'Death Sentence' Reversed on Israeli Village

Why the legal decision to demolish the community of Migron discredits Peace Now and the Israeli Supreme Court.

On August 2, 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a “death sentence” for the Israeli village of Migron.  It must be dismantled, its houses demolished, and its families evicted.  On Monday, September 5, demolition began and three houses were destroyed.  Due to legal petitions, the demolition was postponed pending review of the Court’s procedures.  On November 7 the Court reversed its decision and withdrew its “death sentence.”

What happened?

Migron is a small Israeli community situated in the hill country about five miles north-east of Jerusalem.  It was established in 2002 as a bedroom community within easy commuting distance from Jerusalem.  Today it is home to about 500 people.

Shortly after Migron’s construction, the Israeli self-styled human rights group, Peace Now, began working with several West Bank Arabs who claimed that their families had for generations owned the land upon which Migron sits.  They claimed that this land had been given to them by King Hussein of Jordan. Under King Hussein and his father, King Abdullah, Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, but had no legal basis for Jordanian sovereignty.  Therefore Hussein had no legal right to gift West Bank land to anyone since neither he nor the State of Jordan held legal ownership.  The Supreme Court chose to ignore this inconvenient bit of legal reality and political history.

Peace Now submitted a petition on behalf of the Arab claimants in October, 2006.  Court deliberations and interaction with the State went on for several years.  The Migron residents claimed that they purchased the land legally and had bona fide proof of ownership.  The Court chose to disregard the whole issue of proof of ownership and handed down a decided in favor of the Arab claimants.  The Court ordered the army to remove the Israeli inhabitants and destroy all structures.

In early 2008 Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Baraq accepted the Court’s judgment, but demanded more time so that housing for the inhabitants of Migron could be built elsewhere. Finally, on August 2, 2011, the Court ruled that the State must evacuate Migron by March 31, 2012.

Within a few weeks of that order, the Arab claimants, under the advice of Peace Now, filed a new civil lawsuit in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, demanding that the State compensate them for the years during which Migron existed on what they insisted was their land.  The Magistrate’s Court then bethought itself to demand of the Arab claimants their proof of ownership, a simple legal evidentiary procedure.   At once the Arabs, who had just successfully claimed in the Supreme Court that the land was theirs, suddenly and without explanation, withdrew their lawsuit from the Magistrate’s court.

In light of the Arab claimants’ refusal to prove ownership, and their sudden and unexplained withdrawal of their claim, the Magistrate’s Court has stopped the demolition of Migron houses, their consensus being that the Arab plaintiffs have no proof of ownership.  Needless to say, this is a source of considerable embarrassment for the Supreme Court.   The only explanation given is that “The High Court does not debate evidence.” Apparently neither does Peace Now.

This is not the first of such embarrassments for Peace Now.  In 2010 Peace Now alleged that the Israeli village of Kiryat Netafim, in the northern West Bank, was built on land privately owned by Arabs, was therefore an illegal settlement, and should be demolished.  After examining building plans and ownership documents, the court ruled that Peace Now’s allegations were baseless and the village was legally built on land that the villagers legally owned.

In November, 2006, Peace Now claimed that 86% of the Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim, home to 30,000 Israelis, was built on land seized illegally from local Arabs. Maps and land-use data from the Israeli military, released to the Israeli court in mid-March, 2007, demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court that only 0.5% (one half of one percent) of Ma’aleh Adumim’s land was privately owned by Arabs.

When faced with this rather galactic anomaly, Peace Now refigured its numbers and reduced its estimate to 32.4%, and blamed the army for the error.

So Peace Now erred by a factor of 173 (O.5% vs. 86.4%)!

Peace Now’s willingness to accept Arab complaints at face value even as, time after time, those complaints are proven false, makes Peace Now look inept and unreliable; but it also raises the suspicion that Peace Now is intentionally misrepresenting reality in order to support specious Arab claims, harass Israelis living in communities in the West Bank, and flood Israeli courts with meritless law suits.  Such behavior looks very much like lawfare conducted against Israel by an Israeli not-for-profit putative civil rights organization.  Such behavior suggests that Peace Now is driven by a powerful and uncompromising anti-Israel ideology, an ideology which trumps fact and logic.

The latter suspicion is supported by the egregious and numerous errors and outright lies of some of its spokespersons.

Dror Etkes, Peace Now’s “settlement expert,” has consistently characterized the wide-spread phenomenon of illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem and environs as the product of private individuals in desperate need of housing.  He has denied any political motivation to the phenomenon, but he cannot not know of the evidence for the “construction intifada” declared by Arafat in the aftermath of the terrorist intifada in 2000.

As Justus Reid Weiner demonstrates in Illegal Construction in Jerusalem, for years the Palestinian Authority (PA) received funds from Arab countries to build illegally in areas that the Jerusalem municipality had designated for public space and public buildings.  As early as 2000 the PA leader Feisal el-Husseini publicly urged Jerusalem Arabs to build without permits.  Documents confiscated from Arafat’s Muqata’a in Ramallah prove that PA officials requested and received massive funds for illegal construction in Jerusalem, and that local Arabs received instructions, guidance, and funds from the local PA Development Council in order to evade Israeli building laws.

In an even more egregious lie, Etkes claims that the Arabs of East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote. Yet it is an undeniable common knowledge that the Arab population of East Jerusalem does indeed have the right to vote.  Etkes should read his own organization’s publications where other Peace Now researchers document East Jerusalem Arabs’ right to vote.

Perhaps the most effective nail in the coffin of Peace Now’s credibility was driven in by its own leader, Professor Aviram Goldblum.  In an interview with the Israeli weekly, Iton Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Newspaper) in July, 2001, Professor Goldblum condemned Peace Now’s campaign against another Jerusalem suburb, Har Homa.

Construction in Har Homa was begun back in 1968.  At that time 450 acres were designated for Israel residential construction, in a completely vacant area, not adjacent to any Arab populations.  Construction was expanded in 1996 due to Israeli population growth which created a severe housing shortage in Jerusalem and environs.  About 75% of the land was expropriated from Jewish land owners. The remainder was state land, not owned by any individual.  At the same time that Israel began the Har Homa expansion, it also began construction of more than 3,000 housing units for Arab residents in a dozen Arab neighborhoods. Over the years from 1968 to 1996, the Arab population of Jerusalem and environs had grown so rapidly that what was once vacant land was developed by East Jerusalem Arabs, with both legal and illegal residential construction.

None the less, Peace Now took to the barricades, vigorously protesting the Har Homa project and making specious claims that the Oslo Accords precluded any Israeli construction in Jerusalem, that Har Homa would limit Arab access to Jerusalem, and that it would destroy the contiguity of Palestinian territory in the West Bank.  One need only read the Oslo Accords, or look at a map of Jerusalem, to see that both these statements are blatant and transparent lies.

Professor Goldblum’s assessment of this Peace Now campaign was that it was a “…stupid campaign” and that the Peace Now claims were false.

So one must ask, when its own leader condemns it, and other of its operatives either lie through their teeth or display incredible ignorance and ineptitude, what claim to integrity and trustworthiness can Peace Now make?  And if, as may indeed be the case, Peace Now is intentionally working with Arabs in the West Bank to encourage, guide, and support them to wage lawfare against Israel, is that not treason in time of war?

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.