Settlement in Focus: Vol. 1, Issue 10 - "Behind the Barrier: A Profile of Elon Moreh"


Settlements in Focus

Behind the Barrier: A Profile of Elon Moreh (Vol.1, Issue 10)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now

Where exactly is Elon Moreh?

Elon Moreh is an isolated settlement located on the northeastern outskirts of the Palestinian city of Nablus ("Shechem" in Hebrew). It is located 18 miles east of the Green Line and 13.5 miles west of the Jordan River (i.e., closer to Jordan than the Green Line). It is 32 miles from the center of Jerusalem.

How many people live there?

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, as of Dec. 31, 2004, there were 1,152 registered residents of Elon Moreh. Its average growth rate between 1999 and 2004 was 1.9%; however, between Dec. 31, 2003 and Dec. 31, 2004, it saw a growth rate of 5.0%.

Is it part of a settlement bloc?

Elon Moreh is not part of a settlement bloc. Ariel, which is the easternmost point of the closest bloc (the Ariel bloc) is 12 miles southwest of Elon Moreh. Elon Moreh's closest neighboring settlements (all of which are themselves very isolated) are the other settlements ringing the city of Nablus: Itamar (southeast of Nablus, population 600, 4.5 miles away); Bracha (south of Nablus, population 970, 5 miles away); Yizhar (southwest of Nablus, population 534, 7 miles away); and Shave Shomron (northwest of Nablus, population 539, nearly 9 miles away). Population numbers are according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, as of Dec. 31, 2004.

How many Palestinians live in the area?

The population of the Nablus metropolitan area is around 187,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, as of mid-year 2005. This includes adjoining villages and refugee camps, as well as a community of about 300 Samaritans located in the western part of the city (the other remaining community of Samaritans is located inside Israel, near the city of Holon. Information about this ancient Jewish sect can be found at their website).

When and how was Elon Moreh established?

From 1967 until the Yom Kippur War, the government of Israel supported settlement in only a few areas of the newly occupied territories - mainly the southern West Bank and the Jordan Valley - and justified land expropriations on the basis of the military/security needs of the State of Israel. Following the Yom Kippur War, a core of groups of settlers (based in Kiryat Arba, the Hebron-area settlement that represented the first major victory for ideological settlers) launched a campaign to settle the northern West Bank. After their requests to settle at a site near Nablus were repeatedly rejected by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, they attempted to settle the area seven times without permission. Each time the settlers were evacuated by the IDF- in at least one case after confrontations with the IDF.

On the eighth try, in December 1975 (during Hanukkah), a few hundred settlers and their supporters took over a site in the area (a disused railway station in Sebastia) and refused to leave. Negotiations with the Israeli government, led by then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres and then-Intelligence Advisor Ariel Sharon, produced a compromise: the settlers could stay temporarily in an Israeli army camp located nearby. A few years later, in 1979 the settlers were given permission to build on privately-owned lands belonging to Palestinians from the village of Rujeib. The Israeli High Court subsequently rejected the expropriation and required that the site be dismantled. In 1980, Elon Moreh moved to its present location, on the ridge area of Mount Kabir, overlooking Nablus.

Why was Elon Moreh's establishment particularly significant?

Elon Moreh was one of the first permanent settlements established by the Gush Emunim movement; it is particularly significant because its establishment gave birth to the legal basis for future settlement in the West Bank.

As alluded to above, in 1979, the Government of Israel (under Prime Minister Begin) decided to formally expropriate land for the new settlement of Elon Moreh (which up until then had remained at the Israeli army camp) and selected a site near the village of Rujeib. The Government claimed the expropriation was for military use, in keeping with past practice. In response, Peace Now rallied thousands of Israelis at the site, opposing the seizure of land for what was an unambiguously civilian, rather than military, purpose; the Elon Moreh settlers themselves openly declared that this was the case, arguing for the right of Jews to settle in all parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian owners of the expropriated lands appealed to the Israeli High Court to stop the seizure of their lands. After examining the matter, the Israeli High Court ruled that Elon Moreh had to be dismantled, arguing that privately-owned land could not be expropriated to establish civilian settlements. The judges' decision implied, however, that they would have found otherwise if the land involved had not been privately-owned.

