Webinar Transcript- West Bank Settlements: 56 Years Into the Occupation (with Hagit Ofran)

Ori Nir  0:13  

Hello, everyone. Welcome to this Americans for Peace Now webinar. I'm Ori here with APN. With us today is Hagit Ofran, she is with Israel's Peace Now movement.


Hagit Ofran  0:26  



Ori Nir  0:29  

To introduce the topic of our discussion today, and the speaker, obviously, just a quick reminder that this webinar is being recorded. The video will be posted on Apn's YouTube channel and also on our podcast, the audio, Peace Cast. The other reminder, as you're probably already familiar with it is that you're welcome to ask questions. And you can do that at any point during our webinar, beginning now. To do so please use the Q&A tool, it's the bottom of your screen, and please keep your questions short, so we can screen them as we go along during our discussion. 


Today is the 56th anniversary of the beginning of the 1967 War, the Six Day War. It was the first day of a war that really changed the face of the Middle East and transformed Israel into an occupying power. The occupation for many years was largely perceived both in Israel and internationally as a temporary necessity, if you will, pending a diplomatic agreement for those who remember it, and I do, the term, in the late 1960s and the early 70s, used to be pending a phone call from King Hussein of Jordan. That was the the perception at the time that the agreement once it happens, will take place between Israel and Jordan. Then it became pending a peace settlement with the Palestinians. As you know, there's been no phone call from Hussein. And there were several rounds of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. And at least once Israel and the Palestinians actually came quite close to an agreement. But there was no no cigar, no agreement. Throughout these 56 years, through the thick and thin of the conflict and Israeli domestic politics and Israel's relationship with the United States and its neighbors and so on and so forth, throughout it all, Israeli governments, all of them either allowed or acquiesced or initiated settlement construction. And while that has been the case for five decades, this year, under Israel's new extreme right wing government, things have changed. And with us to discuss those changes, is a leading expert, perhaps the leading expert on West Bank settlements, Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now's settlement watch project. Hagit will start with some introductory comments. We will then have a conversation. And we'll answer your questions, of course. And, again, as a reminder, please ask questions using the Q&A tool that's at the bottom of your screen. Hagit, I'm handing it over to you.


Hagit Ofran  3:40  

Thank you very much, Ori.


So this government of Netanyahu, is not like previous governments. I mean, previous governments were horrible in terms of many aspects in Israel. This government is particularly horrible in terms of the the legal coup that they are issuing, and maybe we'll touch on it briefly, but also in terms of their settlement policy and the deepening of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. And there are a few things that they have already done that are significant. And I would say I mean, if you take the people, who are there in the government, who are the ministers that are relevant to our issues, they are the most extreme. It's enough to mention Itamar Ben Gvir was responsible for the police and Bezalel Smotrich who is both Minister of Finance, and, a new minister, a new job in the government, which I call it, the Minister of Settlements, and I will elaborate about it. And both of them are very, I mean, I don't think I need to tell you who they are. But I want to say that they control Netanyahu. Politically, Netanyahu now is very dependent on his coalition members more than ever, he has no alternatives to them, and when they want it, and, for instance, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has actually been convicted for several crimes in the past, and he is supportive of Jewish terrorism, he not only