The NY Times reports a blockbuster story that drives a nail through the heart of the legitimacy of the settler enterprise and Israel’s claim to much of the land on which those settlements sit. Nearly 40% of such land is actually privately owned by Palestinians. This is not a claim made merely by Peace Now or Palestinian human rights activists. What makes this charge especially powerful is that it is based on official Israeli government documents:
The new claims regarding Palestinian property are said to come from the 2004 database of the Civil Administration, which controls the civilian aspects of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Peace Now, an Israeli group that advocates Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, plans to publish the information on Tuesday. An advance copy was made available to The New York Times.
The data — maps that show the government’s registry of the land by category — was given to Peace Now by someone who obtained it from an official inside the Civil Administration. The Times spoke to the person who received it from the Civil Administration official and agreed not to identify him because of the delicate nature of the material.
That person, who has frequent contact with the Civil Administration, said he and the official wanted to expose what they consider to be wide-scale violations of private Palestinian property rights by the government and settlers. The government has refused to give the material directly to Peace Now, which requested it under Israel’s freedom of information law.
The official government response? Lame:
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Civil Administration, said he could not comment on the data without studying it.
He said there was a committee, called the blue line committee, that had been investigating these issues of land ownership for three years. “We haven’t finished checking everything,” he said.
Mr. Dror also said that sometimes Palestinians would sell land to Israelis but be unwilling to admit to the sale publicly because they feared retribution as collaborators.
Which of course is irrelevant to this situation because the very Civil Administration which this fellow represents has hard evidence documenting that Palestinians STILL OWN the land.
Even Ehud Olmert admits, in his own hypocritical way, the Palestinians have a case:
Asked about Israeli seizure of private Palestinian land in an interview with The Times last summer, before these figures were available, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “Now I don’t deny anything, I don’t ignore anything. I’m just ready to sit down and talk. And resolve it. And resolve it in a generous manner for all sides.”
He said the 1967 war was a one of self-defense. Later, he said: “Many things happened. Life is not frozen. Things occur. So many things happened, and as a result of this many innocent individuals on both sides suffered, were killed, lost their lives, became crippled for life, lost their family members, their loved ones, thousands of them. And also private property suffered. By the way, on all sides.”
There is no doubt that Arabs dispossessed select Jewish communities like Hebron during times of war and upheaval. But does Olmert mean to say that the uprooting of a few such communities equals the wholesale expropriation of massive tracts of Palestinian land continuing over a 40 year period? That’s what he appears to want you to believe. His basic response is to shrug: “hey, shit happens.”
The article is full of blockbusters like this:
Within prominent settlements that Israel has said it plans to keep in any final border agreement, the data show, for example, that some 86.4 percent of Maale Adumim, a large Jerusalem suburb, is private; and 35.1 percent of Ariel is.
These are not outposts sitting beyond yenem velt. These are communities already fully absorbed into the Israeli infrastructure grid. They are considered almost as integral to Israel as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. For the ownership of the land on which they sit to be proven Palestinian will deal a huge blow to Israeli claims to the West Bank. The blow will certainly not be felt by supporters of the settlers. Perhaps most Israelis themselves will not even register the significance of this. But a significant minority will and the rest of the world will certainly take notice.
The Times article provides several specific examples of Israeli settlements, some or all of whose land is owned by Arabs:
One case of a settlement Israel intends to keep is in Givat Zeev, barely five miles north of Jerusalem. At the southern edge is the Ayelet Hashachar synagogue. Rabah Abdellatif, a Palestinian who lives in the nearby village of Al Jib, says the land belongs to him.
Papers he has filed with the Israeli military court, which runs the West Bank, seem to favor Mr. Abdellatif. In 1999, Israeli officials confirmed, he was even granted a judgment ordering the demolition of the synagogue because it had been built without permits. But for the last seven years, the Israeli system has done little to enforce its legal judgments. The synagogue stands, and Mr. Abdellatif has no access to his land.
…Israeli officials confirm that the land is privately owned, though they refuse to say by whom.
Mr. Abdellatif, 65, said: “I feel stuck, angry. Why would they do that? I don’t know who to go to anymore.”
He pointed to his corduroy trousers and said, in the English he learned in Paterson, N.J., where his son is a police detective: “These are my pants. And those are your pants. And you should not take my pants. This is mine, and that is yours! I never took anyone’s land.”
A member of Migron settlement council (the settlement sits on Arab land) had this interesting analogy to describe his community:
Mr. Teksler added: “This is how the state of Israel was created. And this is all the land of Israel. We’re like the kibbutzim. The only real difference is that we’re after 1967, not before.”
There is of course much unintended irony in Teksler’s comments. Does he mean to say that just as Migron’s land was “appropriated” by settlers that the kibbutzim themselves were similarly founded? Ouch! That would hurt. We don’t like to admit there were any Arabs on the land before we settled it (“a people without a land for a land with people”). Of course, what Teksler really means to say is that his settlement is just as much part of the fabric of Israeli society as the kibbutzim. Both were founded (in his view) with the same pioneering spirit of guts, enterprise and Jewish sweat. There are of course two major differences. Migron is outside Israel’s internationally recognized border AND it sits on land for which real Palestinians hold real deeds.
Peace Now has done a great service by pointing out not only that the West Bank settlements are bad for Israel in moral, political and demographic terms; they are bad for Israel in strictly legal terms. Israel has no more right to these settlements than I would to move into your home and call it mine.
The Times rightly points out that this complicates a possible future peace negotiation because not only will the Right of Return have to be resolved; but now either this land will need to be returned or compensation must be provided to its rightful owners by someone. What a mess those giddy 1967 Israeli leaders got their descendants into by deciding to hold onto and build on this land.
Read more about the Peace Now report.