This ruling turned out to by a pyrrhic victory for the Palestinians. Subsequent to the ruling, the Israeli Cabinet decreed that it would henceforth be the policy of Israel to permit construction of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank on any land that was not privately-owned. Then-Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon and then-IDF chief of staff Rafael Eitan led the effort to implement this change in policy. Under the new policy, Israel could take for civilian settlement use any land in the West Bank that had been designated as "state land" under Jordanian rule, was unregistered, or was uncultivated (and thus deemed abandoned by its owner). Under these terms, most of the West Bank became fair game for settlement, particularly given that the West Bank had not had a complete land registry since Ottoman times (one of the first things Israel did in 1968 was stop the registry process), and given that the burden of proof for land ownership was (and remains) very difficult for Palestinians to meet.

In the end, the landowners in Rujeib won their battle in court and got their land back. Elon Moreh moved in January 1980 to the site where it now exists, on Mount Kabir. The army camp where the Elon Moreh settlers had initially been allowed to stay (under the December 1975 compromise) eventually became the settlement of Kedumim (pop. 3263, as of Dec. 31, 2004).

What kind of infrastructure does the settlement have?

Like other settlements, extensive roads (that serve only the settlement) have been developed to allow Elon Moreh's residents to travel without passing through densely-populated Palestinian areas.

Given Elon Moreh's location (deep in the West Bank, close to a major Palestinian city), the settlement requires substantial security personnel.

Who pays for Elon Moreh's water, roads, and electrical connections?

Like all West Banksettlements, Elon Moreh's services and infrastructure are paid for by the State of Israel or other public bodies like the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Likewise, the government of Israel subsidizes transportation and schools, and has historically provided a wide-range of financial incentives for settlers. The cost of these subsidies and incentives are spread across virtually every Ministry's budget and often obscured within other budget items, making it extremely difficult to estimate what the costs are for a particular settlement.

An analysis conducted by Peace Now of the 2001 Israeli budget concluded that, not including security costs, the Government of Israel was paying around $500 million per year extra for settlers, who numbered at the time around 206,000 (not including Jerusalem) - i.e., the Government of Israel was providing an annual subsidy of around $2400 per settler in addition to the costs of services provided to citizens living within the Green Line, not including security costs. With a current population of around 1200 residents, this means the Government of Israel provides an annual subsidy of around $3 million per year for Elon Moreh's settlers (in addition to security costs).

What is the size of the settlement?

The built-up area of Elon Moreh is about 148 acres. However, the built-up area of most West Bank settlements generally represents less than 10% of the total area under the settlement's jurisdiction. In the case of Elon Moreh, this expanded area included roads, agricultural lands, and neighboring areas made off-limits to Palestinians ostensibly for the security of the settlement.

Is Elon Moreh expanding?

About 2.7 miles from Elon Moreh is Hill 792, also known as Skali's Ranch- a small outpost erected (with no Israeli government authorization) in 1998. Given that the site is outside the area under Elon Moreh's control and a significant distance from the settlement itself, it is clearly not a new "neighborhood" of the settlement (settlers and Israeli authorities often use the term "neighborhood" when referring to the construction of new and remote outposts). The location of the outpost - nearly on the easternmost tip of the mountain ridge on which Elon Moreh is located - indicates that the purpose of the outpost may be to establish control over the entire length of the ridge, which the settlers hope one day might help them be connected to a "Jordan Valley settlement bloc."

Asecond outpost, erected during 2002 near the bypass road connecting Elon Moreh to the settlement of Itamar, was dismantled before it could be inhabited.

Elon Moreh's settlers are candid in their view that the settlement and its expansion are key to blocking the establishment of a Palestinian state. According to the settlement's website, "Since the settlements on the mountaintops around Shechem, of which Elon Moreh is the biggest and therefore the central one, are the only Israeli presence from Shechem to the Jordan River, these communities now present the only barrier to a Palestinian State in eastern Samaria. It is therefore of utmost importance to build up this presence on the highest mountain tops. On the hill northeast of EM [Elon Moreh] a new neighborhood has been started without any government help at all. This leaves all the essentials - road, electrical lines, water, etc. - without any government budgets."

Where does Elon Moreh stand in the context of a final status agreement? Is there any plan under which Israel would retain Elon Moreh? Is it addressed under the Road Map?

Most analysts would agree that it unrealistic to imagine a final status agreement in which Israel would retain Elon Moreh. Elon Moreh is neither close to the Green Line nor part of any large settlement bloc. Rather, it is located deep inside the West Bank, cheek-and-jowl with one of the West Bank's largest Palestinian population centers.

The only plan that includes Elon Moreh as part of Israeli-controlled territory would be a settlement-friendly plan under which Israel would retain control over the Jordan Valley, with "fingers" extending deep into the West Bank heartland linking settlements like Elon Moreh to the Jordan Valley. Such a plan would likely not be acceptable to any credible Palestinian leadership or the international community, and an agreement that imposed such an arrangement could not plausibly be the basis for a viable Palestinian state or peace and security for Israel.

Elon Moreh is addressed in the Road Map to the extent that the Road Map addresses all settlements - calling on Israel to freeze "all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." (Parenthesis included in original).

How does the Elon Moreh impact neighboring Palestinian villages and the city of Nablus?

The existence of a settlement - and a politically and ideologically extremist settlement, at that - on the outskirts of one of the West Bank's largest cities has had a tremendous impact on that city and surrounding villages. In particular, local travel had been greatly hampered by security measures put into place by the IDF to ensure the safety and easy movement of settlers. This includes settlers-only routes that divide villages from each other and from the main roads of the area, as well as routes that cut off farmers from their land.

The Elon Moreh area has also been the site of some of the most aggressive actions by settlers against the Palestinian olive harvest, including attacks on Palestinians, destruction of trees and olives, and theft of the harvest by settlers. On November 10, 2003, the settler news service Arutz Sheva reported a statement by Elon Moreh Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, who argued that Palestinians should not be permitted to harvest olives close to settlements, and that the real question is who should stop them. Levanon reportedly stated "It's obvious that not every individual is permitted to make these decisions on his own. The general guidelines are that in a perimeter of 300 meters around each community, Arabs are simply not allowed to enter. If they do so, it becomes a matter of immediate self-defense, and in such a case, individuals are allowed to take action. They may even take action against the property--i.e., olive trees--of those who endanger them in this way."

Moreover, Elon Moreh settlers have clashed regularly with their neighbors in a decades-long battle to establish dominance in the area. Recently, this has included incidents reported in APN's Middle East Peace Report in May 2005, when 22 settlers from Elon Moreh were arrested after marching into a nearby Palestinian neighborhood (en route to protest the dismantling of another settlement), and when settlers marching from Elon Moreh to the settlement of Itamar clashed with Palestinians near the village of Salem and burned down some 70 dunams (17 acres) of Palestinian orchards. Military and police sources blasted the settlers' behavior, calling it a deliberate provocation that endangered the lives of both soldiers and civilians.

Another highly publicized case (at the time) concerned a group of Elon Moreh settlers who in 1988, during the first Intifada, decided to take a "hike" near the Palestinian village of Beita in order, in the words of one "hiker" interviewed later on Israeli TV, "to show who are the masters." A confrontation erupted with Palestinians from the village, leading to the death of a several Palestinians as well as the death of a 15 year-old girl from Elon Moreh. The settlers claimed the girl was stoned to death by Palestinians, which would have made her the first Israeli civilian casualty of the Intifada (the IDF determined she had actually been shot in the head by another settler, who had apparently been aiming at a Palestinian). As a result of the incident, the IDF destroyed a number of houses in Beita and arrested many residents of the village.

What is the political orientation of the Elon Moreh settlers?

Elon Moreh settlers overwhelming lean to the far-right. In the last Knesset elections (2003), their votes broke down as follows:

39.5% - National Union (Far right-wing)
27% - National Religious Party (Religious-nationalist party)
14.6% - Herut (far-right, pro-"transfer" party)
10.3% - Likud
6.7% - Shas (Religious/Sephardic party)
1.9% - all other parties


What is the stance of Elon Moreh's leaders towards serving in the IDF during disengagement?

