Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

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:Migdal Eder

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.Kfar Etzion

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.”

List Hanan

Gush Etzion of course came under Jordanian occupation during the War of Independence.

“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. 




6 comments on “Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

  1. It makes me sick to think that Gideon Levy could be so ignorant! My in-laws were among the founders of the original Gush Etzion, and one of their sons went back to live there after 1967. The rest of the family went to live on the moshav shitufi Massuot Yitzhak, which had been one of the four constituents of Gush Etzion – AFTER they were released from Jordanian prisoner of war camp where they were imprisoned for almost a year. Just to remind you that the Arab Legion, the Jordanian army, was staffed by British officers so the British were responsible by proxy.

  2. King David prophetically wrote Psalm 69 about 3,000 years ago: what I have not stolen I must repay.

  3. I don’t have an easy answer for this, but I believe that the matter is extremely complex. Thus fundamentally the BBC are wrong but they are trying to reduce that complexity to a simple message that viewers can understand.
    The most basic question is do we go by history/divine message or by current international law. If the latter then we need to recognise that partition in 1948 and subsequent international agreement puts Gush Etzion into Palestinian territory. This then leads to a separate question of whether it should be a requirement that Jews are allowed to own/retain ownership in a Palestinian state.
    If we deny the supremacy of international law than we rely either on history or on divine favour. If it is history then how far back do you go legitimately. Is 200 years more powerful than 2000 years? If not what about the people who were there before us (e.g. The Egyptians held sovereignty over the land before the Jews existed)? Do we have to prove that we are the same people as the Jews of 3000 years ago? Although we have our emotional responses, these are not easy questions.
    If instead we go by divine favour, how can we deny that right to others who hold different views? In this circumstance it comes down to “my G-D is bigger than your G-D.” Which translates to “my missiles are bigger than your missiles”. Not a great position to be in.

    This is not intended to defend the BBC (I rather doubt that they went through this tortuous logic before describing the Shtachim as occupied. But we also should recognise that these issues are not simple ones in which we hold all the right and “the others” are all wrong. The key is to find a route that can reconcile (if that is possible) and can then communicate the issues in a simple way. But I guess this is not a novel idea and after nearly 100 years we are no nearer to finding the way forward.

    • That is grossly incorrect. First of all, the whole concept of international law is misunderstood. There is no such thing as an international parliament, therefore there is no such thing as an international law-making body. Laws between countries are made by treaty or other signed agreements. That also applies to the UN, which does not include making law in its charter and it certainly does not apply to the media, despite their caprice in bandying that term about to the point where it’s meaningless.
      Nevertheless, if one does try to apply a concept of law to the partition of land, then Resolution 181 adopted in 1948 does not apply, since the Arabs rejected it and therefore Israel is not bound. An agreement requires two signatories. Furthermore, if one does purport to apply the rule of law, then there is no Palestinian land. The only time that there have been signatories to the division of the land in what constituted the British Mandate was the San Remo Conference which designated all of what consists today as Israel and Jordan as the Jewish homeland. In contrast, there has never been any such thing as a state of Palestine, therefore there is no such thing as Palestinian territory.

Comments are closed.