Are Jewish Settlements Built on Arab Land?
FrontPage Magazine 11 October 2012
By Rachel Neuwirth and John Landau
Is it really true, as much of the European and American press have been reporting for years, that Jewish "settlers” in the "West Bank” (more properly known as Judea and Samaria) are living on land that they have stolen from Palestinian Arabs?
This is in fact utterly impossible. Every time that the Israeli government has proposed or given tentative approval for the construction of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, it has first advertised its intentions in Arab newspapers, and invited any Arabs who have claims to the land to come forward with them. Only if no such claims were put forward for at least six months; or if, after such claims were made, the Israeli court system had ruled against them following a painstaking and thorough review of the facts, in which the courts bent over backwards to be fair to all Arab claimants, did the Israeli government actually authorize the construction of Jewish communities in this disputed area. Israeli courts have forbidden the Israel government from confiscating any Arab-owned land for Jewish settlement since 1980. And the Israel government has not authorized any new settlements since the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process” began in 1993.
Not even the so-called "unauthorized” or "illegal” Jewish settlements, those that the Israeli government has not fully and expressly authorized, are built on Arab-owned land. Both the authorized and unauthorized Jewish communities were all built on what had been completely unoccupied, uncultivated and uninhabited "waste land.” No Arab homes were destroyed, no Arab residents were expelled, and no Arab farmland was seized in creating any of these Jewish communities—whether their construction was fully authorized by the Israeli government or not. And under the land ownership laws of Judea and Samaria — which date to when these territories were under Turkish rule, and which have been respected by all subsequent governments, including the Israeli administration — nearly all uninhabited and completely undeveloped "waste land” belongs to the state, not to any private owner. While such land could legally be purchased from the state, there were almost no instances in which Arabs actually did purchase such "waste land,” because they would have had to pay taxes on it while deriving no benefit for the foreseeable future. Whatever few purchases of such land were made, were made by Jewish philanthropists hoping to provide land for future Jewish refugees or immigrants.
Why, then, have the notions that all of the Jewish "settlements” are "illegal” and, what is more, built on Arab-owned land taken such a firm hold on the belief-systems of the world’s governments and news media? One major reason has been the activities of Israel-based "Human rights” NGOs ("non-governmental organizations”) such as Peace Now, B’tselem, Yesh Din, Yesh Gvul and many others. These soi-disant human rights organizations, which are committed to ending the Israeli "occupation” of all land outside the country’s June 3, 1967 cease-fire lines, and to forcing the expulsion of the 600,000 Israelis who live outside those cease-fire lines (which were never legal borders), have published a series "reports” claiming that up to 30 percent of the land on which Israeli-Jewish "settlements” on the "West Bank” are built exist on what these groups describe as "privately owned Arab land” (or is it 38%? Or 32%? or 24% ? or 16%? Each "report” gives a different percentage figure, and sometimes there are even two contradictory figures within one "report”). These figures, as well as many other claims by the soi-disant human rights groups, are then immediately published as facts—first by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which despite being published in Israel is actually a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority and its network of affiliated organizations—and then by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the The Washington Times, NPR, the BBC and a thousand other newspapers and electronic media services throughout the Western world.
However, when one actually reads in detail the lengthy reports on the web sites of these "human rights” groups that purport to document the supposed settler "land grabs,” one finds no credible evidence for these percentage claims, despite many footnotes and long statistical tables, charts, etc. Either these "reports” a) fail to give any original source at all for the statistics, or b) they claim that they are supported by thousands of Israeli government documents that these groups have received under Israel’s Freedom of Information law—but without quoting from a single specific document that supports their claims about Jewish settlements on "privately owned Arab land.”
A report issued by Peace Now titled "Breaking the Law in the West Bank,” first published in November 2006, is a case in point. It is the one that claims that "nearly 40 per cent” (later, in the report’s fine print, specified down to "38.76” per cent”) of settlements are built on "privately owned Arab land.” The report is also filled with graphs and charts, much of them about irrelevancies such as the exact number of square kilometers in each settlement, maps of the settlements and of the entire "West Bank” showing the location of settlements, even photographs (some of them, ironically, showing the beauty of these communities), which give a semblance of verisimilitude and accuracy to the report. But whenever claims are made about the amount of land in the settlements that belongs to Arabs, no documentary source is given. Despite all the graphs, charts, tables and maps in the 21-page report, we are never told precisely how Peace Now reached its conclusions about the extent of land owned by Arabs in the Jewish settlements
After the 2006 report aroused some criticism and questions in Israel, Peace Now issued a second report a year later, "clarifying” and "correcting” the one issued a year earlier. Peace Now claimed that this report was based on more than 3,500 documents received from the Israeli government since the original 2006 report was published. This of course raised the question as to how Peace Now had compiled the earlier report, complete with all those statistics and other detailed data without these documents. Be that as it may, the 2007 Peace Now report admits that the previous report had been wrong in claiming that 83.4% of the "settlement” of Maale Haadumim (actually a suburb of Jerusalem less than 5 miles outside the city limits) was owned by Arabs, and scaled down that claim to 0.5 percent—a 99.95 percent decrease in the amount of land in the community that Peace Now claimed was "privately owned” by Arabs. The total percentage of land in Jewish "settlements” alleged to be "privately owned” by Arabs was revised downward from 38 percent to 32 percent in the 2007 report. At the same time, the revised report stood by Peace Now’s earlier claims about Arab ownership of land in the other Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and even increased the amount of land that it alleged was owned by Arabs in some of these communities. But even the "new” revised report, despite its claim to be based on Israeli government documents, fails to quote even one such document in support of these statistical claims, or even a specific document that states that any land at all in the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is owned by Arabs and illegally occupied by Jews.
The claims made in these Peace Now reports were further undermined by a successful libel suit brought against the organization by the Jewish community of Revava, which Peace Now had claimed was 71.15 percent owned by Arabs. The community was able to prove in court that Jews owned 100 percent of its land and Arabs owned none of it. Peace Now was forced to pay a settlement of 20,000 shekels (about $5,000) in compensation and issue an apology.
However, even though both reports have been proven to contain serious inaccuracies, and even though Peace Now has even admitted that its 2006 report contained at least one major inaccuracy, Peace Now continues to display both reports on its websites. It has not even removed the false allegations about Maale Haadumim and Revava from the two reports, which it continues to publish on both its Israeli and U.S. web sites.
The world’s media and governments have accepted the false accusations against Israel of Peace Now, B’tselem and similar Israel-based groups because they are supported by plausible, scholarly-sounding language, by detailed (although completely undocumented) statistics, graphs and charts; because the authors are Israelis and Jewish, and most people can’t imagine that anyone could be so self-destructive and disloyal as to lie about their own country; and of course because the claims of the “human rights” NGOs confirm the anti-Israel prejudices and predilections of most of the world’s governments and news media. The claims of the Israeli “human rights” groups, like those of similar Palestinian and Israeli Arab groups, are nevertheless falsehoods. It is high time that honest and responsible journalists and scholars, Israeli and non-Israeli, Jewish and non-Jewish, expose them for the frauds and lies that they are.
Israeli policies for establishing settlements on undeveloped state land:
See: David Bar-Illan, Eye On the Media, Gefen Books, 1993, available from Amazon; David M. Phillips, “The Illegal-Settlements Myth,” Commentary Magazine, Dec 01, 2009; CAMERA, “Backgrounder: Jewish Settlements and the Media,” by Ricki Hollander, October 5, 2001, http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=10&x_article=259; CAMERA report of July 7, 1995, “Media Mangles Land Issues”; CAMERA report, April 5, 2011; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Israeli Settlements and International Law,” 20 May 2001.
Real property laws in force in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”):
See: “Mawat Land,” Zionism and Israel—Encyclopedic Dictionary, and “The Land Question in Palestine”; Nadia Forni, “Land tenure policies in the Near East”; Moshe Dann, “Blood Libel; The Myth of ”private Palestinian land,” Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2011 reprinted; “Palestine Papers: Jews legally own land in the territories,” February 9, 2011, 2011; “ Maayana Misken, “Jews to Reclaim Land in Jordan?”; Green-lined, “PA: Jews Owned Land in Judea and Samaria,” Feb. 10, 2011.
Peace Now reports and international media coverage of them:
See: Peace Now, “Breaking the Law in the West Bank — One Violation Leads to Another: Israeli Settlement Building on Private Palestinian Property”; “G U I L T Y! Construction of Settlements upon Private Land – Official Data”; and http://peacenow.org/entries/archive3189#more, all on Peace Now’s Israeli web site; Steven Erlanger, “West Bank Sites on Private Land, Data Shows,” New York Times, March 13, 2007; Nadav Shragai and Agencies, “Peace Now:: 32% of Land Held for Settlements is Private Palestinian Land,” Haaretz.com, March 13, 2007.
Critical analyses of errors in the peace now reports:
CAMERA , “Update: Peace Now Map Based Only on Palestinian Claims,” December 2, 2006; Alex Safian, CAMERA, “Peace Now’s Blunder: Erred on Ma’ale Adumim Land by 15,900 Per Cent,”March 16, 2007; “Subject: Civil Administration Response to the ‘Peace Now’ Report“; Moshe Dann “Peace Now Flakes Out”; Maayana Miskin, “Peace Now to Pay and Apologize for Maligning Town,” December 11, 2008; CAMERA, Alex Safian, “Israeli Court : Peace Now Lied, Must Pay Now,” December 23, 2008.