Israel’s Unwavering Guardsmen
As the local and international press corps converged on Jerusalem’s Old City to cover the Arab riots at the Temple Mount two weeks ago, little mention was made of the fact that Jerusalem was not the only flashpoint. In Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israeli Arab rioters supported by far-left protesters stoned buses. Israeli Arabs firebombed motorists on Highway 443 and on the roads to Beersheba. In the North, cars were stoned.
These little-reported attacks are the consequence of one of the most dangerous emerging threats to Israel’s national survival: the rapidly escalating radicalization of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Over the past decade and at a frenzied pace since the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, acting at least partially at the direction of the Israeli Islamic Movement and with the active support of the far left, Israeli Arabs and Beduin have launched a massive assault on the state. The relevant national authorities including the courts, the state prosecution, the police, the IDF, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Lands Authority and the Ministry of Interior have failed to defend against it.
Firebombing Jewish-owned vehicles is small potatoes in comparison to developments at the center of mass of the Israeli Arab onslaught: state land. Over the past decade, Israeli Arabs have seized millions of dunams of state land.
The dimensions of this phenomenon were spelled out in last year’s State Comptroller’s Report. While the local and international Left pillories Israel when the state tries to demolish a handful of the thousands of illegal Arab buildings in Jerusalem, what goes unmentioned is that by the end of 2007 there were more than 100,000 illegally built structures in Israel. The overwhelming majority were constructed on state land seized by Arab land thieves in the Negev and the Galilee. By the end of 2009, the number of illegal buildings grew to an estimated 150,000. The scope of the theft is so vast that the Comptroller’s Report referred to it as a “national scourge.”
Most of the open land in Israel is owned by the state and administered by farmers, ranchers and the IDF. Farmers and ranchers – particularly in the North and the South, but in areas around Jerusalem as well – are daily terrorized by neighboring Arab thieves. The thieves destroy their fences, steal and slaughter their livestock and threaten to murder them if they raise any objections, mend their fences or install surveillance cameras. Many farmers and ranchers – like most business owners around Beersheba and Upper Nazareth – are coerced into paying protection money to the same Arab gangs who target their fields.
As the Comptroller’s Report makes clear, the threatened and abused farmers have no official body to turn to for help. While incidence of land theft has increased more than 50 percent in recent years, enforcement measures at all levels have decreased by 81%. In 2007, courts issued just 5,400 judgments on illegal construction. Of these, only 193 led to demolition orders. And just a handful of those orders were carried out.
Israel has no official policy for contending with the problem. A police unit formed specifically to enforce land laws has only recruited 55% of its allotted personnel and most of those 64 policemen devote their energies to routine policing duties.
The absence of state protection has led farmers and ranchers to abandon their lands. For instance, continuous harassment by Arabs from the village of Tuba Zangaria forced Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi just east of Rosh Pinna to abandon 4,000 dunams (400 hectares) of land. Neighboring Kibbutz Amiad abandoned 13,000 dunams. Upper Nazareth is poised to abandon 20,000 dunams. The police refuse to even escort Upper Nazareth’s Mayor Shimon Gafsou to threatened areas.
In the South, the situation is no different. Illegal Beduin squatters from the Taarbiya tribe that migrated to Israel from Sinai have gone to war against the Omer Local Council for trying to build a new neighborhood on land they illegally seized. They have shot at contractors, attacked police escorts. They burned down an electrical transformer station, leaving the area with no electricity for over a week, and then burned down a replacement station.
Omer Council Chairman Pini Badash has been the target of repeated attacks. Badash bought an airplane to document the illegal construction as part of his efforts to force the state to act. The Beduin burned his plane. They burned his wife’s car in front of her and have repeatedly threatened to kill him.
LIKE THE farmers and local councils, the army has simply given up. The IDF has abandoned training areas throughout the North and South. For instance, the Nevetim Air Force base has abandoned 17,000 dunams stolen by Beduin. According to the Comptroller’s Report, 220-250 families have squatted on the land and built approximately 800 illegal buildings. Between 2004 and 2008, there was a 53% increase in the number of illegally built structures.
Rather than defend its bases and the surrounding areas, the IDF has limited the movement of its own officers. The IAF has prohibited its fighter pilots (!) from traveling alone on the highway linking Tel Arad with Beersheba via the Shoket junction. Due to repeated shooting attacks on Jewish-owned vehicles, the pilots who protect our skies are required to travel in convoys of no less than four vehicles.
