YISRAEL MEDAD , THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 22, 2006
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
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
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
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