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Five lies about the ‘good faith’ of the settlements

Dubious bureaucratic procedures have, with time, normalized the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land
A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank, on August 29, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)
A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank, on August 29, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)

The District Court recently ruled that the Mitzpe Kramim outpost was built on private Palestinian land “in good faith” and as such, Palestinian landowners have no right to demand its evacuation. In this way, the court adopted the new position of the state and the attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, according to which it is possible to expropriate private land of Palestinians in favor of a settlement, if done in good faith.

According to the Hebrew Ibn Shushan dictionary, “in good faith” means “with integrity, out of total innocence and honesty.” One can believe that the outpost settlers really thought that the land was not privately owned by Palestinians. But it is difficult to attribute “total innocence and honesty” to anyone who builds without permits in an illegal outpost. Had the settlers bothered to ask for a permit, the Civil Administration would have immediately discovered that this was private land, and they would have been saved from stealing. (It is reasonable to assume that the government would not have approved the establishment of the outpost because at least until the establishment of the Netanyahu governments, the official policy was that no new settlements would be established.)

But the court did not rule on the good faith of the settlers. The discussion dealt with the good faith of those who gave them the land, i.e. the state and the Settlement Division. So let’s take a look at the “integrity and innocence” of the bodies acting on behalf of the State of Israel in the territories:

Good faith lie, #1 – “Military Requisition” – On 29 July 1980, the commander of the area issued a seizure order for approximately 850 dunams of private Palestinian land. This was the first bluff by which the first several dozen settlements were established: since it is forbidden to expropriate private land in occupied territory for settlement purposes, they decided to “seize” the land for security purposes and use it for settlement purposes. The Supreme Court ruled in 1979 in the Elon Moreh case that the settlements are not a security necessity and therefore it is forbidden to use requisition orders for the establishment of settlements. However, the state apparently decided to show contempt for the ruling because an army base was already established there (without a seizure order) and the government had decided to replace it with civilians before the ruling, so they seized the land for the purpose of establishing the settlement of Kochav Hashachar.

Good faith lie, #2 – The area of ​​the outpost was not included in the requisition order – the Mitzpe Kramim outpost is located beyond the border of the requisition order, so that even if the land was allowed to be used for settlement purposes, in this case the land was not even seized. There was however a closed area order that included the lands of the outpost, but this order means that the area is a firing zone and it is forbidden to build for civilians there.

Good faith lie, #3 – Allocation to the Settlement DivisionMeet the Settlement Division, the government’s executive arm for dubious work. A non-governmental body of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) that the government tasked after 1967 with carrying out the problematic work of establishing settlements in the occupied territories. The government allowed the Settlement Division to manage and distribute public funds and manage most of the public lands in the territories. For its part, the division transferred millions to the settlements without supervision or criteria, sometimes to support illegal activity, and allocated land without collecting money, without reporting to the landowner (the Custodian of Government Property), and went so far as to allocate lands that were not even transferred to its management. Thus, for example, the settlers in Amona, Ofra, Giv’at HaUlpana and Mitzpe Kramim were found to have received plots from the Settlement Division that were owned by Palestinians.

In recent years the scandal surrounding the distribution of funds was brought under control to some extent, but the lawlessness in land management continues, and the government is even currently trying to anchor the existing situation in the law. The court was prepared to authorize the Mizpeh Kramim outpost on the basis of the allocation made “in good faith” to the Settlement Division.

Good faith lie, #4 – The allocation contract does not include the land of the outpost. On 23 February 1981, the Custodian of Government Property, which is the equivalent of the Israel Lands Authority in the occupied territories, signed an agreement with the Settlement Division to grant it land for the purpose of establishing and developing the settlement of Kochav Hashachar. The map attached to the contract did not include the area of ​​the outpost, but this was resolved in section 2C of the contract: “The parties declare that they know that the boundaries of the square have not yet been measured and its precise boundaries have not yet been finalized.”

The judge quotes part of the testimony of Architect Shlomo Moskowitz, who was the head of the Planning Bureau at the Civil Administration for decades: “It was customary until the mid-1980s, all the orders I know … were carried out in such a manner that there was no connection between the order and the place it was implemented on the ground.” This is what the judge calls “good faith.”

Good faith lie, #5 – The owners of the land are out of the picture – 51 years ago the State of Israel took responsibility for the territories but without annexing the Palestinian residents and giving them civil rights. The Palestinians have no right to vote and the ability to influence the laws that Israel determines in the territories; They have no representation in the bodies managing the land; The lands are allocated without tenders and the Palestinians have no ability to win them; And all the orders, contracts and authorizations made on their land, “in good faith and with utter truth,” are done without asking them, without hearing them and ultimately without the court taking into account their rights.

As our sages of blessed memory warned us, One offense begets to another, and “When a person commits an offense and repeats it – it becomes to him as if it were permitted” (Yoma 86b).

About the Author
Hagit Ofran directs Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project.
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