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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Israel steps up oil drilling in occupied Golan Heights

by Charlotte Silver    8 March 2016       The Electronic Intifada

Israel is moving forward with plans to drill for oil in the occupied Golan Heights, despite warnings that the move violates international law.

The read area marks the eastern border with Syria, The black area is the approximate location of the oil drills.

The red area marks the eastern border with Syria, The black area is the approximate location of the oil drills.

For the last year, Afek, an Israeli subsidiary of the US firm Genie Energy, has undertaken exploratory drilling in the Golan. Afek believes there is a vast reservoir of oil under Syria’s Golan that could supply all of Israel’s energy needs.

In September 2015, Afek announced it had discovered its first oil reservoir at one of the sites where it had been drilling.

Last month, the company was granted the go-ahead to conduct more drilling in the Golan by the Israeli authorities.

In response, Palestinian legal rights group Adalah and Al-Marsad, the Arab Human Rights Center in the Golan Heights, wrote to Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s infrastructure minister, demanding that the drilling permits be withdrawn.

In the letter, attorneys Suhad Bishara and Karama Abu Saleh reminded Steinitz that international law requires that residents of the Golan be able to control and benefit from the land’s resources.

Population expelled

In 1967, Israel occupied Syria’s Golan Heights, expelling most of the Syrian population.

Approximately 130,000 Syrians were driven out and most of the Golan’s 200 villages destroyed, according to a 2010 investigation by the Tel Aviv newspaperHaaretz.

Today, 22,000 Syrians belonging to the Druze minority community remain amid a similar number of Jewish settlers. The settlers are spread out across 30 settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

In 1981, Israel formally annexed the territory but governments around the world, including the United States, consider that annexation null and void.

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that reaffirmed what it called the “inalienable rights” of the Arab population in the Golan over its natural resources.

As the occupying power, Bishara and Abu Saleh write, Israel is “prohibited from altering, transferring or confiscating immovable properties,” as well as looting the Golan’s resources.

The 1907 Hague Regulations, a cornerstone of international law, state that an occupying power must “safeguard the capital of these properties.” Stealing resources from an occupied territory constitutes the crime of pillage.

But in December 2011, Israel’s high court ruled that Israel’s occupation is unique and not bound by the laws against pillage.

Indeed, Israel has already made profitable use of the Golan’s agricultural and water resources.

As journalist Jonathan Cook reported recently, the company behind the drilling expedition may have its own ideological motivations for the oil venture.

“Depths of darkness”

The chairperson of Afek is Effie Eitam, a far-right former politician and military general, who is an Israeli settler in the Golan.

Afek chairperson Effie Eitam has ordered fatal beating of Palestinians and has expressed his desire for them to be killed. (Juda S. Engelmayer)

Eitam has previously ordered the beating of Palestinians, some of whom have died as a result. He has also made a series of racist comments telling Jeffrey Goldberg ofThe New Yorker that Palestinians are “creatures who came out of the depths of darkness.”

“We will have to kill them all,” he said. At that time, in 2004, Eitam was Israel’s housing minister.

The members of the strategic advisory board of Afek’s parent company include Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and Larry Summers, the former secretary of the US treasury.

The last year has seen Israel attempt to intensify its grip on the Golan Heights, while Syria is consumed by bloodshed and war.

Israel has offered significant financial incentives to its Jewish citizens to settle in the Golan and politicians have sought the world’s recognition of its annexation of the occupied territory.

At a meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Barack Obama, the US president, last November, Netanyahu reportedly suggested that the US change its position on the status of the Golan Heights in light of Syria’s civil war.

According to media reports, Netanyahu argued that because Syria is likely to be divided in the future, Israel’s rule over the Golan should be recognized as legitimate.

Last summer, Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the far rightHabeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, called on “the entire world” to “recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Since 2011, President Bashar al-Assad has defended his rule against rebel factions, including Islamic State and affiliates of al-Qaida.

Israel has assisted the opposition to Assad by attacking areas under his force’s control and providing assistance to Syrian opposition forces, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida.

Editor’s note: this article has been updated since original publication to correct a typographical error that misstated the year that the conflict in Syria began.


