Hagit Ofran documents Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank with a pocket-sized camera and a deep sense of mission, often making news well beyond Israel.Her grandfather, the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovich, taught her that Israelis deserved the oxymoronic epithet 'Judeo-Nazis' if they continued encroaching and settling. Ben Lynfield follows the sleuth.
Hagit Ofran's official title is director of the Settlement Watch Team of the dovish Peace Now organization. In practice, she is a spy operating in hostile territory, snooping, sniffing, and piecing together bits of intelligence to gauge how much illicit building is going on.
On a recent scouting trip, Ofran spotted four new trailers spread like matchboxes on a hillside of the Alon settlement northeast of Jerusalem.
The prefabricated buildings are in effect helping to fragment the heartland of a future Palestine. ''It's not that one caravan will change the chances of Middle East peace,'' says Ofran. ''But another and another and another will determine whether we can have a two-state solution to the conflict or not.''
Fluent in Arabic – and well-versed in sleuthing
Israel's conservative government now faces a crucial decision over whether or not to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement building that expires in September. The Obama administration is pressing for the freeze to remain in place, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners want it scrapped to enable a wave of new building.
''If it is not extended then the freeze may have delayed a few hundred sites for months, but it will not have caused a real change,'' Ofran says.''If work is restarted it might mean that the chances of peace are doomed, at least with this government.''
A fluent Arabic speaker, Ofran sometimes is tipped off by Palestinians about new settler building. She pores over aerial photos commissioned by Peace Now, whose settlement watch unit is funded partly by the governments of Britain and Norway, and garners information from planning meetings and official documents.
In March, Ofran learned from the Jerusalem municipality's website that officials had given permits for settler building at the Shepherds Hotel site in East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Arab. She did not keep the information to herself – though she's tight-lipped about her exact role...Settlements, though
government-sponsored, lacks transparency. Much of its activity is illegal even according to Israeli law and settler leaders prefer to avoid public debate over it. Construction also violates the Geneva Convention and runs counter to international commitments Israel made to halt settlement building, for example in the 2003 international peace blueprint known as the road map. Tellingly, there is no distinct budget for building at settlements.