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Israeli Outpost Pits Courts Vs. Government


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

An illegal Jewish outpost in the occupied West Bank is at the center of a battle over settlements. The collection of trailers and makeshift buildings is called Migron, and the Israeli Supreme Court has said it must be dismantled by the end of March. The Israeli government has tried to come up with a compromise which the settlers have rejected. And the issue even threatens to bring down the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visited Migron, and she filed this report.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Migron might be categorized as an illegal outpost slated for evacuation by the Israeli government, but there is a unpaved road that leads right to it, with helpful signs in English and Hebrew to show you the way.

So we're coming up to Migron now and the large yellow gate is opening. It's topped by barbed wire and it's being protected by Israeli soldiers.

(Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED ISRAELI SOLDIER: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an indication of the complicated - and some would argue hypocritical relationship - successive Israeli governments have had with outposts like Migron. On the one hand, Israel is tasked with getting rid of them under international agreements and Israeli court decrees, but practically speaking outposts - and there are dozens of them - are often given the infrastructure and support to, if not thrive, then at least survive.


AVIELA DEITCH: And here there are two kindergartens. They have 60 kids between them - three years old, five years old. In a community of 49 families, I think it's pretty decent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aviela Deitch just moved here with her six children and her husband last august. Since it was founded a decade ago, Migron has been expanding. Many recognized settlements in the West Bank actually started this way, and in fact several similar outposts in other parts of the occupied territories were legalized this past year by the Israeli government. Deitch says Migron should be next.

DEITCH: I hope it's legalized and we can build homes. There are families living here with six children in tiny mobile homes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The international community sees all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal, Israel though rejects that. But the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, rendering it illegal even by Israeli standards.

YARIV OPPENHEIMER: Just imagine if Migron will stay there, the message to the settlers will be very clear: you can grab land, no matter what, and no matter who the land belongs to. I think Migron is a huge test case for Israeli democracy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Yariv Oppenheimer from Peace Now, the anti-settlement group. They brought the case against Migron to the Israeli courts. He says the settlers cannot be allowed to flout Israeli law. But that's exactly what's happening he says. The current administration of Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating with the residents of Migron. They have offered to build them a new settlement a mile away on what they say is state land.

OPPENHEIMER: This is outrageous, of course. It's a game of words. And this is, of course, the symbol that the government is pushing forward the Israeli people to get inside the West Bank and not to think about moving out of the West Bank.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But so far the settlers have refused even that compromise, and that is tipping Netanyahu's government into a crisis. His coalition is made up of many pro-settlement groups which have threatened to quit over the issue. And even members of his own right-wing Likud Party say they won't accept Migron's evacuation.

TZIPI HOTOVELY: I think that it's about time for the state of Israeli settle it down, and to make sure that all this land will be called the state of Israel's land and this government thinks that no Jewish settlement should be removed. And it's about time for us to recognize those areas as part of the real settlements.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Likud's Tzipi Hotovely. She agrees Migron is a test case. She says it's time to settle the settlement issue once and for all. She says she doesn't recognize any Palestinian claim to land ownership in the West Bank, which she calls the Biblical land of Judea and Sumaria, which she says was given to the Jews.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back in the West Bank, it's Friday prayer time in the Palestinian villages that abut Migron. Last month, in a so called price tag attack, the mosque in the village of Burqa was burned. Settlers often vandalize Palestinian property in retaliation for Israeli attempts to restrict settlement building. And because Migron actually sits on land deemed to belong to the village of Burqa, it's frequently targeted, say residents.

Diab Yassin is a village elder. He says Palestinians in the area hold out little hope that that land will be returned to them.

DIAB YASSIN: Most of that land belongs to Burqa's people. They have deeds and abstracts and everything. But from the experience we had before, I don't think they're going to remove anything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the Israeli government is not even trying to get the land back to its rightful owners.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.