Just as its grantees played a lead role in the formation of the UN’s Goldstone Commission and the drafting of its defamatory accusations against Israel, organizations supported by the New Israel Fund have played a large role in abetting the Israeli Arab theft of state lands. NIF- and EU-supported groups like Adallah, the Regional Council of Unrecognized Arab Villages, Um Batin and The Steering Committee for Planning and Protection of Arab Rights in the Negev have waged a political and legal assault on Israel to prevent the state from protecting itself and its citizens from Beduin and Arab land crimes.
Cowed by the twin forces of the Red-Green alliance, successive governments have tried to solve the problem by buying off the Arabs. The Olmert government built a village for the Taarbiya Beduin outside of Omer and gave each family NIS 180,000 to leave the illegal structures they had built on state land and accept free houses. Most agreed to relocate, but the 50 families who remained in place stepped up their assaults on Omer while demanding to receive ownership rights for the land they stole.
Just this past Sunday the cabinet unanimously approved a multi-year program to transfer NIS 800 million to 12 Beduin and Arab communities. The government touted the move as a “stimulus plan.”
LUCKILY FOR Israel, the leadership vacuum created by successive governments is beginning to be filled today by a group of law abiding, idealistic young Israelis. The New Israeli Guardsman is a voluntary organization formed two years ago by the sons and daughters of distressed farmers and ranchers.
Yoel Zilberman was an officer in one of the IDF’s elite commando units who got tired of watching his father – a farmer at Moshav Tzipori in the Western Galilee – despair as Arab gangs from surrounding villages cut his fences, stole his livestock and wrecked his crops. During his furloughs, Zilberman began carrying out night time patrols of his father’s fields and repeatedly intercepted thieves as they infiltrated his land.
Over time, Zilberman realized that it wasn’t enough for him to guard his father’s land. His efforts just deflected the problem onto his neighbors. So he organized his friends, the sons and daughters of other farmers in the area, and formed the New Israeli Guardsmen, named after the original Guardsmen – the first Jewish self-
defense organization in the Land of Israel in the modern era, which was formed a hundred years ago.
defense organization in the Land of Israel in the modern era, which was formed a hundred years ago.
The New Israeli Guardsmen – which today operates throughout the Galilee and the Negev – fields more than 650 volunteers who devote up to 20 days a year to guarding land or mending vandalized farm equipment and fences.
Recognizing that the long-term solution to the problem is to increase the public’s dedication to classic Zionist ideals of Jewish control over the Land of Israel, in addition to building and manning guard posts, the Guardsmen organize courses and lectures on Jewish history, Zionism, Jewish philosophy and other relevant topics at their guard posts for the general public.
Next year, 30 young men carefully vetted from a pool of 300 volunteers will receive a yearlong deferral of their military service to serve with the Guardsmen. They will be split into three groups of 10 and man three guard posts in the Galilee and the Negev. Each guard station controls between 5,000 and 20,000 dunams. In addition to their guard duties, the young men will receive agricultural training and study Jewish history, Talmud, philosophy and Arab history. Zilberman hopes that the program will inspire its participants to choose farming as their vocation after they finish their army service.
The Guardsmen operate on a shoestring budget scraped together from private donors. Contingent on raising the necessary funds, the group intends to increase its corps of volunteers tenfold by 2013. If it meet its goals, 6,000 volunteers and 300 national service program members will operate from 30 guard stations in the Galilee and the Negev and protect between 400,000 and 600,000 dunams of state land. They also hope to reach out to Jews in the Diaspora and encourage them to come to Israel and volunteer for the Guardsmen, to bring them closer to the story and fate of the State of Israel.
Zilberman believes that the success of the Guardsmen will empower the state to take the necessary action to enforce Israel’s laws and so defeat the strategic threat posed by the radicalization of the Israeli Arab sector. And he is probably right. At any rate, it is all but certain that the government could take no action without the Guardsmen.
In light of the growing force of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, no government in Jerusalem will act unless it feels it has strong and stable backing from a mobilized citizenry. For instance, it is hard to imagine how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could have defended Jerusalem as stalwartly as he did during his trip to Washington this week if he hadn’t known that the public is with him.
By the same token, the state will only enforce its laws without prejudice when it is certain that the public will rally behind it. Our leaders need to know that the public will stand behind them when the New Israel Fund grantees collaborate with the international Left and the Islamic Movement to demonize Israel as racist for protecting the property rights of the state and its citizens.
Israel, like all democracies, is only as strong as its citizens. What organizations like the New Israeli Guardsmen show is that Israel’s citizens are strong. We are willing to bear the burdens of a free people. As Pessah, the Jewish festival of freedom, approaches, we must support their endeavors and demand that our leaders follow their example.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.