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Undoing the myth of Israel's flagship settlements

The settler movement likes to pretend its flagship settlement bloc, Gush Etzion, was built entirely on land purchased by Jews decades before Israel’s founding. History says otherwise.

By Dror Etkes

Israeli setters hitchhike at the Gush Etzion junction, next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli setters hitchhike at the Gush Etzion junction, next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

During the years 1943-1948, four Jewish localities were established in the area located approximately six miles southwest of the heart of Bethlehem. On the eve of the 1948 War, there were several hundred residents, including children, living in these communities (Kfar Etzion – 1943, Masuot Yitzhak –1945, Ein Tzurim – 1946, Revadim – 1947). Prior to the establishment of these four localities, there had been three attempts to establish Jewish localities in the area, none of which succeeded. These attempts are described on the Gush Etzion Regional Council’s website:

On three recent occasions, Jews have tried to settle Mt. Hebron. They were greeted by a rocky, dry, hostile, stormy and snowy mountain. On three occasions they were uprooted from the land and then returned on the fourth. They – like the nation of Israel in its homeland; three times they ascended to Eretz Israel, struggled with its multitude of limitations, were uprooted from it, and returned and clung to it on the fourth.

The Jewish localities present in this area until 1948 were established on lands bought by Jews beginning in the second half of the 1920s from Palestinian farmers, mainly from the villages of Beit Ummar, Nahhalin, Al Jab’a, and Surif. A map I received from the Civil Administration reveals that the size of the area purchased by Jews prior to 1948 in the area south and southwest of Bethlehem is approximately 10,500 dunams (an Ottoman unit of land; four dunams are approximately equal to one acre).[1]

Over time, with the occupation of the West Bank by the Jordanian army, these four localities were conquered and destroyed. In September 1967, a few months after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the settlement of Kfar Etzion was founded, the first settlement to be established in the West Bank.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council was established by military order in 1980, and its spokespeople invest considerable efforts in the attempt to convey to the Israeli public and to the world the impression that this settlement movement is a continuation that draws from a “unique consensual legitimacy” in that the settlements in its boundaries were established on lands purchased by Jews. Mythology is one thing — facts, another.

Suffice it to say in the present context that the official area of the Gush Etzion Regional Council is now seven times larger than the area purchased by Jews in this area prior to 1948. The regional council includes today approximately 20 settlements and a number of outposts, the overwhelming majority of which were established on lands that were never purchased by Jews. The mechanism that has enabled the establishment of these settlements is the takeover of lands that Israel uses in all other parts of the West Bank – a mechanism based on land seizure for ostensible security needs, expropriations for public needs, declarations of state land, and of course, countless pirate takeovers carried out against the law but enabled by the state turning a blind eye time and again, and sometimes, with its outright support.

It is sufficient to mention in this context that to this day, approximately 22,250 dunams of state land have been declared to the west and southwest of Bethlehem (the area customarily called Gush Etzion) and this, as stated, is in contrast to the 10,500 dunams purchased in the area by Jews prior to 1948. The process of declaring state land in this area began in the early 1980s and continued until 2014, in which 5,000 dunams of state lands were declared on two separate occasions.

In this appendix, we will focus on examining the history of the land of only of those settlements located in the western portion of what is defined today as the Gush Etzion Regional Council, which effectively includes all of the settlements west of Road 60, as well as the settlements of Efrat and Migdal Oz.[2]

In what follows, we present a summary table [3] and maps displaying the land history of each of these settlements. It is important to note that we received all of the information presented in these maps from the Israeli army’s Civil Administration under the Freedom of Information Law, and therefore, it should be viewed as official information:

Screen Shot 2016-12-31 at 6.51.49 PM

In contrast to the manner in which the spokespeople of the settlement movement seek to present matters, less than one-fifth of the de facto territory of all of the settlements in the area that is today called “Gush Etzion” is land that was purchased by Jews prior to 1948. The settlements in this area were established over the years, mainly through a combination of institutionalized and pirate land theft, just like in other places in the West Bank, and including: seizures for military purposes, declarations of state land and takeovers of private Palestinian lands whose owners are denied access to them.

__________

[1] Included in this calculation is also the area of the Dheisha Refugee Camp, most of which was established on approximately 300 dunam purchased by Jews prior to 1948 and registered as absentee land during the period of Jordanian rule. This area is today located within Area A, which includes Bethlehem and nearby towns and villages.

[2] Efrat and Beitar Illit are the larger settlements, and therefore, they are independent municipal entities and not part of the Gush Etzion Local Council. However, since they are in this area, we have included them in the present appendix.

[3] In this table we did not take into account seizure orders in the settlements of Alon Shvut, Kfar Etzion, Rosh Tzurim and Efrat, which were established based on seizure orders that overlapped with Jewish land purchased before 1948 or lands later declared as state land. Mapping of the actual area of the settlements was carried out based on the distribution of construction, the route of the fence and the service roads of all of the settlements. According to the IDF’s Spiegel Database, the subsidiary of the JNF – ‘Himanuta’, claims that the land of Giv’at Ha-Hish was purchased. If the claim is true, the purchase in question is in any case relatively recent and unrelated to the land purchased prior to 1948.

