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Madam Vice President: Psagot Is A Racist Settlement – OpEd

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I think it is great that US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, the “second gentleman,” hosted a Passover seder at their residence the other day.

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It is important that our elected officials recognize all of the major religions for Easter, Passover and Ramadan, as they have been doing these past few weeks when all three events occurred during the same month.

Passover is just as important a holiday as any other so the dinner was a welcome event.

But what was disturbing at Harris’ seder dinner was that she and her husband chose to serve a bottle of wine that was made in the illegal and racist settlement of Psagot, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Serving that wine was more than just a courtesy. It clearly signals that when it comes to Israel’s violent aggression toward Palestinians, Harris is really no different from the people she often lambasts in the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Harris issued an explanation, not an apology, when the controversy about the Psagot wine surfaced in a few news stories. She said that the serving of the wine was not intended to be “an expression of policy.”

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Her response was a diplomatic way of avoiding responsibility, although what any president or vice president does is symbolically significant, no matter how they try to serve it up.

Most media did not consider it newsworthy and did not write about it. Maybe they enjoy Psagot wine too. In truth, though, the incident demonstrates how Harris and officials in the Trump administration really have so much in common. They really are not that different.

First, though, Vice President Harris should know the history of that settlement and its products, which represent stolen property, targeted by the BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanction — movement that highlights products made on lands stolen from West Bank residents.

Psagot was founded in 1981 on a hill located near Ramallah called Jabel Tawil or, depending on your translation, “Long Mountain” or “Tall Mountain.”

When it fell during the Israeli invasion of the West Bank on June 5, 1967 — what Israel described in their creation of new terminology for Arab-Israeli events as “a pre-emptive strike” — all of the lands came under the control of the Israeli government and Palestinian civilian construction or expansion was blocked.

By 1981, Israel’s government had forcibly confiscated (stolen) more than 780 dunams of Jabel Tawil, which belonged to residents of the nearby village of Al-Bireh. Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, one of Israel’s most viciously anti-Arab military leaders, announced that Israel would build a settlement there that later became known as Psagot.

According to Peace Now, which monitors settlement expansion, more than 75 percent of the land was taken from private Palestinian-owned lands.

The location soon became the home for the Mateh Binjamin Regional Council, which governs nearly 50 illegally built Jewish-only settlements on lands “confiscated” from Christian and Muslim Palestinian civilians. Israel has argued against the view of most of the civilized world that the land confiscation comes under the legal definition of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But because Israel refuses to sign the conventions, laws prohibiting war crimes by other democracies, Israel argues that the laws don’t apply to them. It is a view rejected by the International Criminal Court.

More importantly, the settlement of Psagot was built and designed as a means of blocking the expansion of nearby Ramallah, cutting the city off from the many smaller Arab villages and disrupting the Palestinians’ economic base there.

A military unit stationed there frequently fired missiles into Ramallah, targeting Palestinian leaders such as Mustafa Barghouti.

In 1998, a Jewish family from the Soviet Union began planting vineyards. An American company based in Florida invested in the vineyards. The Yeshiva Council, which oversees the illegal, Jewish-only settlement network built on lands stolen from non-Jews in the occupied West Bank, promoted the location as a tourist attraction.

In November 2020, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who brushed aside the international rule of law, became the first American government official to visit the illegal settlement and the winery.

With the support of the Trump administration, many Israeli companies operating on stolen Palestinian lands moved to have laws requiring their products to identify themselves as being made in the West Bank as opposed to “Israel.”

That did not get too far but the Israelis continue to work on it to get it changed. The fact that they want it changed suggests they know that the land is stolen and don’t want to have to enjoy their profits under that dark veil.

The Psagot wine is harvested on stolen Palestinian lands and is therefore a stolen product.

So, for those who don’t care about the international rule of law, or who don’t believe Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank have the same rights as Jewish settlers in the West Bank, I guess they can both raise a glass of Psagot’s blood-red Bordeaux blend, not to toast the Passover or peace but instead to toast the amazing similarities that exist between US Vice President Harris and the Trump administration.

Ray Hanania

*Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected]

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