February 01, 2009

Israel takes a leak at the settlements

The scoop from Haaretz is all over the internet. A secret government database, written in hush-hush over more that two years, collected information about all the settlements in the West Bank. It reveals horrible, horrible violations of procedures.
Just four years ago, the defense establishment decided to carry out a seemingly elementary task: establish a comprehensive database on the settlements. Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel, aide to then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, was put in charge of the project. For over two years, Spiegel and his staff, who all signed a special confidentiality agreement, went about systematically collecting data, primarily from the Civil Administration.
And the results somehow got leaked
Here, for the first time, information the state has been hiding for years is revealed. An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements - about 75 percent - construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents.
Haaretz intones, outraged,
The information contained in the database does not conform to the state's official position, as presented, for instance, on the Foreign Ministry Web site, which states: "Israel's actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law - Israel does not requisition private land for the stablishment of settlements." Since in many of the settlements, it was the government itself, primarily through the Ministry of Construction and Housing, that was responsible for construction, and since many of the building violations involve infrastructure, roads, public buildings and so on, the official data also demonstrate government responsibility for the unrestrained planning and lack of enforcement of regulations in the territories. The extent of building violations also attests to the poor functioning of the Civil Administration, the body in charge of permits and supervision of construction in the territories. (Blau, Haaretz)
Now, what to make of that? Surely, that is interesting and valuable information coming from the horse's mouth. It is another piece of evidence about the colonization work. It adds evidence to what should be well known, that settlements are not the work of a few crazy people from Brooklyn. Colonization and dunum after dunum ethnic cleansing of the land, "maximum land with minimum Arabs," is government policy.

But some caution is in order.

The biggest revelation is massive and numerous planning violations. That is, in constructing new neighborhoods inside settlements, the government violated its own plans and guidelines. But the plans themselves are illegal, immoral, and constitute a crime against humanity. Israel planed massive construction of civilian habitations, cities and civic amenities for Jews only, with the goal and the effect of making life for Palestinians in the affected areas miserable by destroying the economic and ecologic life-sustaining fabric of Palestinian communities (see for example, this report about Israeli planning goals, already known in 1986). This is apartheid, which is a crime against humanity. The settlements and all the constructions within them are also
in breach of the IV Geneva Convention that prohibits the state the bring its own population into an occupied area and to effect permanent change. The fact that these settlements are planned, which is well known since the plans have always been public, is more damning than the new evidence that the construction violated the plans.

This is like an imaginary secret report from Guantanamo revealing that the army didn't follow its own imaginary regulation of always having a physician present during torture.

The second revelation is that in 30 settlements, construction took place on private Palestinian land. That is, however, a distinction without much of a difference. The Israeli government has developed over the years extremely sophisticated mechanisms for legalizing land theft. The Palestinian legal scholar Raja Shehadeh wrote an excellent book, Occupier's Law, detailing most of them (I say most because I am certain the sick minds holding legal office in Israel invented new sick methods since the book was published).

These techniques include land confiscation for imaginary "military" purpose for land that is later given over to civilian construction, the building of fake "military" settlements, (this is the job of the Nahal brigade), fake ecological confiscation, supposedly in the name of the environment, confiscation for "public" use (eminent domain), when the only public benefiting from it are Jews, confiscation of "abandoned" property (that belongs to refugees) and much more, see for example, my own stab at explaining how settlements work from a few years ago.

Using all these techniques, Israel confiscated massive amounts of private Palestinian land. But most of the land of the West bank is public. Public land belongs to...the Sultan. Israel doesn't recognize the applicability of international law, but it is quite happy to use any piece of antiquated legislation that helps it pretend the ethnic cleansing it is engaged in is "legal". Hence one of the most important sources of so called legality in the Occupied Territories is Ottoman Law. The State of Israel "recognized" itself as the successor to the Ottoman Empire with respect to land rights, and therefore having the legal right to administer public land. It even considers it has the right to take over agricultural land held by Palestinian farmers as "miri," which must be kept in continuous cultivation, even when the reason for discontinued cultivation is often the constant abuse by Israeli soldiers and settlers. The legality of Israel's right to control the use of public land was accepted by the Palestinian negotiators at Oslo with regards to area C. which effectively hold all the non-built areas of the Occupied Territories. With respect to Palestinian localities, Israel still enforces limits set in planning documents written during the British Mandate period when population size was a tenth of what it is today, effectively making Palestinian urban development impossible. All the public land is used to beef up settlements and extend their control. Surveys reveal that at least 40% of the land mass of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is controlled by settlers.

Hence, what the new leaked database reveals is that, in addition to taking control of all the public land that belongs to the Palestinian people and using it for Jews only, in addition to the million of dunums confiscated "legally" from private Palestinian owners, Israeli authorities also took some land from a few dozen owners without attention to legal niceties.

This is like discovering that a bank teller was pickpocketed during a bank robbery.

One should ask oneself why was this work done. The official reason, to prepare for defense against Palestinian suits, is extremely unconvincing. Confusion and obscurity over land ownership has been a boon to the Israeli colonization process. What lawyer purposefully conducts research, at great expense, that would help the other side, knowing that failure to reveal this information in court would be a grave breach of the legal process? Perhaps it was military stupidity and arrogance. But the leaking of the document right now looks less innocent.

Haaretz coyly suggests that
Someone who is liable to be particularly interested in the data collected by Spiegel is George Mitchell, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, who came to Israel this week for his first visit since his appointment.
This seems to be the intention of whoever leaked it. To create yet another distinction between fringe activities that the U.S. can demand "firmly" that they be stopped immediately, and "legal," state sanctioned colonization that could go on undisturbed and even approved by the Obama administration.

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