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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

September 07, 2002

The Jewish Population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza

An item on today’s Arutz 7 reports:

Yesha Population Keeps Growing
The Jewish population of Judea, Samaria and Gaza [Yesha] has grown in the past two years - the years of the Oslo War - by 12%. Not including the areas officially annexed to the capital city of Jerusalem, the Yesha settlement enterprise now numbers some 220,000 pioneers. The largest town is Maaleh Adumim, with close to 27,000 inhabitants, followed by Beitar Illit and Ariel. Some 30 babies are born in Beitar Illit every week, and 50 new classes were opened there this school-year. The Binyamin Regional Council gained 620 new families this past summer.

One of the phenomena that impressed me most when I explored the history of Zionism and Israel, was the pioneering spirit of the Jewish immigrants to Palestine and later Israel, who engaged in a never-ceasing effort to found settlement and develop the country. The following brief review of this phenomenon will corroborate this statement (Normally, I would provide web links, but in the absence of suitable links, I refer the reader to the work of the British historian, Sir Martin Gilbert:
Gilbert, Martin. Israel. New York: William Morrow and Co, Inc., 1998.)

Decades before the “official” Zionist movement got underway in 1897, Jews were already building settlements in what today is Israel. Symbolically, the first two settlements incorporated “hope” in their names, as Martin Gilbert (p. 4) documents:

“In 1870, a French educator, Charles Netter, with the approval of the Turkish authorities, founded an agricultural school at Mikveh Israel (Hope of Israel)... In 1878 a number of Jews from Jerusalme decided to establish a Jewish village in the Palestinian countryside... They did manage to buy land from a Greek landowner in the coastal plain, and named their village Petah Tikvah (Gateway of Hope)”.

From that point on, and to this very day, the Jews in Palestine/Israel continued to build settlements of many types - urban, rural, collective-agricultural (Kibbutzim), private-agricultural (Moshavim) etc. The building of such settlements accelerated considerably after the 5th Zionist congress established the Jewish National Fund, JNF, in 1901, with the objective of purchasing land. In 1909, for example, this Fund financed the creation of Tel Aviv (Martin Gilbert, p. 27). Between the creation of the JNF and the time WW I broke out in 1914, the Jews had created 45 settlements (Martin Gilbert, p. 30).

The period of the British occupation and mandate, 1918-1948, was marred by a series of riots by the Arab-Palestinians against the Jewish population, the most noteworthy being the outbursts of 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936-39. However, the Jews never stopped the building of new settlements and the development of the land. The year 1929, for example, saw the founding of Netanya, the scene of recent terrorist attacks (Martin Gilbert, p. 62). Nor did the founding of settlements cease during WW II. For example, in 1943, Polish immigrants founded Yad Mordechai, named after Mordechai Anielewicz who led the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (Martin Gilbert, p.114).

Once Israel was founded in 1948, the limitations and restrictions which the British authorities imposed on development by Jews were removed and the founding of settlements went into high gear.

After the 1967 war, the nature of settlement acquired a new dimension. In 1968, a small group of Jews established a token presence in Hebron, a site at which Jews were massacred at the hands of rioting Palestinian Arabs in 1929. In 1975, as the intransigence of the Arab states stiffened, a second Jewish presence was established, this time near Nablus in Samaria. After the May 1977 elections, Likud’s leader, Begin, became prime minister and the founding of settlements in Judea Samaria and Gaza accelerated (Martin Gilbert, Ch. 25). Which brings us back to the first paragraph: today, the Jewish population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, exclusive of East Jerusalem which has been annexed, has reached 220,000.

The founding of settlements in Yesha seems to me a continuation of the spirit that Jewish immigrants brought with them since the 19th century, and which their descendants continued. This spirit has turned the country from a combination of desert and malaria-infested swamps into a veritable garden. As such, the enterprise should be applauded.

To those who consider the settlements in Yesha “an obstacle to peace”, I ask: Let us assume that the jurisdiction and sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are still disputed. Regardless of the outcome, what is the justification for prohibiting Jews from living and owning property in these areas, when Jews are not restricted or prohibited from living and owning property in any democratic country in the world?

May Israel Flourish.

Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland