The Story of a Very Large Cache of Oil, an Orthodox Kibbutz and a Palestinian Village


In better days, other days, before the second year of the intifada and before a high barbed-wire fence separated Kibbutz Merav from the northern West Bank, Hanukkah was a holiday for the residents of the nearby village of Jelabun; Merav’s candle factory was the source of livelihood for a number of Jelabun families. It was a win-win situation.

But two fatal attacks in the area put an end to neighborly relations between the 70 young kibbutz families and the people of Jelabun. A high fence now slices across a 200-meter wide swath between Merav and Jelabun, leaving major parts of the village’s olive grove in the wadi on the Merav side, shut up tight as a drum. Shuri Sholev, a member of Merav’s secretariat, notes that during the last olive harvest, none of the villagers were seen in the grove. They may have been afraid to come across the Border Police at the chinks in the fence that open from time to time.

A few weeks ago, a group of high school students came down from the kibbutz to the olive grove. They harvested the fruit, took it to an area olive press, and returned with their loot–a big barrel of fresh oil. When their parents found out, a members meeting was speedily called. According to Sholev, somebody mentioned the halakhic (Jewish law) ruling by a number of West Bank and Gaza rabbis that settlers may harvest the Palestinian olives. According to those rabbis, the land of Israel belongs only to Israel, and therefore so does its fruit.

Most of the members, however, supported the kibbutz rabbi, Eitan Tzuker, who ruled that the act constituted theft and it was prohibited to enjoy its fruit. The olive press reported the appearance of Jelabun’s olives on its premises to the Border Police, and the surprised lawmen were asked to return the unusual cargo to its rightful owners.

Rabbi Tzuker prefers to keep the incident within the kibbutz, and is not interested in transforming his ruling into a halakhic dispute. Sholev cannot hide his longing for the days, not so long ago, when no one in this Orthodox-Zionist kibbutz would have dreamed that his son would steal the fruit of his neighbor. “Ninety-five percent of the people of Jelabun are good people who are only trying to earn a respectable living,” says Sholev. “It’s a shame that a small group of their young people went to the mosques in Jenin and came back riled up and hostile. It was probably one of them who led the terrorists who killed a young girl here three years ago. Later, two people from Jelabun took part in the murderous attack in Beit She’an on the morning of the Likud primaries.”

The kibbutz members take comfort in the fact that at least one positive thing came out of the incident–a morality tale with a happy end. Who knows–it may even spark debate among Orthodox-Zionists on the question of the attitude to the Palestinians, and encourage rabbis to follow Rabbi Tzuker’s lead. From the point of view of the residents of Jelabun, the story of the very large cruse of oil is a one-time Hanukkah miracle.

No logic

Retired senior Israel Defense Forces officers who accompanied Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli on his tours of the separation fence had difficulty pinpointing the logic from a security point of view of sticking a fence in the middle of the wadi dividing Merav from Jelabun. Maybe the planners had their eyes on the sizable grove. Maybe they assumed the harsh conditions would take their toll, and the people of Jelabun would abandon their land on the other side of the fence.

They certainly could not have known that they would be putting the youth of Merav to a test, or that the parents of Merav would pass it with flying colors.

If Israel transfers all of the northern West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, as senior IDF officers understand, and does not stop at dismantling only four half-empty settlements, as the prime minister has directed, Kibbutz Merav will officially become a frontier settlement. Instead of IDF soldiers, it will be PA police, at best, patrolling the other side of the fence. At worst, the new leadership will be unable to control the street, and the homes of Jelabun will become shooting posts for Islamic Jihad activists.

Naturally, the Palestinians are demanding disengagement of the Gaza Strip variety. That is, they want to take over all authority, security and civilian, over all the Area C sectors of the northern West Bank. In other words, territorial contiguity.

Disengagement from the northern West Bank reminds disengagement planners of the shoot-from-the-hip way in which the separation fence was planned: Sharon fired off an instant plan, then he examined the ramifications and finally he had to fight with the whole world, delay implementation and pour money into changing things.

