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Israel and Its Settlements (Part 2)

In Part I of this series on Israeli settlements, reference was made to Israel as an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza “stealing Palestinian land.” The status of these territories bears further consideration.

Israel wrested control of these areas from Jordan and Egypt respectively in the defensive war of June 1967. In subsequent years, both Jordan and Egypt renounced their claim to the West Bank and Gaza. This is unusual in the history of military conquest. For example, France never renounced its claim to the regions of Alsace and Lorraine after losing them to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Nor did Japan renounce its claim to the Kuril Islands after the Soviet Union snatched them at the end of World War II. Yet in the case of the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Egypt do not want them back.

So is Israel an “occupying power” or the legal owner of land unclaimed by any internationally recognized state? Israel has invested huge resources in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, including but not only in the form of the establishment of Jewish residential communities. These observations cast serious doubts on the simplistic claim that Israel is “occupying Palestinian land.”

Of course, it is true that large numbers of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza do not want to be under the control of Israel. Nor for that matter do significant numbers of residents of Hong Kong want to be under the control of China; Kurds don’t want to be under the control of Syria, Turkey, Iran, or Iraq; and, for that matter, 1.6 million residents of Scotland do not want to be under UK control!

Liberal organs of the media in the West tend not to give much credence to claims based on religion—especially not the religions of the Bible. Yet it is anachronistic for non-religious people to dismiss religious motivations of other people in societies that claim to be pluralist, democratic, and tolerant. Judaism holds as a central tenet that God gave the land of Israel to its ancestors for all time and a central part of that land is represented by the territories now designated as the “West Bank.”

Historically, Jews did not vacate that land for many centuries as a matter of choice; they were driven out by force by successive occupying powers and their return in 1948 to part of the biblical land of Israel is regarded by observant Jews as a reclaiming of their birthright. In this context also, Israelis make a claim to have every right to build their residential communities on land granted to them by God thousands of years ago.

According to the BBC, the settlements in the West Bank have been growing at a rate of 5–6% since 2001.1 The issue of new settlements is a cause of particular discomfort to many in the West, even those who are sympathetic toward Israel on other grounds. Such observers should consider issues of legal ownership of and historical claim to the West Bank as discussed above. Furthermore, it should be stressed that establishment of new Jewish communities is not done at random. Indeed, there is frequent wrangling between Israeli authorities and some settler groups which unilaterally establish new communities without permission, leading to Israeli officialdom dismantling such settlements. Moreover, concerned observers should actively seek a range of reporting on such developments as the level of negative spin cast by the liberal media whenever a new settlement is announced is considerable. Such spin may conceal efforts made by Israeli authorities to place new communities in uninhabited locations, seeking to minimize inconvenience to local Palestinian communities.

Israel’s critics typically undermine their own arguments by demonstrating a blatant lack of even-handedness in their advocacy campaigns. The energy devoted to exposing Israel’s supposed denial of Palestinian rights stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence among such critics about the rights of other “occupied minorities.” When have we seen a protest march by tens of thousands in world capitals in support of the establishment of a homeland for the Kurds? Where are the demonstrations in support of the native inhabitants of the Indonesian province of Papua that has been swamped by the Indonesian transmigration of Javanese, not dissimilar to a settlements policy? Indeed, it could be argued that Israel has more historic right to the West Bank then do the descendants of European settlers to the countries of South America, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and so forth. Yet Israel comes in for a particularly virulent kind of criticism from leftist and liberal antagonists across the world. It seems that Jews are news of a particular kind.

And what of the question of the 300,000 Jewish residents of so-called “Arab East Jerusalem,” also considered by Israel’s critics as settlers? It must not be forgotten that Jews accepted the United Nations partition plan of 1947 which proposed internationalisation of the city of Jerusalem. In contrast, Arab nations rejected it, thereby forfeiting their argument for that status. Between 1948 and 1967 not a single Israeli was allowed into the Old City of Jerusalem, which was under the control of Jordan, with its Jewish religious sites, Western Wall, and so forth. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated by virulent anti-Semites among the Arabs on the Jordanian side of the wall that divided Jerusalem. It is easy to understand Israeli determination never to allow Jerusalem to be divided again, preferring to keep the entire city under Israeli sovereignty yet allowing a measure of Arab control and autonomy over Muslim religious sites that Jews were never allowed during the Jordanian period.

Labels can be used in very cynical ways. The term “settlements” has assumed entrenched negative baggage which works to the advantage of Israel’s critics. In fact, the debate should be over Israel’s right to establish residential communities for Jews on land which currently falls under Israeli sovereignty. Any alterations to the basis of sovereignty should only be made with the agreement of all parties involved. It should not be the result of a sustained campaign of pressure by an international anti-Israel movement which, frankly, will never be satisfied as long as there is any Jewish political entity anywhere in the present territory of Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza.


This needs corroboration, as the BBC is no friend of Israeli settlement policy.