ofra settlement 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A few months after my family and I moved to Shiloh in 1981, I witnessed a microcosm of the land problem between Jews and Arabs. A section of land was to be put aside for security purposes and, as the legal procedure dictated, the mukhtars of nearby villages were informed and asked to make sure that any resident claiming private ownership rights should show up on a certain day to stake his claim.
Sure enough, at the appointed hour, seven Arabs walked onto the area and then were asked to stand on what each claimed as his private plot. Within minutes a difficult situation developed when two villagers stood on the same fertile section, insisting that each owned it. A minute later and they were throwing stones at each other.
We, the residents of Shiloh, the IDF officers and legal officials all stood around amazed. In the end, with no documents, no tax receipts, no maps nor any other reliable proof of ownership, the land was confirmed as "state land" and assigned to its new use.
The new Peace Now report, "Breaking the Law in the West Bank," besides making the front page of The New York Times, has generated local headlines as well. Claiming access to leaked "precise" information regarding the legal status of the land upon which Jewish revenant communities have been established, the group asserts that a "direct violation of Israeli law" has been done by "the state itself."
This arguably illegal circumvention of the system, presumably by a Peace Now sympathizer within the civil service, was done to gain a few days advantage over the settlement movement. It's obviously impossible to respond to the report in all its details with just a few hours notice.
It's nevertheless not too difficult to point to several shortcomings and misleading information.
In the first instance, Hebron doesn't appear as a "settlement." Not at all. One could presume that the purchase of the Machpela Cave by Abraham some 3,000 years before a so-called Palestinian people came into being would indicate that perhaps Jews do have a place in the territory disputed between Jews and Arabs.
For what the Peace Now report does is, in sleight-of-word fashion, ignore the issue of state lands. The three sole classifications of "land area" in the report are private land, survey land and land owned by Jews.
UNTIL 1979, the State of Israel regularly appropriated private land. Karmiel was built this way and even the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem benefited from such classifications.
Since, then, however, no Arab private land has been used for the Jewish communities. State (mirie) land is a different matter and, therefore, ignored in the report's charts. To include it would injure the Peace Now case. The report, it appears, also resurrects the concept of ardh as-sahil - the lands of the fields - which were somehow termed as collectively owned.
As the League of Nations Mandate makes clear, in Article 6, "the Administration of Palestine... shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency... close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands not acquired for public purposes."
State lands make up the vast majority of the area in Judea and Samaria. Land disputes began with the Turkish Ottoman administration and continued throughout the British Mandate period. At the base of the Peace Now approach is the rehashing of many Arab propaganda claims, now being given legitimization by sympathetic Jews.
As Arabs have asserted, they supposedly owned 93 percent of the land which came to be known as the State of Israel, of which 43% was privately owned and the rest was identified at that time as the Sultan's Land. Jews owned but 7%. This five-decades old myth is now being resurrected by Peace Now, which is largely funded by foreign sources.
THERE ARE other concerns, such as questionable data. For example, at Karnei Shomron, only 1.47% of the land is noted as Jewish-owned. In fact, almost all the area of the community is Jewish-owned and the same for the Etz Efraim community.
Peace Now doesn't recognize, it would seem, Jewish land purchases. It would be interesting to learn whether the concern of Peace Now for private land extends to Jews who own property in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, either from pre-state days or afterward, and cannot realize the land's potential due to Israeli government policy or Arab terrorism, such as at Havat Gilad.
There is also the matter of Arabs who have sold land but then claim otherwise in fear of extra-legal punishment - in other words, they don't want to be murdered for selling land to Jews.
In addition, the pictures of the land supposedly owned by "West Bank" Jewish communities on the Peace Now Web site are misleading. There is a vast difference between the area displayed and the actual area zoned at various government ministries and civilian administration offices. The boundaries are arbitrary, usually delineated by patrol roads which do not reflect on the actual property definitions.
THERE IS, it need be admitted, a very fundamental chasm between Peace Now and the reality on the ground. Property disputes have always existed, especially since the first land registration -Tabu - law was promulgated from the days of the Turks only in 1858.
But we should not lose sight of the major issue and that is that this conflict is not about private property but one between two nations claiming the same land.
Even if 51% of the land in question was owned by Jews as private property, Peace Now would oppose a Jewish presence in the area. Shiloh, Hebron and Beit El are place names that simply do not resonate with these concessionists. Their goal is simple: to get the Jews out of the territory they want for a future Palestinian state. To this end, even a juggling of terms and data is permissible.
The writer, a volunteer spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, comments on political, cultural and media affairs at www.myrightword.blogspot.com