Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Breaking News from Scott Wilson: Israeli critics critical of Israel

It’s been awhile since I’ve commented on a Scott Wilson piece in the Washington Post but his latest piece of reporting fairly cries out for some perspective. Jewish Settlements Built on Palestinian Property is the breathless, online title of his latest filing and, should you be wondering: No, Mr. Wilson hasn’t lost his touch. (For the uninitiated, here are some prior comments on some of Mr. Wilson’s more outrageous examples of so-called reporting)

An Israeli advocacy group has found that 39 percent of the land used by Jewish settlements in the West Bank is private Palestinian property, and contends that construction there violates international and Israeli law guaranteeing the protection of property rights in the occupied territories.”

Peace Now is an Israeli advocacy group only in that it is based in Israel and it advocates. No one familiar with the group would be the least surprised to hear that it has issued a report that is critical of Israel – that’s what it does for a living; criticizes Israel. Anyway the 38-page report essentially says that Israel shouldn’t be where it is.

Now these reports can be somewhat tedious to read. Fortunately, we have Scott Wilson to do our dirty work and report back to us. After his no-doubt exhaustive review of this paper, which is, after all, the subject of his reporting, he concludes:

The 38-page report offers what appears to be a comprehensive argument against the Israeli government's contention that it avoids building on private land, drawing on the state's own data to make the case.”

Well, that’s good enough for me…well, maybe not. So I went ahead and read the report and am somewhat under-whelmed at its comprehensiveness. It declares that nearly 40% of the settlements are on “Private Palestinian Land” which they define as:

“registered land recognized by the State of Israel as the private property of Palestinian residents and cultivated agricultural land that was not declared "State Land" and was not purchased by Jews”

Chime in if I’m misreading this but that reads like the Palestinians get credit for land they own as well as land not specifically allocated elsewhere…and I haven’t yet found within the report just what that breakdown is.

In an apparent attempt to illuminate their analysis, they include this helpful tidbit:

“Thus, for example, the settlement Ofra, established in 1975 on an abandoned Jordanian military base, was constructed mainly after 1980, almost completely on private lands belonging to the residents of the neighboring village of Ein Yabrud. This is the case, as well, for dozens of additional settlements and outposts, which were knowingly built, in whole or in part, on privately owned Palestinian land. The most extreme example is Elon More itself, which was moved to a new site following the court's ruling. According to the data of the Civil Administration published below, over 65% of the land of this settlement is privately owned by Palestinians.”

Now I’ve read and re-read this paragraph and it just confuses me. Ofra was taken by the Israelis after Jordan abandoned the military base there in the Six Day War. A few years later, Jews are settling on it. So when did the residents of nearby EinYabrud take ownership? Did the Jordanians lease their military base from Palestinians? Were the Jordanians also “illegally” occupying this land? So many questions…

And when that paragraph reports that Elon More is 65% privately owned by Palestinians “according to the data of the Civil Administration published below”, that published data is little more than their compilation of said data subject to their suspect (to me) interpretations. In other words, just about everything in this report seems to represent Peace Now’s biased slant on this issue.

Admittedly, Peace Now may be onto something here but you simply can’t conclude that based on this report. I’m sure the Israeli government will prepare some kind of response to this report; because of Chicken Little’s like Scott Wilson, they almost have to. Until then I’m going to hold off on any overwrought reaction to this latest broadside against Israel.

You're absolutely right about Peace Now. I was hoping to address this news (as well as what's in the NY Times.) Peace Now knows if they call the MSM, their charge becomes news. No questions asked.

I'm not going to pretend to know the law concerning absentee land ownership. But there are probably (at least) three or four different legal standards at play here; not all of them consistent.

In addition there's the matter that "settlers" will claim that they purchased land free and clear but that the Palestinians who sell won't admit to selling land to a Jew because to do so is a capital crime according to Jordanian law. (And according to a law passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council.) In fact in some recent cases there've been accusations that Peace Now endangers the land sellers by bringing suits about land ownership. (In 1998 there was a series of killings of Palestinian land dealers.)

And if you ever walk through downtown Hebron you'll see Arab shops with holes in the doorposts where Jews of 80 years ago had put the Mezuzas. Peace Now will never agitate for restoration of Jewish property taken by force.

Next to Maale Adumim is an area an area called the Etzion Bloc. The land was purchased by a man named Holtzman in the 1930. In 1948 the Jews were driven from the area and its remaining defenders killed after surrendering.

I believe that David Kopel (Volokh conspiracy) is looking into some of the legal issues and is planning to write a paper on the topic. Here's a paper that addresses similar issues.

In both the Wilson and Erlanger report there's a need to take Peace Now's interpretation of the situation and relevant laws as accurate. Given that Peace Now's judgment included trusting Yasser Arafat - subverting common sense to its political agenda - I see no reason why their judgment on any issue need be taken seriously.
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