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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.
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