Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Archival Peek: Elon Moreh 1979


The "Elon Moreh" High Court Decision of 22 October 1979 and the Israeli Government's Reaction

See the documents on our Hebrew website

IntroductionOn 22 October 1979 the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, announced that it had ruled in favour of the petition by residents of the Arab village of Rujeib in Samaria against the government's decision to appropriate their lands to establish a Jewish settlement called Elon Moreh, and ordered that the land be returned to the petitioners within one month.

On the anniversary of the Court's decision, the Israel State Archives is publishing a collection of documents (in Hebrew), dealing with the court's decision and its repercussions, which have been released especially for this publication. 
...After the Likud's victory in the Knesset elections of 1977, its leader, Menachem Begin, announced that "there would be many more Elon Morehs". Nevertheless, due to pressure from the American government and in order to prevent damage to the peace talks with Egypt (from November 1977 till March 1979), the Begin government established new settlements in the territories mainly in military camps, and the Elon Moreh group was forced to continue living in the army base.

The members of the group wanted to move to a permanent settlement, and they began a series of demonstrations and protest activities. These reached their peak in an attempt to settle in the Hawara region in September 1978 and a demonstration of Gush Emunim members on a road in the Nablus (Shechem) area in January 1979. On 7 January the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters decided to regard the Elon Moreh group as "candidates for settlement in the near future… When deciding on a settlement area for Elon Moreh the government will consider, to the extent possible, this group's wishes" (the quote is from the High Court's judgement on Elon Moreh). The preferred proposal for settlement was next to the village of Rujeib, south-east of Nablus. The ministers disagreed on this issue. Most of them supported settlement in all parts of the Biblical  Land of Israel, but a minority opposed the proposal to settle the group near Rujeib, among them Minister of Defence Ezer Weizman, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin – all three of whom had impressive security records. Weizman explained that his opposition was based, first and foremost, on his support for establishing a small number of large settlements in Judea and Samaria – in contrast to Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon's approach of establishing many small settlements.

Other ministers opposed establishing Elon Moreh in that location because it would require the use of privately-owned land belonging to the residents of Rujeib. According to international law, seizing privately-owned land by an occupying power is forbidden for any purpose other than military ones. However, these ministers were faced with the government's success in the case of Beit El and Tubas (610/78, 606/78) in 15 March 1979. In this case the Supreme Court determined that the government was allowed to seize privately-owned land in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, as long as the purpose of seizing the land was to meet a security need, and differentiated between 'seizing' and 'confiscating' land. The latter is forbidden by international law to the State of Israel as an 'occupying power' in the territories captured in the Six Day War, as long as it does not impose Israeli law on these territories (as Israel did in East Jerusalem).

...The representative of the settlers, Menachem Felix, presented an affidavit to the court on their behalf, in which he explained that their main concern was not security considerations, but the commandment to settle the Land of Israel "at its very heart…in the deepest meaning of the word…the place where this land was first promised to our first patriarch". He even explained that they regard their settlement in that place as "a permanent Jewish settlement no less than Degania or Netanya".

On 22 October the judges handed down their ruling in favour of the petition and justified it with the following arguments: the initiative to settle in Rujeib was, first and foremost, a response to the demonstrations of Gush Emunim, and not a response to IDF needs; there were conflicting opinions on the issue of the security need for settling at that location; the settlers' announcement that they intended to establish a permanent settlement there, for religious and nationalist reasons...This was the background to a government meeting held on 28 October to discuss it. Prime Minister Menachem Begin announced at the beginning of the meeting that he requests "one decision on principle: the government will carry out the ruling of the Supreme Court, while ensuring that a site would be allocated for Elon Moreh in Samaria"...In the end it was decided to ask the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters to determine a new location for Elon Moreh. It was also decided that the government would discuss the settlement plan for 1979/80. Due to the length of the discussions, they are presented in two versions: a shortened one containing a selection of matters discussed, and the full version (Document 2, Short Version; Document 2, Full Version; ISA, A/4274/4).

...Gush Emunim saw the Elon Moreh petition as a test case in their struggle over the status of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and tied it to the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty with Egypt, to which they were opposed. On the night of 21-22 November the heads of the movement, including Rabbis Zvi Yehuda Kook, Haim Druckman and Zvi Tau met with the leaders of Elon Moreh. Following that meeting Daniella Weiss, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim and head of the secretariat of the 'Kedumim-Elon Moreh' settlement, sent a formal letter to Agriculture Minister Sharon, demanding that he resign. She attached a personal letter, in which she outlined her personal views and the political reasons why Elon Moreh should not be moved from Rujeib to Mt. Kabir. Among other things, she claimed that moving it would be a victory for the PLO, and that the legal status of the settlements in the territories should be changed before Israel transferred the oil fields in Sinai to Egypt, according to the peace agreement (Documents 3, 3a, ISA, A/4150/3).

At the beginning of December the members of Elon Moreh told Begin that they agreed to move to the new site...On 16 January the Elon Moreh residents decided by a majority vote to move to Mt. Kabir. The move was carried out on 29 January; a small group of four families and several single people remained on the previous site and were forcibly removed by the IDF on 3 February 1980.

...Zamir's Reaction to Sharon's CriticismThe argument about the work of the State Attorney that began at the government meetings of 28 October and 1 November (Documents Nos. 1, 2) continued in the following meetings. On 16 December Zamir sent a letter to Sharon to which he attached a letter from State Attorney Gabriel Bach, which quotes a brief prepared by Dorit Beinish, the director of the department in the State Attorney's office dealing with High Court of Justice petitions, which refuted Sharon's arguments. Nevertheless, Sharon again attacked the State Attorney at a cabinet meeting two weeks later. Zamir spoke with Begin on 6 January 1980, and detailed his arguments together with copies of his correspondence with Sharon (Document 6, ISA, A/4329/2).

The Proposed Resolution in Defence of Jewish SettlementAs stated above, right-wing circles were apprehensive that the state's failure in the High Court of Justice would lead to a halt to all settlement activities and perhaps even to the evacuation of additional settlements. Therefore, the prime minister's bureau attempted to clarify with Zamir the possibility of the government confirming the text of the following resolution: "If an attempt is made to harm the status of Jewish settlements in any part of the Land of Israel, the government will take all the necessary legal steps to ensure by law the existence of those settlements". Zamir categorically rejected the proposal in a letter to Begin on 23 November 1979. He claimed that such a resolution could be interpreted as requiring a series of actions, including "even full annexation of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip – any legal step of this sort raises serious problems, not only in the political arena, but also on the legal front, and it may be contrary to legal principles, international law and the Camp David Accords" (Document 4, ISA, A/329/2).  The matter was allowed to drop.


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