Bullet-riddled homes

The decision to evacuate the four settlements (Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sa-Nur) was not preceded by thorough scrutiny of the infrastructure or registration of land ownership in the area. It looks as if someone glanced at the map of the West Bank and saw that in four settlements around Jenin there were fewer than 1,000 residents, most of whom were “quality of life” settlers who couldn’t find buyers for their villas. Hundreds of bullets had riddled the walls of their homes since the first settlers in the area signed the “Kadim declaration of independence,” which stated that the new settlement was “another stage in the security of the people of Israel in their land.”

A good look at the map of the northern West Bank reveals another two small, weak settlements–Hermesh and Mevo Dotan in the western part of the area–200 settlers sitting on 50 square kilometers. If this area is joined to the large area surrounding the four settlements slated for disengagement, it makes a total of 870 square kilometers, which is 81 percent of the West Bank, populated by around half a million Palestinians.

On the one hand, the evacuation of settlers from the northern West Bank without the transfer of responsibility to the PA, according to the Gaza model, will strengthen the suspicion that it is a feint, part of “Operation Bantustan.” On the other hand, the transfer of Area C to full Palestinian control, including all 14 civilian responsibilities that the Civil Administration (which was not dismantled, as per the Oslo Accords), now hold, requires complex preparations, involving land ownership registration, infrastructure arrangements, etc. If a unity government arises, the Labor Party will not make do this time with being Sharon’s chorus in the debate over this area, twice the size of the Gaza Strip.

It is here that the first coalition crisis is lurking. The Bush administration, with whom a fear of falling out pushed Sharon into the disengagement plan, is studying this issue closely.

What’s the hurry?

A little south of Kibbutz Merav, near the settlements of Tzofin and Alfei Menashe, on the way to Qalqilyah, contractors’ bulldozers are working overtime. Dror Atkes, who follows settlement activity for Peace Now, saw infrastructure work going on about half a kilometer from the furthest house in Tzofin. The bulldozers had started to roll over the olive groves of the nearby Palestinian village of Jayush.

The Defense Ministry said the initiators of the project, a company called Ge’ulat Haaretz, has had a license to develop the land, which is within the area of the settlement’s master plan, for a decade. A representative of the contractor told Bamakom, an association of architects following the routing of the separation fence, that the company plans to built no fewer than 2,100 housing units.

What’s the hurry? Tzofin has 200 residents. Dozens of housing units are for sale in the center of the settlement, and there have been no reports of traffic jams at the real estate offices. Bamakom activists believe the fence is spurring on the effort to half-officially annex areas, on the assumption that the routing of the fence will blur the Green Line. Once again, contractors will entice young couples with the slogan “five minutes from Kfar Sava.”

Peace Now sees the real estate activity as a desire to get a head start on the American team awaiting instructions to go out to the settlements and mark out the limits of their expansion.

AKIVA ELDAR writes for Ha’aretz, where this article originally appeared.

December 11 / 12, 2004

Alexander Cockburn
Running an Empire on the Cheap

Ron Jacobs
The Drugs of War: Getting High in the Green Zone?

Saul Landau
Listening and Talking to God About Invading Other Countries

Gary Leupp
Bush’s Capital

Sharon Smith
The Horrible Toll on US Troops

Dave Lindorff
Deja Vu All Over Again: 5,000 Desertions and Counting

Uri Avnery
The Boss Has Gone Crazy

Jude Wanniski
The Neo-Con Smear on Kofi Annan: What Food-for-Oil Scandal?

Heather Gray
How the South Became Republican: an Interview with John Egerton

Patrick Cockburn / Ken Sengupta
Fallujah: the Homecoming and the Homeless

John Pilger
Return to Kosovo: Calling the Humanitarian Bombers to Account

Joshua Frank
All the Rage: Mr. Solomon, Say You’re Sorry

Ben Tripp
O Canada!: the Truth About the Election of 2004

John Stanton
God Speaks!

Laura Nathan
Porn Stars are People, Too: a Talk with Christi Lake

Poets’ Basement
Capaccio, Davies, Louise, Ford and Albert

Website of the Day
Fallujah Photos: Killed in Their Beds

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach