The land theft that wasn’t

Panoramic view of Gush Etzion

Israel is once more in the dock of international opinion, accused of land theft, land grabbing, illegal settlement building, expansionism, imperialism and global warming. OK, I made that last one up.

The “crime” was (as I mentioned in my post of last week) the designation of 4000 dunams of empty land as “state land” making it now possible for Israel to build on it.

A quick recap of the salient points:

The IDF on Sunday conferred the status of state land on 4,000 dunams in the Gush Etzion region, thus ending the civil administration’s investigation into the possibility that parcels were private Palestinian property.

The new designation for an area known as Gevaot opens the door for settlers to advance plans to build a fifth city in the West Bank on those dunams.

There is a 45-day period for objections to be raised. The land had previously been listed as survey land, a designation that prevented settlers and the army from moving building plans through the planning system.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that it had acted under guidelines from the senior political echelon, issued after the end of the IDF’s mission Brother’s Keeper, to return the bodies of three teenagers Hamas terrorists kidnapped and killed in June.

Gush Etzion, the southern gateway to Jerusalem (from Israelstreet blog (click to enlarge)

As I also mentioned in my post, the chances of something actually being built any time soon are pretty low, as the Israelstreet blog describes the Farce at Gva’ot:

1. In 1982, the then Israeli cabinet approved developing the site as an IDF base.

2. In 1984, the IDF actually created the base and stayed there until 1996 at which time it closed the base.

3. In 1996, the Shvut Yeshiva (in which the 3 Israeli teenagers studied) began using the modular buildings left behind by the IDF as its home. The yeshiva has remained in place until today.

4. In 1998, the Gush Etzion Regional Council developed plans to build a 6000 home city where the base had been located.

5. In 2000, the Regional Council abandoned the plans.

6. In 2008, the Regional Council resurrected the plans and petitioned the government in 2009 for action following the collapse of the Annapolis Peace Talks.

7. In 2012, the Israel Defense Ministry finally acted and authorized the construction of 523 houses.

8. In 2013, the Israel Defense Ministry froze the project.

9. Two months ago, in response to the murders of the teenagers, the Gush Etzion Regional Council renewed its call for development.

10. All of which brings us to yesterday’s decision, and the fact that all those opposed to the decision have 45 days to appeal.

Nevertheless, as mentioned above, international opinion is outraged.  However all that calumny, condemnation and contumely pointed at Israel is completely misplaced, as we shall see below.

Jerold Auerbach in the Algemeiner asks:  To settle or not, that is the question and gives us a potted history of Gush Etzion:

… The Etzion bloc, located between Jerusalem and Hebron, currently comprises 18 communities with nearly 40,000 residents. Its modern origins are traceable to 1927, when Yemenite immigrants and ultra-Orthodox Jews established “Migdal Eder,” named after the biblical site (mentioned in Genesis 35:21) where Jacob pitched his tent after burying Rachel. Destroyed during the violent Arab riots of 1929, when the ancient Jewish community in nearby Hebron was also decimated, it was rebuilt between 1943 and 1947, only to be demolished yet again by marauding Arabs on the eve of Israel’s independence. More than 200 Jewish residents, who fought valiantly to the bitter end, were massacred. By Knesset decree, the day Gush Etzion fell became – and remains – the day of remembrance for Israeli soldiers killed in military action.

Following the Six-Day War, Hanan Porat, a child survivor of the Gush Etzion carnage, was determined to restore his vanquished community. Impelled by the politics of memory, he joined Rabbi Moshe Levinger and lawyer Elyakim Haetzni in urging “a Jewish vengeance of building, rebirth and return” in Hebron and Gush Etzion. Their resolute efforts were crowned with success. But in the eyes of the world (including myopic secular Israelis), the current Jewish inhabitants of these ancient Jewish communities are “settlers,” illegally occupying “Palestinian” land. In fact, like their ardent Zionist predecessors ever since the 19th century, they have returned to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.

Arlene Kushner similarly explains why Israel can allocate 1000 acres for housing (via Daled Amos):

The land in question is largely in Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish communities south east of Jerusalem that is solidly tied to Israel’s history – and to the modern history of Jews in the Land even before the founding of Israel.  See:

It is unthinkable that this area would ever be part of a “Palestinian state,” and the notion that building here would render the “two state solution” impossible is unmitigated nonsense.

It is simply that the world has decided we have no rights to land beyond what is referred to as the “pre-1967 border” but is in fact a 1949 temporary armistice line.  An irrational fixation with that “Palestinian state” persists at all costs.  A fixation that we must counter.