got to be the Minister of the police or in charge of the police, but also got powers that no minister had before in terms of controlling what the police do. And I think it's significant. How can this far right person get to be such a strong minister? It has to do with the fact that he can easily say to Netanyahu, if you don't want what I tell you, I can just leave you and you have no government, and he is willing to use this threat. And Netanyahu is actually hostage in his hand. And this means that we see things that I think have never seen before. And I would say before, we did see horrible things, but I think there is a significant change. I'll give you an example of two things that happened recently. One is the outpost in Homesh. Homesh was a settlement that was established in late 70s. North of Nablus. Let me show you where exactly. And it was evicted by Sharon's government in 2005 as part of the disengagement plan. Here's a map, I'm showing on my screen a map of the West Bank  where Homesh is, you can see it's deep in the West Bank, between Jenin and Nablus. And it was evicted. But since it was evicted, settlers are trying to return to it. And in the last, I don't know, since 2005, or maybe 2007, did they really start, they start being there illegally violating several laws. One of them is the law of disengagement that says that no Israelis are allowed in those places anymore. And then another is that they establish illegal structures there, that they are actually invading Palestinian private land. And using a lot of violence. I can tell you, I was stoned or by settlers several times, during my my work in Peace Now, you know, when I go around the West Bank, two of those times were in Homesh. They are very extremely violent young people. And they were there illegally and the army would sometimes evict them and then they return. And this was for many years, but the pressures were very high. And this government, a few weeks ago, allowed them first of all the Knesset legislator, the law that cancels the prohibition for Israelis to be there. And second, after they pass this law, they allowed them to stay, quote unquote, legally in Homesh, and how do they do it? I'll show you the map of the land of Homesh. This map is from Yesh Din. You can see that all of the lands are here marked in pink. These are private Palestinian lands, so they cannot give them private Palestinian land for their use, so they gave them a very small parcel that is registered in the name of the government and says, 'Okay, now you can use that.' And two weeks ago they brought bulldozers and put up the permanent place for this settlement. And what is now a yeshiva with several youngsters that are permanently there. And soon, like, yesterday, I got to see this. I wanted to show you a short footage from yesterday, how those youngsters are attacking the nearby Palestinian village Burqa, or maybe I think it's not an easy medium to show videos, so I will skip that, but they are attacking their neighbors all the time. And they got from this government, something that was unprecedented, which is the right to be there, and the lands that are allowed to be used. However, this was done illegally. Because in order to do it legally, you need to have a construction permit and a construction plan. This takes months to get. So the government ordered the army to allow them to do it illegally. So that's a very interesting moment where you have the law, or the legal advisors of the army, saying this is an illegal act. And you have the government saying, 'Oh, but this is what we want to do.' And in this case, the army decided to side with the government and to allow this illegal activity. We don't know what will happen if we are heading more into this legal coup and the efforts of the government to allow things that are not allowed. And the court might say no. Maybe it's an indication to where the civil service is heading that if they will have such a case where the government thinks something in the court says something else. And they might choose the government, although I'm not sure. I mean, it's we might get there.


