Arab leadership committed to dismantling terrorist networks and confiscating illegal weapons.
It was not only the Palestinian Arab leadership who ignored their legal commitments while simultaneously demanding rights arising from those commitments. These Arabs were under continuous knowledge that the buildings were in danger of being demolished yet continued to build despite express Court orders to hold off pending a final ruling. The Court pointed out: “The petitioners took the law into their own hands when they began and continued building structures without receiving a special permit.”
THESE ARABS DEMANDED ISRAEL MOVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD TO ISRAEL’S SIDE OF THE SECURITY BARRIER
No doubt the Israeli Supreme Court took notice that the Arabs who sought to build in this area had petitioned Israel for special permission to have the route of Israel’s Security Fence altered such that this enclave would be on the Israeli side of the barrier, and not on the Arab side. This undercut the Arabs’ legal claim that they could only be subject to Palestinian Authority rule, and not Israeli law.
Given that these proposed buildings were both too close to the Security Fence and on the Israeli side of that barrier, it should not have surprised anyone that even Israel’s uber liberal Supreme Court upheld the prior judgment that the homes presented a serious security threat.
But all that due process and careful consideration of the merits meant nothing to the international media, egged on by the feigned hysteria of the Palestinian Arab leadership. The media and the Arabs cried out that Israel was “committing war crimes,” completely ignoring the legal basis for Israel’s actions. Those irresponsible cries largely drowned out the cold fact that what Israel actually did was follow the rule of law, allow due process to take place and allow repeated opportunities – many years worth – for Palestinian Arabs to obey the law and not create a fake international incident.
A simple review of the Israeli Supreme Court ruling would have provided essential context to the story and made clear how ludicrous were any claims of “war crimes,” “ethnic cleansing,” or “threats to peace.”
Shame on European leadership and on the United Nations for their vituperative condemnation of Israel for doing exactly what every other sovereign nation would do were the lawbreakers to do what they did to Israel in their own countries.
And shame on the journalists who imbibed and regurgitated the hysteria of the repeatedly offending Arab Palestinian leadership that their world was ending because of Israel’s actions – without even bothering to read the Israeli Supreme Court opinon that carefully explained why everything emitted by these fake-news “journalists” was absolutely false.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to SaraaCarter.com. She is a lawyer and journalist who writes about the Middle East, particularly regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post, The American Thinker, JNS, and The Jewish Press. Marcus has a J.D. from Harvard Law School and Masters degrees in policy from Bryn Mawr College.