In point of fact, the Oslo II Interim Agreement, as elucidated in a briefing by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “established a division of the West Bank into three areas: Area A, where the Palestinians had full control, Area B where there was mixed Israeli and Palestinian security control but full Palestinian civil control, and Area C, where Israel had full military and civilian control. Israeli responsibilities in Area C included the power of zoning and planning.  The territory which Israel declared as state land is within Area C.” (Emphasis added)


Oslo aside for the moment, matters of land allocation in Judea and Samaria are complicated precisely because Israel has not annexed the area. There is a layering of laws going back to the pre-Mandate Ottoman period; the Mandate period (1922 – 1948), when Great Britain was the administrator; through the period of illegal Jordanian occupation (1949 – 1967; and since to the present with Israel as administrator.

Broadly, land in Judea and Samaria falls into one of three legal categories: state land, private land, and land whose status is to be determined. The area in question had the status of territory whose status is to be determined.  However, an investigation was required before the change of status to state land could be announced: That lengthy investigation, completed this summer, determined its status.  No private Arab ownership was uncovered. Now there will be a window of opportunity for those who might wish to contest this finding.  And as we are looking at a bureaucratic process, it will be some time before any actual building is done.

This, then, is what the furor is about.

Delving deeper into the legalities of the disputed territories, Elder of Ziyon points us to the article explaining that Everything you know about settlements is wrong:

Just as Israel was being denounced far and wide for settlement expansion, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released one of its regular reports on settlement activity. What it reveals is that Israel’s actual settlement construction pace has reached a historical low. Only 507 housing units were approved for construction by Netanyahu’s government in the first six months of 2014, a 71.9 percent decrease from the same period in 2013, with about one-third of those being built inside the major blocks that it is understood Israel will keep in any final status agreement. For a population of over 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, that pace of construction does not even allow for natural population growth, much less rapid expansion.

What’s Netanyahu doing? His government’s pattern in recent years is clear: build energetically in the major settlement blocks and in Jerusalem, while restraining growth beyond the West Bank security fence in areas that may become part of a future Palestinian state. Netanyahu doesn’t come out and say this clearly for a simple political reason: The settler lobby would condemn it and indeed is already threatening him with political revenge for restraining settlement growth. British and U.S. diplomats, as well as the American and European press, may be fooled by Palestinian and Peace Now complaints that Bibi is gobbling up Palestinian territory, but the settlers live in those places and know better — construction is slowing down.

At the end of the day, the annexation is a symbolic move. Those lands are going to remain Israel’s no matter what: They are populated by some 20,000 Israelis, adjacent to the pre-1967 border, and were recognized in previous negotiations as part of the areas Israel would keep and for which it would swap Israeli land elsewhere. Most recently, the leaked “napkin map” of the 2008 negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas marked all 1,000 acres as falling under eventual Israeli control.

At this point, the mindless refrain on settlement construction seems to have assumed a life of its own. But anyone who’s serious about addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ignore the speeches and the rote condemnations, and study the numbers. The vast expansion of Israeli settlements in the future Palestinian state is simply not happening.

Oded Revivi, the Mayor of Efrat in Gush Etzion, is the right person to tell us that It’s time to learn the facts about Judea and Samaria:

 The recent furor surrounding the government’s decision to declare nearly 1,000 acres at Gvaot in Gush Etzion “State Land” is a classic example of the ignorance of history and law that governs most discussions of Israeli actions beyond the internationally hallowed “Green Line.” Media headlines around the world screamed about “annexation” and “land grab,” the Palestinian Authority declared it a “crime” and foreign ministries around the world have demanded the reversal of the decision. However, few articles, press releases or communiques mention the crux of the matter; the legal and historical status of the land in question.

Of course there is land privately owned by Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, what many call the “West Bank” in seeming deference to the Jordanian occupation, which invented the term as juxtaposition to its eastern bank. These areas, like privately owned territory anywhere in the world, cannot be touched unless there is very pressing reason for a government or sovereign power to do so. These areas, according to Ottoman and British records, constitute no more than a few percent of the total area, meaning the vast majority is not privately owned.

However, to contend that these territories are “Palestinian” on a national level is problematic. To claim an area belongs to a particular nation requires the territory to have belonged to that people, where they held some sort of sovereignty that was broadly recognized.

All of these criteria have been met historically by the Jewish people, and none by the Palestinians.

In fact, the Jewish people were provided with national rights in these territories not just by dint of history and past sovereignty, but also by residual legal rights contained in the League of Nations Mandate, which were never canceled and are preserved by the UN Charter, under Article 80 – the famous “Palestine Clause,” that was drafted, in part, to guarantee continuity with respect to Jewish rights from the League of Nations.

For the past almost 2,000 years, since the destruction of Jewish sovereignty and expulsion of most of its indigenous people, it remained an occupied and colonized outpost in the territory of many global and regional empires.

