NITZAN B, Israel (JTA) — Since Oct. 7, Benjamin Netanyahu has largely avoided face-to-face meetings with ordinary Israeli citizens. One exception occurred in mid-November, when the Israeli prime minister met with a group of Israelis evacuated from the Gaza border, including former Gaza Strip settlers who presented him with a request: to return to their uprooted homes once Israel’s war with Hamas was over.
“The Gaza Strip won’t let us rest, the land of Israel won’t let us rest until the people of Israel return to settle it, and only then will it flourish” one of the participants, Zehorit Cohen, told Netanyahu in a video clip that has since circulated online. Cohen is a former resident of the Gaza bloc of settlements, known as Gush Katif.
“It has nothing to do with strategy or security or economics or anything,” she said. “We need to go back there because it’s the land of Israel, and the land of Israel calls to us.”
Israel evacuated 8,000 settlers and all of its troops from Gaza in 2005, a withdrawal that split Israeli society and that, for the uprooted settlers, still festers as an open wound. Now, as the Israeli military reconquers broad swaths of the coastal territory in its campaign to destroy Hamas, former Gush Katif residents and other settler leaders are standing at the vanguard of mounting calls to rebuild the evacuated settlements.
“Today, after this thing, everyone understands that settlements equal security, and where there aren’t settlements, there’s terror, massacre and Holocaust,” Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council of settlements in the northern West Bank, said in a recent interview on Israeli Channel 14, a right-wing station.
Jewish resettlement inside Gaza has no international support and is understood by even some right-wing lawmakers to be inadvisable. But Dagan, along with settler activist Daniella Weiss, is leading a coalition of right-wing groups using the current war as a springboard to intensify a push for a return to Gush Katif.
Their coalition recently held a conference that drew some 200 people and at least one lawmaker, according to Haaretz. The group has already drawn up a list of families who have committed to relocating to a future resettlement project in Gaza.
“The true victory over Hamas will be to take territory back and establish settlements,” Dagan said.
Politicians on the far right have long called for reestablishing Gush Katif, including an Israeli government minister who did so earlier this year. Now, the war has brought those demands squarely into the mainstream.
A mid-November poll of Israel’s Channel 12 News found that 44% of Israelis are in favor of resettling Gush Katif, with 39% opposed and 17% “unsure.” A Hebrew University poll in December found that enthusiasm had declined, with 33% in favor of settlement in Gaza while 55% are opposed.
In the international arena, however, and even among Israel’s right-wing leadership, the idea appears to be a non-starter. Netanyahu has denounced the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, called the disengagement, but he voted for it as a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government at the time. While he has said Israeli troops will remain in Gaza for the foreseeable future, he called the resettlement of Gush Katif “not a realistic objective” of the war against Hamas.
And President Joe Biden called a potential reoccupation of Gaza a “big mistake” in an October “60 Minutes” interview. In March, his administration rebuked Netanyahu’s government for repealing a portion of the 2005 disengagement law.
Former Israeli right-wing officials have also criticized the movement to return to Gush Katif. Yonatan Bashi, who was one of the leading officials overseeing the implementation of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, said trying to settle several thousand Israelis in a territory inhabited by millions of Palestinians would be an error.
“From the beginning, the idea that we went to live in the Gaza Strip was a big mistake, not because of ideology but because there were 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip versus 7,000 or 8,000 Jews,” Bashi told Israel National News last month, estimating 2005 population figures. “Whoever thought our problem with the strip was geographical was wrong then and is wrong now.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who took a lead role in advocating for the disengagement plan and later became an outspoken advocate of territorial withdrawal, said the idea that settlements in Gaza provide security is “utter nonsense.”
“Had we remained in Gush Katif, we would have been in the kishkes of Gaza, and everything would have happened years ago,” he said, using the Yiddish word for guts. Instead, he blames the Oct. 7 attacks on reports that the army diverted troops from the Gaza border to the West Bank leading up to the attack.
“If our soldiers had stayed next to the border and were not … protecting the settlers so they can attack Palestinians in the West Bank and destroy their olive groves, what happened would not have occurred,” said Olmert.
Far-right Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu recently told Israel’s public broadcaster, “I want to return and establish settlements in the strip, but I’m not sure now is the time to do it.”
Many former Gush Katif residents and their ideological supporters feel themselves pulled back toward Gaza by trauma from a home that was lost — one that is connected to a historical right-wing Zionist mandate to control the entire land of Israel. For years after the disengagement, many of the evacuated settlers lived in temporary housing. Some communities have reconstituted themselves elsewhere. The former Gush Katif settlers generally refer to the withdrawal as an “expulsion.”
