Peace Now's latest "expose" - charging that Israeli settlements are built on "private Palestinian land" - is a fraud. At their recent press conference in Jerusalem, they provided no new information to back up their allegations. Accepted as fact, the story became front-page news in newspapers across the world. The only problem? It's not true.
Dr. Moshe DannMoshe Dann is a writer and journalist with a Ph.d in history, who lives in Jerusalem.
The report purports to show that Israel has stolen privately owned Palestinian lands to construct settlements in violation Israel's own laws:
Nearly 40 percent of the total land area on which the settlements sit is, according to official data of the Israeli Civil Administration (the government agency in charge of the settlements), privately owned by Palestinians. The settlement enterprise has undermined not only the collective property rights of the Palestinians as a people, but also the private property rights of individual Palestinian landowners.Peace Now is unable, however, to produce any official data. Their spokesmen admitted that they have no evidence to back up their claims of illegally acquired land except some "digital" information (unavailable), which they say was stolen from the offices of the Civil Administration. In fact, they allege that the authorities refuse to provide them with the official maps and designations on which all settlement activity is based.
Where, then, do they get their information? Settlement residents assert that in some cases privately owned land was purchased from Arabs and that relations were normal until Peace Now agitators pushed Arabs to complain. Much of the "data" apparently comes from interviews with Arabs who claim, but cannot prove, property rights.
Peace Now does not hide their agenda: to undermine all settlement activity. They state that they made a "political decision" not to contest areas Israel conquered in the War of Independence, nor areas incorporated into Israel after the war of 1967 (i.e., "East Jerusalem"). But, they believe, "all settlement activity is an obstacle to peace," and must be given to the Palestinians - including consensus areas such as Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim.
Peace Now spokesmen assert that private Palestinian land and property (on which most kibbutzim and many private dwellings are built) that became part of Israel after 1948 legitimately belong to Israelis. Those areas Israel has not annexed, they contend, should be given up.
Asked why Palestinians have not come forth to claim ownership, Peace Now said that the individuals lacked the funds. Peace Now also admitted that they have only a few names of individual Palestinian owners because they need more funds to track them down. They did not explain why local Arabs, with free access to numerous pro-Palestinian legal assistance organizations (many funded by the New Israel Fund, the European Union and others), need Peace Now's help in finding claimants.
Much of Peace Now's information and conclusions are contained in a controversial report commissioned by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two years ago and authored by Talia Sasson, a vehement opponent of settlements. Sasson charged that government officials and agencies cooperated in building settlements and outposts without proper government approval.
Peace Now also charged that, beginning in the 1970s, the Civil Administration for Judea, Samaria and Gaza "seized private Palestinian land" for use by settlements. They admitted, however, that they "don't know what was registered or taken over by the government" since all such records are held by the Civil Administration.
This seems to beg the question, since information on all land registered under the Ottoman, British and Jordanian administration is available and easily documented. Any land owner can apply to a court and have his or her property returned, or demand compensation - as so many have already done.
To whom does property belong when its owner dies without heirs (intestate)?
Under current Jordanian law, selling land to a Jew is a capital crime; no Jews live in Jordan and none own property there. Since the Oslo Agreements, members of Palestinian death squads (so-called "security forces") have murdered hundreds of their own people who were accused of selling land to Jews. Peace Now's activities are making it easier to identify more potential victims. It would seem that, as an organization, it is not far from supporting those shocking anti-Jewish restrictions.