A couple of days ago I sat with Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar somewhere in Gush Etzion. We discussed a new and provocative right-wing initiative while drinking ice water to ward off the afternoon heat. Nadia and Yehudit are both passionate, devoted veteran Land of Israel activists, and when they began to speak about a proposal that includes offering the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria Israeli citizenship, naturally, I was intrigued.
Over the years, Nadia and Yehudit have tirelessly struggled to block illegal Arab take-overs of Jewish- and state-owned land. And for the past seven years they have been working together as co-chairs of Women for Israel’s Tomorrow, also known as Women in Green.
“There’s always another fire to put out,” says Nadia. “Each time leftists attempted to close an area to Jews — Ulpana, Migron, Givat Assaf, Beit HaShalom, etc. — the local Jews had to move fast to put each fire out.”
She and Yehudit despaired when they realized that almost every day another hill was taken over by “agricultural jihad” or illegal Arab construction.
So they decided the time has come to get to the root of the problem — and that didn’t mean a two-state solution.
“Albeit 45 years late, it’s time for the government of Israel to pursue an initiative that would extend its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, which would include granting the Arab residents in the area Israeli citizenship,” Nadia says.
The two regularly quote from Genesis 12:7, I will give this land to your offspring; Genesis 17:8, And I give to you and your offspring after you the land you sojourn in…as an everlasting possession; and Deuteronomy 7:1-2, When the Lord…casts out many nations before you…make no covenant with them and give them no foothold…
While giving credit to these biblical references may not fit the modern thought process of the left, it is nevertheless the core of a conviction that is steeped in the roots of Judaism, the religion of our nation. It is not something that can be easily dismissed. It is, after all, the reason we are here, the reason for our claim to the land, and the very reason for our yearning for this land since the destruction of the Second Temple.
Our history begins in our heartland. And the heartland of Israel is Judea and Samaria. Nadia refers to Tel Aviv as a “tinoket,” a baby, next to Judea and Samaria. The heartland is the spine of our country, which protects the coastal plain.
“Because we believe in our sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, we are willing to pay the price and give the Arabs in the region citizenship,” explains Yehudit. “For our land we are ready to suffer and sacrifice. We will pay the price.”
Being a full-fledged nationalist right-winger myself, I support Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. But I’m not entirely sold on the proposal of Israeli citizenship for Arab residents there and the terrorists that lie within. I pour myself another glass of water, by that point wishing it was something stronger, and continue to listen.
They inform me that the initiative will be thoroughly explored at the upcoming Sovereignty Conference, Thursday, July 12, at the Mahpela Visitor’s Center in Hebron.
It is their contention that the government consistently considers throwing out Jews out of their homes — an option that was indeed carried out in 2005 in Gush Katif and the northern Shomron. With the disastrous consequences of that decision felt daily in southern Israel, the time has come, they say, to swerve public discourse away from capitulation, and regain the initiative.
To be sure, many in the right wing camp aren’t convinced that a plan that includes citizenship for Arabs Judea and Samaria is the wisest path, even if it is instituted in stages. Nadia and Yehudit concede that there are risks, but they claim these risks are reasonable and can ultimately lead to peace. They and other like-minded advocates consider an annexation of Judea and Samaria a medication to make Israel healthier, and as with every medication, there can be side effects.
Perhaps surprisingly, the much-touted “demographic threat” is not among the side effects they’re worried about. They cite Yoram Ettinger, formerly the minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s Embassy in Washington, DC, and a former consul-general of Israel to the southwestern US, who is a recognized expert on Jewish-Arab demography. Ettinger maintains that the demographic problem is not as grave as it has been portrayed.
For one thing, the left has added one million to the Arab population in Judea and Samaria: their dead are still counted into the total, as well as those who have emigrated. At present, the Jewish birthrate exceeds the Arab birthrate in the region. With the increase in higher education for Arab women came a decrease in birthrate. Ettinger predicts that should the Israeli government treat aliya as a top national priority, by 2035 there will be an 80% Jewish majority.
According to Nadia and Yehudit, it is the creation of a Palestinian state that would unsettle the Jewish demographics. As long as Israel has sovereignty over Judea and Samaria it controls the border with Jordan, preventing an influx of Jordanian Arabs.
Having spoken to large groups of secular Jews in Israel, Nadia and Yehudit say they found considerable numbers that were receptive to their initiative. It is further understood from Arabs themselves that many would prefer Israeli citizenship to the Palestinian Authority — even if they are afraid to declare this aloud.
It would necessitate having the Arabs sign an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel and its laws, along with a commitment to carry out national service. The oath of loyalty is not an unreasonable idea, according to Nadia, who says it took a relative of hers 10 years before she was able to receive American citizenship.
As to how the world would react to an Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria, “The skies didn’t fall when Israel applied sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; nor will it fall when we apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria,” says Nadia. “Should the world scream over it, let them. Better that than to have them love us for capitulating as we are driven out of our land.”
Many notables have been pushing for this initiative over the past year: MK Tzipi Hotovely, Caroline Glick, Yoram Ettinger, Attorney Howard Grief and MK Uri Ariel — to name a few — who likewise plan to be present at the Sovereignty Conference.
As for me: I’ve marked off July 12 on my calendar. While I found merit in what was explained to me, I was still not completely convinced. And I’ve decided to remain undecided until I can explore this initiative further and weigh all the pros and cons. As I understand it, bus transportation to the event will be available from a variety of locations. Lectures will be in Hebrew with simultaneous English translation. Perhaps you’d like to join me?
Further details on the Conference, in Hebrew and in English, can be found here.