On February 25th the BBC News website produced an article which described a terror attack as having taken place “in the occupied West Bank” and went on to state:
“Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlements located between Jerusalem and Hebron, has been one of the focal points of a five-month surge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.”
There is of course nothing novel about that portrayal of Gush Etzion as being located on “occupied” land and neither is the BBC’s presentation much different from the general trend seen in much of the Western media – or indeed some Israeli media outlets.
Last week Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz produced an article in which he described Gush Etzion Junction as having been “built forcibly on their [Palestinian] land”. That article – and that sentence in particular – prompted a response from Professor Asa Kasher on Facebook.
“‘Do they imagine’, asks Gideon Levy of the settlers in his column ‘that the Palestinians will ever give up on the junction which was built forcibly on their land, against their wishes?’. That question comes to sell its readers a lie and a falsehood. Here are the facts:
At the end of Hosanna Raba […] -1926 – the chairman of the association [“Memory of David”] Rabbi Menahem Kasher [my grandfather] went out accompanied by a lawyer to Migdal Eder. There, ten Arabs were gathered in one big room; these were the owners of the land. Each one of the owners present received his part in cash payment and signed his agreement to sell his part of the land of Migdal Eder (“Settlements that were Abandoned”, by Ben-Zion Michaeli, 1980).
Migdal Eder was the first Jewish settlement to be built in Gush Etzion. My grandfather and his friends were Orthodox Jews from Jerusalem who were interested in the land of Migdal Eder. The Jewish settlement was built with impressive personal and community efforts. It came to an end during the riots of 1929. The lives of the residents were saved thanks to a few friendly Arab neighbours but the settlement was robbed and totally destroyed. The settlement Migdal Eder existed exactly in the place where today Gush Etzion Junction is located. Gideon Levy is lying.”
Our colleague Hanan Amiur at Presspectiva added:
“The land at the junction was legally purchased by Jews nearly 90 years ago. The Jewish settlement in Gush Etzion began in 1927, exactly at Gush Etzion Junction, in a settlement called ‘Migdal Eder’. At that time 924 dunams in the place where today the junction is located were purchased by Orthodox Jews from Mea Shearim, from the ‘Memory of David’ association.
Two years later during the riots of 1929, the settlement was abandoned; set alight and destroyed by the Arabs. At the beginning of the thirties a private investor called Shmuel Holtzman bought the land from the ‘Memory of David’ association as well as thousands more dunams of the surrounding land and that brought about the development of Gush Etzion from the area of the junction itself to the surrounding areas on all sides.
In the place where today stands the kiosk next door to the garden centre at the junction, Holtzman built a clinic in 1932 for his son Uriel who studied medicine in France so that he could provide medical care to the residents of the area; Jews and Arabs alike. In 1936, with the outbreak of the Great Arab Revolt, the settlement was abandoned again and seven years later, in 1943, the people of Kfar Etzion resettled the Jewish lands and rebuilt (for the second time out of three) Gush Etzion.
The hand-written document below is the list made by Holtzman and his partners and on it are the names of the Jewish investors who bought the lands at the junction and in the surrounding area. It appears in Holtzman’s notebook […] which is to be found today in the archive at Kfar Etzion.”
“At the outset of the conflicts in 1947, Gush Etzion consisted of four settlements: Kfar Etzion (the first settlement in the area, founded in 1943), Masuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim. On January 14, 1947, an army of more than 1,000 Arabs, led by Abdul-Khadr Husseini, attacked the settlements. While the 450 settlers were able to repulse the attackers, the settlements were devastated, in need of reinforcements, and vulnerable to a future attack. […]
Gush Etzion was again the center of conflict in May of 1948, when, for a period of three days, residents of Kfar Etzion were able to hold off a large Arab army headed for Jerusalem. Eventually, despite surrendering to the Arab army, 240 residents of the kibbutz were massacred, another 260 were captured, and the settlement was razed.”
Nineteen years later Israel regained the area in the Six Day War.
Unlike Gideon Levy, the BBC is obliged to provide its funding public with journalism which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”. The repeated promotion of the trite and facile narrative of ‘occupied land’ not only obviously defeats that object and hampers the ability of its audiences to reach informed opinions on the topic but also denies them insight into the complex and fascinating history of land purchased by Jews nearly a century ago, conquered by Jordan and then regained by Israel.