Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bibi Plants A Tree And His Flag On The West Bank

Tu Bishvat is a Jewish holiday somewhat similar to our Arbor Day, when many Israelis celebrate by planting a tree. This year, because Tu BiShvat falls on the Sabbath, the planting's being done early.

Only hours after Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu met with Obama's Arab-American Special Envoy to the region, George Mitchell, he went to Jewish communities in Judea (AKA the West Bank) to make a symbolic statement. He planted trees:

In advance of Tu Bishvat, which marks the new year for trees, Netanyahu planted a tree both in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in Gush Etzion and in Ma'aleh Adumim. It was Netanyahu's first visit to West Bank settlements since he took office at the end of last March.

He also promised to plant a tree in Ariel.

With these trees, Netanyahu said he wanted to "send a clear message that we are here. We will stay here. We are planning and we are building."

He added that these three settlement concentrations - Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel - are an "indisputable part of Israel forever. This is an idea that is accepted by the majority of Israelis" and is part of international agreements, Netanyahu said.

He spoke in the small museum dedicated to those the 240 residents and defenders of the initial Gush Etzion bloc who were massacred by the Arab forces during the 1948 War of Independence.

Outside the museum, he picked up a shovel, and planted a tree, together with the great-grandson of one of the massacre victims.

Gush Etzion, like Ariel, was originally built back in the 1920's on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund from the Ottoman Emirs at an exorbitant price and its history is worth revisiting.

After a great deal of effort, the Jews managed to turn Gush Etzion into a relatively prosperous farming community.

In 1948, they were cut off by the Jordanian Arab Legion and their British officers and were offered safe conduct to the Jewish lines if they surrendered. Burdened with women and children, armed with a few rifles and facing a modern fighting force armed with artillery, they agreed.

Once the Jews laid down their arms, the Arabs massacred two hundred forty of the inhabitants outright, including almost all of the able bodied men. The rest, mostly women and children were sent to a Jordanian military prison, where they lived under unspeakable conditions until they were repatriated to Israel in 1950.

Gush Etzion became a Jordanian military base, with the rightful owners able to view their old homes from the John F. Kennedy Memorial forest in Israel. And after Jordan attacked Israel in 1967, the Israelis recaptured it and returned it to the rightful owners.

These and similar areas remaining part of Israel under any prospective settlement were the entire basis under which Israel signed on to the Roadmap during the Bush Administration, no matter how much the current occupant of the White House might try to conveniently dissemble about that fact. Netanyahu is simply stating the obvious.

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