Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was outraged this week when the Israel Land Authority awarded Jewish-owned land to a convicted Bedouin Arab criminal in order to convince him to stop committing crimes.
Smotrich said the judges should take a look at what the Bible has to say about such decisions.
Since 2015, local Bedouin Wahib Lahib has been arrested and convicted several times for trespassing, cattle raiding and theft against Jewish villages in Israel’s southern Negev region.
Lahib is a shepherd by profession, but apparently has been unable to obtain a permit to graze his goats and sheep on public land.
The incredible conclusion of the Land Authority is that Lahib therefore had no choice but to turn to crime. As such, they ruled this month that his past crimes should be put aside, and the fact that he is a shepherd in need of land should be the only deciding factor.
Based on that, the Land Authority ruled that Kibbutz Moran, against which Lahib had committed many of his crimes, would forfeit part of its land so that he could shepherd his flocks and cease his criminal behavior.
A similar rationale is what led to the ill-fated “Oslo Accords,” with Israeli leaders believing that if they just gave the Palestinians some of the land they were demanding, then the latter would cease terrorist activity against Israel’s Jews.
Smotrich said this was outrageous, and sent a letter to Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf demanding that he intervene. The head of the Land Authority is answerable to the Minister of Housing.
“This case, in which agricultural land is taken from the hands of a Zionist entrepreneur and given to a convicted criminal, contrary to the Zionist, Jewish and national interest of the government of which we are members, is serious and requires your swift intervention and the rescinding of the decision,” wrote Smotrich.
Given that Goldknopf is also a religious Jew, Smotrich ended his letter by appealing to 1 Kings chapter 21, in which we find the story of King Ahab and Naboth.
Ahab desires Naboth’s vineyard, and demands he hand it over in exchange for land elsewhere. Naboth refuses, Ahab has him killed, and then seized the land.
The Prophet Elijah is sent by God to rebuke Ahab with the words: “Have you murdered and also inherited?”
In other words, was your crime of killing Naboth not enough, you will also steal his property? Smotrich sees the present case in much the same light – Lahib has committed many crimes against Kibbutz Moran, and will now be effectively rewarded for those crimes by seizing its property.
Many Israelis worry that policies such as this only encourage further criminal and terrorist behavior by the more violent elements in Arab society.
The episode also speaks to how Israel has to a large degree lost control of the Negev region.
In late 2021, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman reported that the Negev had become Israel’s “Wild West,” where Bedouin lawlessness was the order of the day.
In 2022, local Arab leaders perceived Israel’s approach to the Negev as weakness, and encouraged popular struggle to take control of the region.
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