Ori Nir  12:54  

Do you know if anyone petitioned the Supreme Court against the government telling the army to take legal action?


Hagit Ofran  13:00  

Not that I know of it was done overnight. It was really something that was not announced. Maybe they might, but it's a bigger issue. So anyway, if I'm to return, so that was just an example of what this government is able to do with almost no restraints to allow such a settlement. And by the way, also from a security point of view, in order to guard those 30 settlers there, the publication's reports are saying that they need 80 soldiers to protect them. So it's even not a security matter, but the security burden, like all settlements are. But I want to talk about another dramatic change that this government already did. And it passed under the radar without a lot of public notice, and this is the new structure of the Civil Administration. And the nomination of Bezalel Smotrich as the Minister of settlements. It's officially he's not called the Minister of of settlements, it is called a minister in the ministry of defense. And officially, they did not change the laws so much, but the way they are now structuring the settlement activity can be referred to as an annexation. An annexation and not de facto but full accession. And why do I say so? First of all, what happened? What happened is that the minister, there was a new minister nominated in the Ministry of Defense, and he got the responsibilities of many, many aspects of the settlement activity. For instance, the planning, the land locations, the supervision of illegal construction in the West Bank, all these authorities are now under the direct authority of this minister. Within the civil administration, we have now two kinds of bodies. What the government calls the security body, I would call it the the military body, and the civil body, which is in charge of settlements. And this part, the civil apparatus is reporting to the new minister. And why do I call it annexation? And here, we need to go back for a minute or two, to the status of the West Bank, the occupied territories. As we all know, the West Bank is under Israeli control since '67. And it is not part of Israel, not according to the Israeli law. And the government of Israel has no authority to act outside of its territory, we cannot now decide that we allocate land in Greece or in Japan, because it's not part of Israel. So how come that we do all that in the West Bank? We do it because of the international law, that is saying that if you are an occupier, and you're supposed to be temporary occupier, you have the obligation to take care of all what is going on in the occupied territories, and to protect the population there, the Palestinians in our case, and to administer the lands until the end of this occupation. So we have the authority and the responsibility to administrate the West Bank, but we are not supposed to do it by our own government. It is supposed to be done by the military, because the military is supposedly, or at least according to the law is obliged to represent the interests of the protected population, that of this, the Palestinians, while the government of Israel legally is elected, and vows to serve the interests of the Israeli public. So if you have a civil or governmental apparatus to administer the West Bank, that is an Israeli one, they are supposed to take care of Israeli interests, and not the Palestinian interests, while this military administration is supposed to be outside of the government, and to have obligation to the protected population. So I know, this military is also under the control of the government and its reporting to the Ministry of Defense. But still, it is not part of the government and it's legally and not only legally has some obligations. It is some sort of restraining power to the government. And what the government did in 23rd of February was to establish this civil body within the civil administration, and actually to take away from the military, all the authorities that has to do with settlements. So now the minister Betzalel Smotrich, in this case, the Minister of settlements, is the one to decide whether a plan can be approved, land should be allocated, etc. And it's not only settlers issues, it's also land issues, and which is directly connected to Palestinians. And, of course, the the supervision of construction. And actually what the policy of Israel is the demolition policy of Palestinian structures. Now it's under direct control of Smotrich,  and, in addition to all that, they also decided to establish a separate legal adviser system. And this is also very much significant because until now, the legal adviser was part of the army under the big legal apparatus, the military apparatus, and they are, again, not part of the government, they are independent from the government. And now, this civil body within the civil administration has a different legal advisors. And these legal advisors are now sitting in the Ministry of Defense, but they report directly to the Minister of settlements. So now we lost even this very, very important component of restrain, which is the legal advisors that are there to stop things that are illegal or not reasonable, before they get to the courts. And if I mention the courts, maybe this can also tell us why this government is so eager to cancel the powers of the court in Israel. It has been very hard for them to do many things in the West Bank, and in settlements, because of the High Court of Justice. When the Knesset wanted to allow land grab or land theft by saying that if settlers took land, Palestinian private land, but did a in tom lev, in good faith, they did with no bad intentions, I would say, that if settlers took Palestinian land, but did it in good faith, then actually the government is supposed to allocate this land to the settlers and take it from the Palestinians, that's according to this law. And this law, what came to the Supreme Court? I mean, the Knesset legislated it. And the Supreme Court I mean, there were several organizations that including Peace Now that went to the Supreme Court against it. And the Supreme Court said this law is illegal, and is not valid. And that's a big problem for Smotrich and his friends who wanted to allow settlements to thrive also on private Palestinian land, so they need to push away the Court. Another example is that they want to connect the illegal settlements, the outposts, to a better electricity system. But you cannot do it illegally, because they are not legal. So they want to legislate a law that will allow it, but when the legal advisors of the civil administration are telling them well, you can legislate such a law, but it will have to include also Palestinians, because the law cannot say that it's only for Jews. You need to say that if there is a settlement, you need to define it in a way that is neutral. But this will include Palestinians that might be connected to electricity, too. So the settlers said no, we don't want such a legislation. and now, with this legal coup, they want to be able to legislate it in a way that is only for settlers like what they actually established, which is a different mechanism to control Israelis, and a different mechanism to control Palestinians in the same piece of land. And that is another component of an apartheid regime.


Ori Nir  25:38  

So Hagit, you know, my first question was going to be, you know, quantity versus quality? And you started started answering it, but I thought that it would be interesting to answer it through Betzalel Smotrich who you mentioned earlier. So you know, many people could say that, what we're seeing happening is just policy of previous governments on steroids, that it's just intensified under this government. But what you're saying is that it's not just a quantitative change, but a qualitative change. And in that sense, I think that's one of the interesting things to talk about, would be Bezalel Smotrich's plan. I mean, he's not just a technocrat who is coming to the Ministry of Defense, but he actually has an agenda. He has a plan that he has authored, which he's trying to implement. Maybe you want to talk a little bit about that.


Hagit Ofran  26:36  

Yeah, one of our problems is that he's very talented and very smart. And, and he knows what he wants to get. And he instructed, or it was published a few weeks ago, that he instructed ministries, and of course, his settlement division in the ministry of defense, but also other ministries, to prepare for doubling the number of settlers. Today, we have approximately half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank, another 200,000, a little more, in East Jerusalem. And what Smotrich wants is a plan, how to bring another half million, so that the settlers will be 1 million settlers in the West Bank. And the way to do it is by preparing and approving and promoting plans for construction for housing, but this will not happen unless you have infrastructure for them. And the infrastructure has to do mainly with roads, and the ideas or the list of roads that this government already agreed on. And it was like a supplement to the budget that was signed a few weeks or months or two months before the budget was passed. The supplement of agreement on the budget of the roads show that the government is planning to pour millions of shekels on paving new roads and upgrading old roads to allow the construction of the settlements and the expansion of them. And I would say on the one hand, this plan of Smotrich is not new. The government has been doing this and plans to build thousands of units are being promoted all the time. And we've been monitoring it and trying to find out more about it. And we published even seven years ago, we managed to find plans in the Ministry of Housing to accumulate a quarter million of settlers that already are in the process. And so I'm sure they managed to add to them more. In terms of of roads, previous governments have already done a very big promotion of several roads that are now being paved. You have a huge construction of the Tunnel Road. The Tunnel Road is the bypass of Bethlehem from the west. That is the main road for all settlements that are south of Jerusalem. And it's already packed, I mean, a drive that without traffic should take 15 minutes, takes an hour every morning and every afternoon. And you cannot bring settlers, or thousands of settlers to move there if the commute so hard, so they are doubling the standard road with billions of shekels. And I think next year, it's supposed to be opened, and that will allow the doubling of the settlements there. Because if you have a good road, and commute is so easy, then why not move to a suburb? For Israelis, it's something very attractive. So that's one example. You have the Hawara bypass road that is being paved right now and Beit Umar bypass road that is supposed to actually allow settlers to go without passing any Palestinian village, from Jerusalem, all the way to Hebron. These are big things and, of course, the Qalandia underpass, that will allow all settlements north of Jerusalem a shortcut into Israel. So it's very dramatic, and it started before this government. So maybe I'm contradicting myself and saying, 'Oh, it was already done before.' And it's just maybe now more fast. But I think all those talks about the numbers, and will it get, and maybe we will get to the question of what does it mean politically to possibility to undo it, are sometimes distracting us from from the real issue, that the settlements, even if they're, quote unquote, only half a million settlers, they are horrible and unjust, and are about an ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians. Because every settlement that has been built is actually taking land from the Palestinians. Every settlement that has been built means that there is more security needs to protect those settlers and the roads to them. And then this means more restrictions on the Palestinians. So the very activity of settlements, no matter the pace of it, is very dramatic. And I wanted to give you an example of something that happened last week. Last week, not far from the Jordan Valley, it's east of Ramallah, there is a small community Palestinian community, that is called Ein Samia. Now, there are many such communities that are relatively small, I'm now sharing my screen, small communities, in this case, they are Bedouins,they came in the area 40 years ago, leased the land from their owner. We're talking about a community of around 200 people living a not very comfortable life, you know, not connected to electricity not to water system and build their shacks and settled there and live their life for many, many years under threats, you know, of being demolished by the Israeli government because all of their houses are not permitted because Israel's policy is not to give them permits. And in the pictures that you see here that were taken by activists that are going in the Jordan Valley every day to escort Palestinian shepherds and to assist them and in this case, people that are active in Looking the Occupation in the Eye, which is an organization that started lately in Israel, so they brought those pictures of those Palestinians packing, actually packing and destroying their own structures, taking them on trucks taking all this stuff and going to look for new places to be, of course, they cannot find a place to do it legally because the Israeli authorities will not give them permits. So they were evicted. And then why did they evict their land? Here is an aerial photo where you can see maybe the shacks of this community, how they lived until recently. And if I zoom out, you see that around them, there are three settler outposts that were established in recent years. And these folks are of the most extreme settlers. They have their farms, one of I believe you already are familiar with this phenomenon of agriculture farms, that they, they go out the settlers, their youngsters, go out every day, to harass and to expel Palestinians from the surroundings by shepherding their their flocks in the area and just kicking them out, and specifically Ein Samia suffered from direct attacks on their houses on their properties, and sometimes physical attacks. And they decided that it was enough for them like to be several years in a row in a constant threat of being beaten up by settlers. And there is no one to protect them, because the Israeli authorities do not do their job to protect Palestinians from settlers. And they decided to move out. And this is a direct effect of the settlement. And I think, when we are talking about settlement activity about allowing Smotrich, to be in charge of now the legislation of settlement activity, and also being allowed on the agricultural farms, it means that we are giving the settlers the full hand to continue with this policy, which is meant to dispossess the Palestinians and to kick them away. And that's something that we need to fight against no matter what kind of solution we are looking at, or is it undoable, or how many settlers there are.


Ori Nir  37:51  

What's happening Ein Samia is unprecedented, right? I don't remember a Palestinian community just picking up and moving away under duress, right. That does not happen before.


Hagit Ofran  38:05  

I don't know, but I know of other communities that were evicted in the past by the government, or that they eventually left or actually, if you go to places like Masafer Yatta, South Hebron hills, or in Jordan Valley, there are many cases of of Palestinians who left that sold their flocks and said we cannot make a living here. But a whole community, I don't recall such a such a case.


Ori Nir  38:47  

So Hagit, let's advance the conversation a little bit in the direction of policy. So we talked about practices. We talked about Smotrich's plan in terms of brick and mortar, what he wants to do in terms of settlement construction, and moving Israelis into the West Bank and so on. But what we're being asked in the q&a, and there are several questions about it, and if people want to ask more questions, they're more than welcome to do that, is the question of what is the end goal of this government? We've seen in the government in the coalition agreements, there were articles that spoke about de facto annexation, the Jewry annexation. We're seeing pushes both by extremist settlers, but also I think, backed up by government, by the government to drive out Palestinians. What is the what is the end goal? Is it is it full the Jewry annexation without giving rights to the Palestinians in the West Bank? What where is this government pushing? Where does it want to go?


Hagit Ofran  40:00  

I think it is clear, very clear. First of all, you have a plan, say, I want 1 million settlers within, it didn't say within how many years, but to prepare for it for the coming years. And you have what the government is calling the fight over Area C. And what they're actually talking about is the fight to expel Palestinians from area C, area C is 60% of the West Bank that remained under full Israeli controll, or civil control, according to the interim agreement with the Palestinians from 1995. That was supposed to be a temporary agreement for five years that the settlers manage, or it's the government, I would say, is trying to prevent any Palestinian presence in those lands, in 60% of the West Bank. The plan, what they envision, is settlements, with many, many Israelis and Palestinians shrink into their cantons, in the areas where they're, quote unquote, allowed in areas A and B, and they should be left there. Now, if you ask Smotrich, he presented in the past a plan he called the The Tochnit Ha'achraa, the plan to defeat the Palestinians. That is saying, well, they will have to learn to live under Israeli control. And if they don't, we can take advantage of violence and expel them more. And I'm not sure that the right wing in Israel think, 'Oh, yeah, we want to kick them all out.' Or maybe some of them do. But the majority who will support settlements, they say, 'No, no. Palestinians should have their life, but in the minimum that possible, and that we have the right to have more rights than them.' So the idea is to to continue this apartheid regime that we already have in the West Bank that is denying Palestinian basic rights.


Ori Nir  42:53  

There's an interesting question here in the q&a regarding the public opinion in Israel. And we're being asked, does the average Israeli citizen even care about all of what we're talking about here? And it's an interesting question, and I think particularly interesting in the light of the current protest movement in Israel, the protest movement in Israel is not protest against the occupation. It's more a protest against anti democracy measures that the government is trying to advance. But my question to you, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot and experiencing, in some sense, I just came back from from a month in Israel, the extent to which the current protest movement is serving the agenda that we're talking about the struggle against the occupation, what do you think?


Hagit Ofran  43:48  

I think it's not easy to say yet. And it's not that the hundreds of thousands that are protesting now in Israel, will come to Peace Now's rallies or will fight for democracy for Palestinians. Unfortunately, it's not yet there. But I think it is very, very significant. First of all, I think the Israeli public opinion went through a fast school of democracy, you know, if you ask people half a year ago in Israel, what is democracy, they would say, the majority rules. And now if you ask people, what is democracy, they say, 'Oh, that the government cannot do whatever it wants.' And I think that's very much significant, very, very much significant. And another thing that I mean, the fact that you see so many people out in the streets to defend democracy is very, very uplifting or at least give gives me a lot of hope. And what we see also within the demonstrations is that the there is the occupation, the anti occupation block, in each of the places that this protest is taking place, and in general, that they have room for those voices. They are not being silenced. They are in some places they take more central part. And you could hear, you know, the mainstream protesters chanting against the police, where have you been in Hawara? Such messages that we never heard. So I would want to look at it from the positive aspects of it, and to say, yes, we are seeing, and I can say, also in Peace Now, specifically, since the beginning of this protest, we have a few dozens of new activists that joined us to the hardcore that say, Yes, we are out in the streets. It's also important. And I think one of our jobs now particularly, is to say, well, the fight for democracy is not only for the Jews, it's democracy for all. And that if we are to continue this occupation, there will not be democracy in Israel.


