Stop the deceit and whitewashing
An internal defense document reveals that even settlements deemed legal by Israel are in part, and sometimes in large part, effectively illegal outposts.
Almost four years after attorney Talia Sasson published a report exposing the cooperation, by commission and omission, of successive Israeli governments in the establishment of dozens of settlement outposts, an internal defense document reveals that even settlements deemed legal by Israel are in part, and sometimes in large part, effectively illegal outposts.
The Defense Ministry's database documents illegal construction in more than 30 settlements, including such veteran settlements as Ofra, Elon Moreh and Beit El. Worse, the document - which is being revealed today for the first time in an article by Uri Blau in Haaretz Magazine (in Hebrew) - details a scandalous amount of land theft by the "legal" settlements. Schools, synagogues and even police stations have been built on private Palestinian land.
This is not another report by Peace Now or another investigative report by the media. It is an official document, drafted by a retired senior officer, Baruch Spiegel, on orders from former defense minister Shaul Mofaz. It casts a heavy shadow over Israel's pro-peace statements, while raising questions about its official position that "the use Israel makes of land for the settlements accords with all the rules and norms of international law. Privately-owned land has not been expropriated for the sake of establishing the settlements."
The harsh findings were hidden from the public for two years due to the brazen argument that their exposure would undermine the country's security and its foreign relations. But is the revelation of Israel's ongoing land theft and its seizure of territory supposedly under negotiation what undermines its security, or the crooked behavior itself? Is enabling the public to exercise its right to know that the authorities are systematically violating their international commitments to stop settlement expansion, especially outside the "blocs," what undermines Israel's foreign relations, or the very fact that such deceit is occurring?
Responsibility for this lawless policy rests with all Israeli governments for generations. But first and foremost, it rests with ministers Tzipi Livni, who previously headed the ministerial committee charged with implementing the Sasson Report, and Haim Ramon, who currently heads this committee, and has for more than a year. The Labor Party's representatives on the panel also contributed their bit to obliterating the report's recommendations with regard to tightening supervision over construction in the settlements, improving deterrence and stiffening penalties.
All construction in the settlements should be frozen immediately until deeds of ownership and building permits have been checked for every neighborhood and building. The Knesset must demand detailed explanations from the defense establishment for the sins of commission and omission documented in the Spiegel report, as well as for their subsequent whitewashing. And the state comptroller should open a comprehensive investigation into the behavior detailed in this document.
It is not possible to demand that the Palestinians demonstrate transparency in their battle against the infrastructure of terror while at the same time throwing sand in the world's eyes over the deepening of the occupation's infrastructure. Or in the words of U.S. envoy George Mitchell's report from May 2001: "The kind of security cooperation desired by the GOI [Government of Israel] cannot for long coexist with settlement activity."