 Wailing at the wall

Men pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 2009  Muammar AwadAPA images

Some subjects seem to bring out the hypocrite in all sorts of people. The Women of the Wall group has claimed for years to be campaigning for gender equality at the last remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple, its Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. Yet they’ve expressed no qualms about the brutal repression of Palestinian worshipers at the mosque atop the same site.

In fact, one of their most prominent American boosters, Phyllis Chesler, is a vocalIslamophobe.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who oppose women reading aloud from Torah scrolls or donning formerly male-only prayer garments claim to be trying to protect the “holiness” of the Western Wall in keeping with Jewish “tradition.” That might make sense if “holiness” didn’t include pelting women with dirty diapers while they try to pray, or if an ultra-Orthodox man hadn’t recently burned a Reform prayer book he filched at the wall because it referred to “new Gods” such as “the God of Sara, the God of Rivka, the God of Rachel.”

Is it really news to the Torah’s “defenders” that the matriarchs of Scripture worshiped the same God as their husbands?

Frankly, as an Orthodox Jew myself, I find it difficult to care much about either side in this hullabaloo — or about the compromise now being enacted to facilitate non-traditional prayers at the ancient site. Don’t get me wrong: the bullying and harassment endured by the Women of the Wall has been appalling by any standard. A Haredi rabbinate that has not forcefully and unequivocally condemned such behavior (and this one hasn’t) should be ashamed of itself.

But it seems to me that there are bigger problems connected with the Western Wall than whether women wear t’fillin — or which prayer book the worshipers read from. It’s remarkable that in all the wailing over who gets to do what at the Wailing Wall, no one seems to be interested in the real issues.

Crime scene

First of all, there’s the question of occupation.

The Western Wall is, after all, located in East Jerusalem. That makes it part of occupied Palestinian territory under international law — a point affirmed in 2004 by the International Court of Justice. As long as the occupation continues, every Jewish worshiper who takes advantage of Israel’s control over that site is participating, deliberately or not, in the forcible seizure of another people’s property.

Actually, it’s worse than that. When you recite your prayers on the polished stone “plaza” that faces the wall, you’re quite literally standing on a crime scene. In June 1967, Israel bulldozed scores of homes to clear that space for Jewish visitors, driving hundreds of residents off their land and killing one woman whose apartment was knocked down on top of her.

Perhaps, at the time, neither the anti-Zionist Haredim nor the followers of the liberal-minded Reform movement endorsed that cruel policy. But then, why must they fight so fiercely for control over a blood-stained piece of stolen property?

Does “egalitarian” worship sanction ethnic cleansing? Do strictly Orthodox religious principles condone theft?

And then there’s the matter of religious ideology. It’s one thing to affirm that everyone has the right to pray as she chooses. It’s quite another for women who call themselves religious progressives to insist on praying at the ancient Temple site, a place where an all-male priesthood ritually slaughtered and burned animals 2,000 years ago.

If you want to purge Judaism of its tribal and patriarchal past, a remnant of the Temple complex really ought to be the last place you’d want to pray.

And if, like me, you incline to traditional Judaism? Well, doubtless others will disagree with me, but I really can’t wax poetic about the old wall, even apart from its role in the occupation of Palestinian land.

Moral substance?

Let’s face it: what we call the Kotel was designed by Herod, hardly the most ethical of monarchs and a tool of the Roman Empire. And while the sacrifices performed on the site in ancient times are historically linked to aspects of the rabbinic prayer service, it’s a rare Orthodox Jew who would actually prefer the old blood-and-guts system of offerings to the milder rituals that now govern traditional Jewish life.

So maybe it’s fitting, in a way, that all the controversy over the Wailing Wall should contain so much wailing and so little moral substance. I have little use for “progressives” who are more attached to ancient animal slaughter than to the human rights of non-Jews.

And as for “tradition,” I would find the austere morality of the old rabbis a welcome change after the heckling and sloganeering that now seem to be the Haredi norm at the Kotel.

How, then, can one really care who comes out ahead in the Western Wall controversy?

Jews who have their priorities in order really should have better things to worry about. And all the arguments about who controls the wall have in common the depressing, if typical, omission of the one group of people with the greatest right to answer the question: Palestinians.

Michael Lesher, a writer and lawyer, is the author of Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland). He is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Website: