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Contentious Land Grab, Gaza Heats Up, Masada Unearthed

Israel approves controversial settlement expansion bill

Al Jazeera, February 6th 2017


Israel passed a bill that retroactively legalized 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The Context:

  • The Knesset voted 60 to 52 to approve a freeze on demolition proceedings against homes built on privately owned Palestinian land [1]. MK Benny Begin, son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was the only member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition that voted against the bill.

  • Israel will unilaterally appropriate the land and establish a committee to oversee compensation packages, either through financial reimbursement or alternative plots of lands, for Palestinians affected by the seizure [2].

  • The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) slammed the law as "legalized theft" and anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said the law “deteriorates Israel’s democracy [3].” The Israeli settler movement praised the vote as a step towards giving “half a million residents of Samaria, Judea and the Jordan Valley normal lives just like residents of Tel Aviv [4].”

  • The bills passage marks the first time Israeli legislation explicitly affirmed government support for the settlements [5].

  • Since Trump's inauguration in January, Israel announced more than 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land Palestinians see as key parts of their future state. Trump mildly criticized Israel’s settlement expansion as "not helpful" for peace prospects, a strong departure from the Obama administration’s harsh, and very public, admonishments of Israel’s settlement activities.

  • Last week, residents of Amona, a West Bank settlement built on private Palestinian land, were evicted from their homes but compensated $35 million to rebuild their community elsewhere.

Conversation Points

  • Would the Knesset have voted differently if the settlements were built on privately owned Israeli land?

  • How would Israel react if the Palestinian Authority (PA) authorized the seizure of Israeli owned land?

  • Will Israel compensate Palestinians affected by the land seizure as generously as those evicted in Amona?

Gaza Tensions Flare Up: Israel Pounds Hamas Targets From Land and Air After Rocket Fire

Haaretz, February 6th 2016


Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel were met with six retaliatory attacks by the Israeli army. IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel "will not tolerate rocket fire toward civilians and will continue to ensure security and stability in the region [6]." No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Context:

  • Israel sees Hamas, a terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip, as the responsible party for any attacks initiated from the territory. A senior Hamas official blamed Israel for the escalation, saying it was "another chapter in Israel's crimes against the Palestinians," while Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terror group, said Israel's actions could not be left unanswered.

  • In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip, upending thousands of Israeli homes, in hopes to bring calm to the Israeli-Gaza border. Hamas won Gaza elections in 2007 and has since waged 5 wars against Israel. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett believes the next war with Hamas is “a matter of when, not if [7].”

  • This week, Israeli authorities uncovered a Hamas cell planning to carry out attacks in Israel. Targets included the Afula bus station, a military base near Kafr Kara, the Binyamina Train Station and a synagogue in Zichron Ya’akov [8].


  • Will quality of life for Gazans ever improve if Hamas and Islamic Jihad are more interested in harming Israel than caring for its own people?

  • Should Hamas be held accountable for attacks conducted by other terror groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State?

  • Can critics of Israel’s settlement policy look to its 2005 withdrawal from Gaza as a sign of willingness to disband established communities for peace?

First excavations in over a decade begin at Masada desert fortress

I24 News, February 7th 2016


The first major excavation in the 1960’s concluded with archaeologists deciding to leave some of Masada unexplored to allow future generations to continue the work. “Though Masada has been subject to several seasons of excavation, a great deal remains to be investigated,” said team leader Guy Stiebel [9].

The Context:

  • Located in the Judean desert, Masada features a fortress, palace and elaborate waterworks channel meant to accumulate seasonal rainfall.

  • During the revolt against Rome in the 1st century, Jewish rebels embedded themselves at Masada and held out against the Romans for nearly four years. According to Josephus Flavius, the sole historical source for the battle, the Jews committed mass suicide before Roman troops stormed the fortress [10].

  • Masada is one of the most visited tourist sites in Israel and is registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site [11].

Conversation Points:

  • Is Masada’s immense popularity attributed to Israel’s relatively newfound sovereignty and independence?


  1. In historic first, Israel legalizes West Bank outposts with sweeping new legislation, Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel, February 6th 2017

  2. Regulation Bill passes 2nd and 3rd Knesset readings, Ynetnews, February 6th 2016

  3. Israel Passes Provocative Law to Retroactively Legalize Settlements, Ian Fisher, New York Times, February 6th 2016

  4. In historic first, Israel legalizes West Bank outposts with sweeping new legislation, Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel, February 6th 2017

  5. Ibid.

  6. Israel Targets Hamas Sites After Gaza Rocket Attack, Fares Akram, Associated Press, February 6th 2017

  7. After Gaza flare-up, ministers hear war drums as army seeks return to calm, Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, February 7th 2017


  9. New Masada expedition gets underway, Viva Sarah Press, Israel21c, February 5th 2017

  10. Archaeologists get set to dig at Masada, after 11-year hiatus, Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel, February 5th 2017

  11. Ibid.

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