At the Gush Katif Heritage Center in Nitzan B, a southern Israeli town established to house evacuated settlers, there is a constant mourning over what was lost and an unfading desire for a return to Gush Katif.
“Here is a memorial — not a museum for something that was and is finished, but a memorial for what continues to live in our hearts” said Shimon Samson, a 71-year old guide at the center who lived in the small Gush Katif settlement of Gadid beginning in 1980, a decade after the Gaza settlements were founded.
Samson pointed to a historical Jewish presence in the ancient city of Gaza that dates back centuries, as exemplified by a replica mosaic of King David, on display by the center’s entrance, based on an original discovered in a fifth-century Gazan synagogue in 1965, shortly before Gaza was conquered by Israel from Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War.
According to Samson, approximately 40 of the Israelis killed in the Oct. 7 attack were family members of the first generation of Gush Katif settlers, who left their farms in the Gaza border region to receive government-sponsored land inside Gaza.
“At first there were no problems,” recalled Samson nostalgically of the initial period of Israeli settlement in Gaza. He recalled local rabbis permitting eating fresh fish on the beachfront in Gaza City and even dining at a halal falafel stand.
The situation deteriorated with the advent of the first intifada in 1987. As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian Authority was given control over much of Gaza including the cities and refugee camps now seeing fierce battles. Violence escalated again during the second intifada two decades ago.
All told, the memorial center lists 42 civilians — not including soldiers — who were killed in terror attacks across Gush Katif’s history. Samson said another 40 community members died prematurely after the “expulsion” in 2005 from “depression, heart attack and other ailments caused by losing millions of dollars and their homes,” including two suicides. Israeli researchers found that former Gush Katif residents were at an increased risk of diabetes and hypertension.
A Haaretz report from 2005 found that 85 members of Israel’s security forces were killed in Gaza since the start of the second intifada in 2000, while 2,600 Palestinians were killed in total in the territory between 1967 and 2005. Many more Palestinians have been killed in the repeated rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war with a rival Palestinian faction.
Nadin Cohen, a 70-year old immigrant from France who was evacuated from Gush Katif, now has a home in Nitzan B lined with photos of seaside vistas from her old home. Samson and Cohen both say they are too old to consider uprooting themselves again, but they both consider their grandchildren among the “many youths who are interested in settling Gush Katif once again,” Cohen said.
While such a return may seem unrealistic, evacuated settlers still have faith that it can happen. Limor Son Har-Melech, a far-right lawmaker who was evacuated from a northern West Bank settlement as part of the 2005 withdrawal, quoted the Bible while expressing her belief that the residents of Gush Katif will yet return.
“We are a nation of God. This is the land that the creator of the world gave us,” she said in a video she posted to social media last week. “We just need to believe in this. If we just believe in this, God willing, we will win.”
The post As Israel fights Hamas, activists on the right are calling to rebuild settlements in Gaza appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation
The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) student government passed on Friday legislation adopting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, (BDS) movement and falsely accusing Israel of genocide.
“This bill prohibits the purchase of products from corporations identified as profiting from the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people by the BDS National Committee,” says the measure, titled Senate Bill (SB) #52. “This bill seeks to address the human rights violations of the nation-state and government of Israel and establish a guideline of ethical spending.”
Puma, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Airbnb, Disney, and Sabra are all named on SJP’s “BDS List.”
Powers enumerated in the bill include veto power over all vendor contracts, which SJP specifically applied to “purchase orders for custom t-shirts,” a provision that may affect pro-Israel groups on campus. Such policies will be guided by a “BDS List” of targeted companies curated by SJP. The language of the legislation gives ASUCD the right to add more.
“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchases of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians,” the bill adds.
A notable provision of the bill regards the charter for the Special Committee on Ethical Standing. It says the committee must be “dissolved” in a year and its”responsibilities” absorbed by UC Davis’ Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, a division of the student government that which describes itself as a special advocacy group for non-white students. The requirement makes BDS a permanent policy of the school and links it to the issue of racial justice, which, on a college campus, serves as a safeguard against any future attempt to pass legislation proscribing the adoption of BDS.
SJP praised the bill’s passing and signing by ASUCD’s president, Francisco Javier Ojeda.
“The bill that was passed prevents any of the $20 million in the ASUCD budget from being spent on companies complicit in the occupation and genocide of Palestinians, as specified by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement,” the group said on social media. “From McDonald’s to Sabra to Chevron, none of our student feeds that fund ASUCD operations will be used to financially support 30+ companies that are complicit in Zionist violence.”
Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California-Davis is one of many SJP chapters that justified Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In a chilling statement posted after the world became aware of the terrorist group’s atrocities on that day, which included hundreds of civilian murders and sexual assaults, the group said “the responsibility for the current escalation of violence is entirely on the Israeli occupation.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters — which have said in their communications that Israeli civilians deserve to be murdered for being “settlers” — lead the way in promoting a campus environment hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel voices. Their aim, the civil rights group explained in an open letter published in December, is to “exclude and marginalize Jewish students,” whom they describe as “oppressors,” and encourage “confrontation” with them.
The ADL has urged colleges and universities to protect Jewish students from the group’s behavior, which, in many cases, has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza
The IDF released “horrifying” new footage on Monday showing Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her two children flanked by gunmen in the Gaza Strip, filmed shortly after their abduction during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel.
Captured by surveillance cameras in Khan Younis, the footage shows Bibas wrapped in a sheet and clutching her red-haired sons, Ariel, aged 4, and Kfir, who was only 9 months old at the time of their abduction, and is the first proof of life since October 7. The children’s father, Yarden Bibas, was separately abducted and his condition remains unknown.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari expressed the military’s deep concerns over Shiri and her children’s fate.
“Seeing this young mother clutching her babies surrounded by a group of armed terrorists is horrifying and heart wrenching,” he said at a press conference on Monday.
“Those who have the audacity to question our need to operate in Gaza, but don’t have the basic decency and humanity to demand that Hamas release our hostages first of all, they all should take a good look at this terrified mother, Shiri, clutching her babies,” he said, adding that the IDF would “leave no stone unturned” in returning the hostages.
The IDF, according to Hagari, lacks sufficient information to ascertain whether they are alive or dead but is “making every effort to obtain more information about their fate.” The footage was obtained from a Khan Younis military post belonging to the Mujahideen Brigades, a small armed group who are holding Bibas and her children.
The Bibas family said in a statement that the videos “tore our hearts out.”
“Witnessing Shiri, Yarden, Ariel and Kfir, ripped away from their home in Nir Oz into this hellscape, feels unbearable and inhumane,” the family said. “We’re issuing a desperate call to all the decision-makers in Israel and the world who are involved in the negotiations: Bring them home now. Make it clear to Hamas that kidnapping children is out of bounds.”
The family also called for Shiri and her children to be prioritized in any future hostage release deal with Hamas.
Hamas had claimed in November that Shiri, Ariel, and Kfir were casualties of an IDF strike, a claim the IDF has contested as unverified and said at the time that the claim was part of the terror group’s “cruel and inhuman” psychological warfare. Hamas also released a video of a visibly distressed Yarden Bibas after he had been informed by his captors that his wife and children were killed by the IDF.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the footage as “heartbreaking” and said it “reminds us who we are dealing with — brutal baby kidnappers.”
“We will bring these kidnappers of babies and mothers to justice. They won’t get away with it,” Netanyahu said.
Irit Lahav, spokeswoman for the embattled community of Nir Oz, said that the video “reminds us that we are all held hostage until the return of all the hostages.”
A quarter of Nir Oz’s residents were either kidnapped or murdered on October 7.
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Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College
Accusations of institutional antisemitism against Middlebury College in Vermont have been lodged in a civil rights complaint filed by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel.
The complaint, filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) argues that high level Middlebury College officials, by refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally, have fostered a “pervasively hostile climate,” which prevents Jewish students from enjoying the full benefits of being a college student at a higher education receiving federal funds, according to the complaint.
A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering. In an email to one Jewish group that planned a vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”
A month later, the administration uncomplainingly accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official, a request which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.
StandWithUs also noted that Middlebury allegedly ignored numerous complaints of antisemitic harassment committed by anti-Zionist groups. After a local Chabad rabbi wrote to school officials reporting acts of “intimidation,” including preventing Jews from entering the cafeteria, during a “Day of Resistance” event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the school’s associate vice president of safety warned him not to report the incidents to outside law enforcement, saying that doing so would be a “risk to individuals and to our community.” The official also denied being aware of any antisemitic incidents.
“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at SWU Center for Legal Justice, in a press release issued on Friday. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play”
“Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration and lawful response as all minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination,” Gammill added.
Middlebury also allegedly refused to punish anti-Zionist students for using their social media accounts to publish hate speech. Social media posts that cheered Hamas’ atrocities as “decolonization,” called Jews “colonizers” deserving of being victims of violence, and said “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” proliferated in the days and weeks after Oct. 7, but this day, Middlebury has never issued a statement condemning antisemitism.
The Algemeiner has asked Middlebury College to comment on SWU’s allegations.
“Middlebury college has failed egregiously to provide adequate protecting for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” Yael Lerman, SWU director of the Center for Legal Justice said in Friday’s press release. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the college has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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