As is the case throughout the settler community, there are likely different opinions within Elon Moreh regarding service in the IDF related to disengagement. However, while most mainstream settler leaders and rabbis refrained from explicitly calling for soldiers to refuse to serve in the IDF during disengagement, Elon Moreh's rabbis distinguished themselves for their brazenly anti-disengagement behavior:

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon: The settlement's rabbi and the head of the settlement's yeshiva, Levanon explicitly called on soldiers to refuse to serve. An August 2005 article in Ha'aretz noted that Levanon and a handful of other influential rabbis "openly supported the refusal of orders by Israel Defense Forces soldiers. These rabbis feel that the land is a greater fundamental than the state, which is only a tool."

As noted in the September 12, 2005 edition of APN's Middle East Peace Report, on September 9, 2005, the Israel newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported: "Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said last week that the arrangement with the yeshivas whose principals called for military disobedience during disengagement will be nullified unless those rabbis are relieved of their duties. Director of Human Resources Branch Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern agreed, saying, 'We'll take care of them.' Leading figures in the Hesder Yeshiva Association said that the rabbis referred to by the IDF officials are Rabbis Elyakim Levanon and Dov Lior. Rabbi Levanon is the principal of the hesder yeshiva in Elon Moreh and also serves as the settlement rabbi. The yeshiva in Elon Moreh took the lead among all the hesder yeshivas in terms of military disobedience. Rabbi Levanon advised his pupils 'to begin to cry and to say that they are incapable' of executing the orders to evacuate. He also said, 'There is no Halachic [Jewish legal] difference between desecrating the Sabbath and evacuating Jews from their homes.' Two groups of pupils from the yeshiva disobeyed evacuation orders in Gush Katif and were sentenced to extended prison terms."

Rabbi Yaakov Savir: Another Elon Moreh rabbi, Savir is accused by Israeli authorities of leading a group of protesters on the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue during disengagement; according to Ha'aretz, authorities accuse Rabbi Savir of "rioting, attacking a police officer and violating the disengagement law."

Rabbi Yehuda Richter: A longtime Kach activist and a rabbi at the Elon Moreh yeshiva, Richter garnered media attention early in the June 2005 when he appeared to be preparing "suicide bunkers" in Gush Katif and the northern West Bank. Richter, a longtime supporter of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Richter was number two on the Kahane Knesset list, before Israel outlawed the party on the basis of its racist views), is famous for having been the commander of the "suicide squad" that barricaded itself in a booby-trapped "suicide bunker" in 1982 at Yamit; all efforts to get them to leave failed until Rabbi Kahane convinced Richter that they would be needed to fight in the future battle for the West Bank. Richter was subsequently involved in a shooting attack on Palestinian workers and sentenced to 5 years in prison. In June 2005 he reportedly placed in ad in the Israeli press stating that "groups of boys and girls are organizing to take positions in northern Samaria and the Gaza region, to undermine the plan that leads to destruction and to act according to the guidelines of Rabbi Meir Kahane."

Noam Livnat: Brother of Minister of Education Limor Livnat, Noam Livnat is "an ultra-rightist settler living in Elon Moreh. Noam Livnat is the head of a group actively urging soldiers to disobey orders. Last week, he was arrested in Gush Katif after he violated a restraining order prohibiting him from the area." (Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2005).

How does the settlement survive economically?

Like other settlements located deep inside the West Bank, Elon Moreh settlers are less likely to commute to jobs inside Israel (it is too far). Elon Moreh hosts a number of religious educational institutions, and education-related jobs are reportedly the primary source of employment in the settlement. The settlement also boasts small businesses including a parchment factory and small-scale agricultural enterprises.

In addition, Elon Moreh raises funds abroad, including in the United States, with non-profit organizations registered both in Israel and the U.S. U.S. activities include active fundraising in Jewish communities and synagogues. Elon Moreh has reportedly also been "adopted" by an evangelical Christian community in Florida.

Produced by Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director, Americans for Peace Now & Dror Etkes, Settlements Watch Director, Peace Now (Israel)