A military database released to the left-wing anti-settlement organization Peace Now under court pressure shows that very little private land was seized from Palestinians to build Israel's largest West Bank settlement, the watchdog group reported on Wednesday. The new numbers are vastly smaller than numbers Peace Now issued in a November report based on leaked information. In November, Peace Now claimed that 86 percent of Ma'aleh Adumim was built on private Palestinian land. After successfully petitioning the court to see the database, the group reported Wednesday that data show that only 0.5% of the settlement was built on private land.
Read Peace Now general secretary's JPost blog
"The first report they released had major mistakes," said Capt. Zidki Maman, spokesman for the Civil Administration in the West Bank.
Israeli settlements are one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1979, the Supreme Court outlawed the seizure of privately owned Palestinian land for settlement purposes.
Dror Etkes, Peace Now's settlement expert, said that if the original information it published was inaccurate, then the IDF was to blame for refusing to release the database until the court ordered it to do so after the November report.
The original report said that 130 settlements were constructed either entirely or partly on approximately 60 thousand dunams of private Palestinian land, thus rendering them illegal according to the 1979 court ruling.
According to the report, Palestinian land accounts for 40 percent of the land used for settlements.
"The claim by the State and settlers that the settlements have been constructed on state land is misleading and false," the group said on its Web site. "The vast majority of settlement construction was done against the law of the land and the Supreme Court ruling and therefore unauthorized."
The organization also claimed that the State of Israel had been aware of these facts for years, but hid them "for fear that the revelation of these facts could damage its international relations."
The Civil Administration sent an official letter in response, saying that "the report mentions the fact that prior to 1979, some of the settlements had indeed been established as the result of injunctions that allowed for the seizure of land for military purposes, and for the most part, this was privately held land. However, it is important to point out that at some point in time it was made clear that a large section of this land was State land and the issue of those court orders had not been necessary at all."
The Civil Administration noted that the Peace Now report was full of inaccuracies, and implied that it had included in its figures outposts that the state considered illegal.
"There are only 120 settlements in Judea and Samaria," the letter said.
"For a number of years, the Civil Administration routinely examined the status of land prior to approving planning procedures and/or prior to allocating land," the letter stated. "This is done carrying out an in-depth re-examination of the status of the land in order to ensure that no harm comes to or use is made of privately held Palestinian land for the needs of Israeli settlement."