Today's New York Times, Ha'aretz, and Yediot Ahronot report on a new study by Peace Now's Settlements Watch team: Breaking the Law in the West Bank – One Violation Leads to Another: Israeli Settlement Building on Private Palestinian Property (pdf).
Key findings include: Palestinians privately own nearly 40% of the land on which the settlements have been built, including over 40% of the land in settlements located in "settlement blocs," west of the fence being constructed by Israel.
"Jehoshua ben Hananiah said: ‘Once I was traveling on a road and seeing a beaten path leading across a meadow I took that path. Said a little girl to me: ‘Rabbi! Is this not a meadow that thou art crossing?’ And I answered: ‘Is this not a beaten path?’ And she answered: ‘Yea; such robbers as thou art have made it a beaten path.’”
Babylonian Talmud, Erubin 53b.
The Peace Now report is based on maps and figures leaked from inside the
government. The data in the report "demonstrate that the property rights
of many Palestinians have been systematically violated in the course of
According to the Executive Summary:
Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team has compiled precise information regarding the legal status of the land on which Israeli settlements have been constructed in the West Bank over the last four decades. The data, which is compiled and made public here for the first time, has enormous significance. It indicates the direct violation of Israeli law carried out by the State itself, driven by the architects and leaders of the settlement movement.
Israel never annexed the territories in the West Bank conquered in the war of June 1967, leaving the status of this land as "spoils of war". During the past forty years of occupation, Israel has ruled the territories through military orders and the laws of the State. In so doing, Israel has ignored international laws and agreements, such as the 4th Geneva Accords and the Hague Agreement, which define and limit changes the occupier may make in occupied territory during the period of occupation.
This report demonstrates that, in addition to ignoring international laws and agreements, Israel has violated even its own norms and laws in the West Bank, through the confiscation of private Palestinian property and the building of settlements upon them.
Data which its source is the Civil Administration, applied to each and every settlement by the Peace Now Settlement Watch team, indicate that a large proportion of the settlements built on the West Bank are built on privately owned Palestinian land. This, despite the fact that Israeli law guarantees the protection of the private property of the civil population resident on the West Bank.
The data presented in this report demonstrate that the property rights of many Palestinians have been systematically violated in the course of settlement building. The government's own information confirms this contravention of Israeli law - law, defined precisely in the landmark Elon More decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice in 1979 (discussed in detail, below).
Peace Now condemns the violation of Israeli law carried out over the past forty years by the State of Israel. We condemn the efforts of politicians and bureaucrats to launder the land grab, which deprived thousands of Palestinians of the basic human right of possession, on the individual and collective levels.
We demand that the present Israeli Government rectify the situation, which means returning the private land to its owners.
Key findings include:
> Palestinians privately own nearly 40% of the land on which the settlements have been built;
> Palestinians privately own over 40% of the land in settlements located in "settlement blocs," west of the fence being constructed by Israel, including 86.4% of Ma’ale Adumim, 44.3% of Giv'at Ze'ev, 47.7% of Kedumim, and 35.1% of Ariel;
> More than 3,400 buildings in settlements are constructed on land that is privately owned by Palestinians;
> “Survey lands” are areas whose ownership has yet to be determined and on which development is not legal, yet 5.7% of settlement territory is “survey land” and 2.5% of the “settlement blocs” are on “survey lands;”
> Only a small percentage of settlement land was purchased by Jews; and
> Over 50% of the land on which settlements have been constructed has been declared “State land,” often through controversial means and mostly for the benefit of settlements.
An interactive map by Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) that enables one to examine particular settlements and outposts is available here. Below, are maps showing the West Bank as a whole and Maale Adumim in particular.
IMHO, those of us who are strong supporters of Israel have a particularly strong obligation to support the strong legal action for which Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) has called. Supporting Israel does not mean supporting everything that Israelis or its governments do.
While it probably is too much to expect the Bush administration to do anything constructive, IMHO, we nevertheless also should recommit to a two-state peace settlement, including a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (with its capital in portions of Jerusalem). But for Israel, complying with its own domestic law, which at least on a declarative basis recognizes the ownership rights of Palestinians in West Bank land, is an obligation independent of progress on making peace and combating terrorism.