The Ottomans were the most recent to officially apportion the territory, in what they referred to as Ottoman Syria, which today incorporates modern-day Israel, Syria, Jordan and stretching into Iraq. Before The Ottoman Land Code of 1858, land had largely been owned or passed on by word of mouth, custom or tradition. Under the Ottomans of the 19th century, land was apportioned into three main categories: Mulk, Miri and Mawat.

Finally, Mawat was state or unclaimed land, not owned by private individuals nor largely cultivated. These areas made up almost two-thirds of all territory.

The area recently declared “State Land” by the Israeli government, a process which has been under an intensive ongoing investigation for many years, is Mawat land. In other words, it has no private status and is not privately owned.

Many claims to the territory suddenly arose during the course of the investigation, but all were proven to be unfounded on the basis of land laws.

Interestingly, it should be clearly understood by those who deem Judea and Samaria “occupied territory” that according to international law the occupying power must use the pre-existing land laws as a basis for claims, exactly as Israel has done in this case, even though Israel’s official position is that it does not see itself de jure as an occupying power in the legal sense of the term.

If none of the above convinces you, then maybe the threat of Hamas overpowering Fatah (who are not exactly tzaddikim themselves) and taking over the territories should give one pause for thought as Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Hamas says: give us the West Bank so that we can destroy Israel:

If the West Bank had one quarter of the weapons that the Gaza Strip has, Israel would be eliminated in one day. This is what Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told worshippers during a sermon he delivered on September 5.

Zahar, who, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, spent his time in hiding, was speaking during Friday prayers at Martyr Abdullah Azzam Mosque in Gaza City.

“If only the West Bank had one quarter of what Gaza has of resistance tools, the Israeli entity would end in one day,” Zahar declared, reiterating the claim that Hamas had scored a “big victory” in the war.

The Hamas leader went on to criticize those who still have doubts as to whether Israel could be destroyed.

“Those who were skeptical as to whether Palestine could be liberated are no longer doubtful after the enemy was hit from the Gaza Strip,” Zahar said. “Can you imagine what would happen if the enemy is targeted from the West Bank, which makes up 20% of the size of Palestine?”

Even the Iranians seem to think that the time has come to turn the West Bank into a launching pad for attacks on Israel.

During the war in the Gaza Strip, a senior Iranian commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohamed Reza Naqdi, announced that Tehran had plans to “arm Palestinians in the West Bank” in order to destroy Israel.

Naqdi boasted that the weapons used by Hamas and other Palestinian groups during the recent war had been manufactured and supplied by Iran.

The threats by Hamas and Iran regarding the West Bank show why it is critically important for Israel (and the Palestinian Authority) to insist on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip as part of any long-term cease-fire agreement.

Even more significantly, these threats underline the need to keep the West Bank a demilitarized area in any future peace agreement, especially one that would see the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

Moreover, these threats support Israel’s insistence on maintaining permanent security control over the border with Jordan. Without such a presence, Iranian-made weapons would easily find their way into the West Bank.

What Hamas and Iran are saying is that if and when Israel pulls back to the pre-1967 lines, they, together with other Palestinians, would bring weapons into the West Bank to achieve their goal of eliminating the “Zionist entity.”

Add to this toxic mix the threat of ISIS on our northern and eastern borders and Israel would be mad to consider giving up any of the territory up to the Jordan River.

And the world is not only mad, but evil to expect and demand Israel to do so.

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4 Responses to The land theft that wasn’t

  1. peteca1 says:

    ON he other hand ….

    the Palestinians have just been offered a chunk of land in the Sinai that is FIVE times bigger that what they currently have in Gaza. Excuse me for being practical – but that is the BEST offer that Hamas and Fatah will ever see in our lifetime. It would be INSANE for them to turn this down.

    so of course … what do they do??!!! you already know the answer.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Yep. And that’s because they don’t really want a state of their own. They simply don’t want the Jews to have a state of their own, so what they’re really out to do is destroy Israel and damn the consequences.

  2. Reality says:

    any land in Israel which hasn’t yet been built on,the Palestinians see fit to claim it as their own. This causes a worldwide outcry, endless expensive court hearings, which if G-d forbid they decide the Palestinians have no claim to said land (this rarely happens as our ultra left leaning politically correct judges are terrified of that monster:”World Opinion”) the Palestinians scream apartheid state steals land. It’s a win win situation for the poor oppressed Palestinians. The world couldn’t give a damn who is right. In their opinion the Palestinian claims are always correct.Jews/Israelis are always usurpers.

    • anneinpt says:

      You missed one important point: When Israel does build on the land the Palestinians scream bloody murder even more loudly. As long as there is one “holy olive tree” or one “sacred rock” on the land, or even the memory of one, that land will be declared Palestinian from now and forever more.

      We have to develop some backbone and ignore international opinion and even international law – because that law does not say what the world thinks it says.

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