Ori Nir  46:43  

You just published an article a few days ago in Haaretz. And I'm going to ask my colleague, Maxxe to post the the link to it in the in the chat. The article both talked about many of the things that you just discussed with us, but it also had some ideas and some thoughts about what people can do, but particularly about what American Jews can do. And I know that this is always a question that we're being asked, you know, what can we do? There's one such question in the q&a right now. What are your thoughts? And I'm asking this, because I know that you're about to finish a whole year of stay here in the United States. And I'm sure that you have some interesting insights on the role of the Jewish community here in the United States.


Hagit Ofran  47:38  

Yeah, well, I've spent this last year in New York, with my family. So I had like an exemption from all the rallies, which is not, you know, it's not an exemption. But I was lucky to try to be from here. But this morning, I was protesting here in New York against the ministers who came here. So I do I try to take part. But I think I'm not the expert to talk about what Americans can do or should do, unfortunately. I can say that the American Jews, but not only Jews, are part of the political discourse in Israel, if they want it or not, they are part of it. And if the right wing is saying, 'Oh, you cannot talk about it, you're not part of Israel, etc,' then you should ask them, What are you doing here? Why are there 16 members of the coalition, eight ministers in the streets of New York yesterday? And why are they here to meet the Americans? Because they are trying to affect the American point of view, public opinion and the administration, and this is part of the Israeli discourse. And I think what I'm starting to tell myself in this struggle, is not only that, you know, we need to fight against the settlements and against occupation because it's bad, and how horrible it is, but also that it's a long struggle. That if in the past, I thought, yeah, well, it's a matter of two sides sitting together and we will have an agreement and it will be solved, it's not so easy, and we need to be ready to take it as a long term fight. And to understand that this is part of what we need to do, and we need to strategize. And we need to make it clear to the Israelis that Israel should be more accountable to what is done in Israel. And here, I am not really, I'm not the one to say how it's so obvious what an administration can do to make it clear to Israel that they don't like things that we do. And it's about time that we will know that, that it's not okay.


Ori Nir  50:46  

So I want to I think, and I think this will be our last question with a question that I'm being asked all the time, and that is, does it really still matter? Does the fight really still matter? In other words, is the fight for a two state solution for the creation of a Palestinian state, still a viable and worthwhile fight? Because there's so many people who've reached the conclusion that it's not viable anymore, that the two state solution cannot be reached, mainly because of the presence of the settlements? How do you see it? What's your answer?


Hagit Ofran  51:27  

Well, there is the philosophical answer that would say, since when does it matter if the chances are high or low for the just fight to fight? I mean, if there is discrimination against women, and we don't see how it can change, so we are not fighting for it anymore? I mean, it's not that, but I think that eventually, if we are to undo, and we have to undo settlements, it will be much more likely that Israel will undo it in a way of eviction of the settlements, rather than allowing them to stay and giving full rights to the Palestinians. And I can elaborate more about it, I mean, for what is more likely to happen. But I think there is also a problem with the talking about one state as if it's more reasonable than two states. I think it's less reasonable. One problem with it is that it makes the fight against settlements harder. Because if it doesn't really matter, then settlements are not -- we cannot evict them, then what's wrong with them? So if we should stop fighting, or we should start fighting only for full rights for Palestinians in Israel, then you don't need to fight against the settlements. And I think that the fight against settlements is again, is not only for the future of an independent state, or for equality, for Palestinians, it is a fight against the ongoing dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians. And it's as simple as that. And therefore, I continue to fight against the settlements. And I do believe that the best way or the easiest, which is not easy at all, is through two states. And I want to say another thing. Many people say, 'Oh, settlers are fact on the ground, you cannot undo them.' Well, Palestinians are also fact on the ground. There are 3 million Palestinians today in the West Bank, another 2 million in Gaza. They're also here to stay. And there is something we cannot say, 'Okay, so it will stay the same or whatever.' We will have to to finish this because it's not viable, it's not going to be continued to be safe and calm forever. So it's better to do it with least bloodshed possible and to evict the settlers before.


Ori Nir  54:57  

Hagit, thank you very much. This was fascinating. I want to remind everyone that the recording of this will be availabl, the video on our YouTube channel, and the audio on Peace Cast our podcast. I want to wish you a safe and successful return back to Israel and I know that you're going back to Peace Now settlement watch project which is going to do the even better job with your presence there again. Thank you very much for joining us, Hagit.


Hagit Ofran  55:33  

Toda Raba. Thank you very much, Ori.

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Just over a week ago, the Biden Administration released the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, demonstrating its dedication to combating antisemitism in all its forms while protecting free speech and safeguarding individual rights.

We support this approach, including the decision not to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Instead, the National Strategy allows for a more inclusive and effective response to antisemitism while protecting free speech. This comprehensive approach should serve as a model for combating antisemitism worldwide.

Now, as the United Nations formulates its own plan, we have an important opportunity to advance this pragmatic and nuanced approach to combating antisemitism on a global scale. It is crucial that we push for the UN to adopt a framework that protects speech rather than a definition that weaponizes antisemitism to quash legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies and practices.

Please join us by urging your Member of Congress to sign on to a letter led by Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky that encourages US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield to advocate for a comprehensive, nuanced, and action-based approach to combating antisemitism within the United Nations.

Read the full text of the letter here.

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House of Representatives Letter to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield

The Honorable Linda Thomas-Greenfield
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield,
We write to thank you and the entire Biden Administration for your dedication to combating antisemitism, both globally and here in the United States. We commend the Administration for the development of the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and for its practical, action-oriented framing. This strategy embodies the administration's unwavering commitment to fighting antisemitism while protecting free speech and safeguarding the rights of all individuals.

We also applaud the administration's decision not to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in this strategy and to instead look to several definitions of antisemitism. Together, these definitions serve as a valuable tool to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism. We believe the U.S. National Strategy properly uses all tools at the Administration’s disposal while maintaining a focus on specific and direct actions to counter antisemitism. We hope this inclusive and effective model to counter antisemitism will be used across the globe.

The gold standard set by the National Strategy should set the tone for the United States’ policies abroad and, as the United Nations develops its own plan to combat antisemitism, we urge you to push for the UN to implement a similar comprehensive, nuanced and action-based approach.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We trust in your dedication to promoting human rights, fostering dialogue, and countering antisemitism. We look forward to working with you to ensure that any global efforts to combat antisemitism are grounded in principles of freedom, fairness, and justice.


Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky


Cc: Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt
Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism
United States Department of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, DC 20520


Legislative Round-Up- June 2, 2023

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Recording- West Bank Settlements: 56 Years Into the Occupation

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Richard Gunther z"l

Americans for Peace Now (APN) is saddened to bid a final farewell to Richard (Dick) Gunther, who passed away on May 25th 2023 at the age of 98. Dick was a longtime member of APN’s Board of Directors, and a former chair of the Board. He was a passionate, devoted activist in the fight for a progressive Israel that lives in peace with its neighbors.

Dick grew up in Portland, Oregon and later in Los Angeles, where he spent the rest of his life. In 1943 he was drafted and served for three years in the Pacific as the Second World War was ending. He graduated the University of California in Los Angeles with an accounting degree and soon started a successful career in housing construction, first in Hawaii and then in the San Fernando Valley.

He also began his long association with Jewish community causes, joining the Board of the Brandeis Bardin Institute, where he served for 25 years. Into his mid-30s, Dick pursued a successful career in investment, and became politically active including in progressive Jewish and pro-Israel causes. 

Dick served on the Board of Directors of APN since its inception in 1981, and served as Chair of the Board. He was also on the Board of the New Israel Fund, and held leadership positions at the Los Angeles Jewish Federation.

Dick Gunther led a well-rounded life. He was a family man, a curious intellectual, an athlete, a multifaceted philanthropist, and an avid traveler. He participated in several APN study tours to Israel, typically together with Lois, his wife of 75 years.

Dick is survived by Lois, his three sons, and three grandchildren. Americans for Peace Now’s Board and staff send our condolences to the Gunther family.

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Legislative Round-Up- May 26, 2023

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Why Is Israel Threatening Iran? (Hard Questions, Tough Answers- May 30, 2023)


Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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