Dror Etkes follows Israel’s land and settlement policy in the West Bank. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Tony Riley

      You don’t seem too bothered by the fact that the Jewish land was captured by Jordan in 1948.

      Reply to Comment
      • Chris

        “You don’t seem too bothered by the fact that the Jewish land was captured by Jordan in 1948.”

        And where was this Jewish land that “was captured by Jordan in 1948”, bigot?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Nice demonstration of the mythologies peddled by (and routinely accepted as fact by its mostly American readers) the Jerusalem Post.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bernie X

        Assuming, aguendo, that that Gush Etzion wasn’t destroyed in 1948, wouldn’t that settlement have naturally expanded to it’s current size?

        I think so.

        Oh…I diverted again. Dreadfully sorry.

        Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        How about the New York Times, Benny? Do you believe in the credibility of The New York Times? They too mention the massacre of the Jewish defenders of Kfar Etzion. Here, read it yourself. It is a review of a documentary film which they compliment for being impartial:

        http://mobile.nytimes.com/2001/09/21/movies/film-review-recalling-israel-s-history-a-tricky-balancing-act.html

        “The story opens as the state of Israel is declared in May 1948 and Ben-Gurion predicts that celebration will soon give way to bloodshed. That strife begins quickly with the Arab massacre of Jews in the village of Kfar Etzion, followed by the massacre of Arabs by Jewish extremists in Deir Yassin.”

        This is how the New York Times describes the documentary:

        “‘In Search of Peace, Part 1, 1948-1967” is a documentary with a split personality. On one hand the film, directed by Richard Trank, is an unabashedly emotional and stirringly inspirational history of Israel that ends with the country’s victory in the 1967 war. On the other it is a scrupulous, factual account of two decades of Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors that refuses to demonize or to blame the country’s enemies.”

        Why do you always deny history which does not support your anti Israel pro Arab bias, Benny? Do you think that your simple denials make history go away?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      I don’t deny any history. You erect straw men. But none of the massacres by both sides entitles you to occupy the Palestinians. 2334 reaffirmed that and got explicit about Jerusalem too. Etkes makes clear that mythology is one thing — facts, another. The settler movement sustains itself on a colossal amount of dishonesty. It is fundamentally a criminal enterprise. The hilltop “youth” thugs are only taking to adolescent levels of exuberance what they learn directly from their fathers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        BEN:”I don’t deny any history. You erect straw men”

        No? Then what was this little exchange?

        BERNIE:”Or bothered by the fact that the Jews were massacred.

        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/02/massacre-marred-birth-israel-independence

        Oh! I’m sorry. That was a diversion. My bad.”

        BEN:”Nice demonstration of the mythologies peddled by (and routinely accepted as fact by its mostly American readers) the Jerusalem Post.”

        Sounds like you have tried to deny history, Benny. It isn’t just my straw man.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          ​Your mind is a curious place. What are you talking about? What “exchange”? I did not reply to this ‘Bernie.’ My reference was to the Jerusalem Post article by Perel linked to in this paragraph:

          “The Gush Etzion Regional Council was established by military order in 1980, and its spokespeople invest considerable efforts in the attempt to convey to the Israeli public and to the world the impression that this settlement movement is a continuation that draws from a “unique consensual legitimacy” in that the settlements in its boundaries were established on lands purchased by Jews. Mythology is one thing — facts, another.”

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          ​There ya go Gustav. There’s your peace-loving, non-racist, fair-two-state-solution-seeking government at work. And your tax shekels at work. What a sorry spectacle. Of course it’s the Palestinians fault isn’t it that Amona has Netanyahu by the balls and the Israeli government and its lobbies in turn similarly squeeze the US government. Never have a few fanatic hoodlums on a hill controlled so much I’ll-gotten, destructive power and extorted so much. Talk about organized crime. A good gig if you can get it I guess. But of course, it’s the Palestinians fault. LoL.

          http://m.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Analysis-Netanyahus-overnight-change-of-heart-475794#article=6024NkRDQTZGQzZENjhBNTU0MkFBQzY3NTMxMjdCOTgyRTI=

          “Whatever the settlers requested, they received.
          In return, all the Amona residents promised was to leave peacefully and prevent a rerun of the painful images of settlers fighting policemen and soldiers when Amona was evacuated a decade ago.
          That was really all Netanyahu wanted. Sources familiar with the proceedings said his goal going into the meeting was to achieve a peaceful evacuation at any cost.
          Not negotiating from strength, Netanyahu gave up so much money that ministers were forced to accept a blind cut across the board in every ministry, just ahead of passing the state budget in its final readings. The ministers argued about some of the reasons given for the cut, but none of them complained about funding a peaceful evacuation.
          To argue against funding a peaceful evacuation would have been raising their hand in favor of violence between Jew and Jew and against settling the West Bank.”

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          More from the annals of organized crime. It’s like Al Capone mislabeling Canadian whiskey as bottled spring water:

          “The United States Department of the Treasury is reporting an increase in allegations that merchandise produced in West Bank Jewish settlements is being imported into the U.S. without the proper country of origin markings, in contradiction to U.S customs regulations. Recently, the CBP confirmed, there has been a growing number of complaints about products ostensibly manufactured in the settlements but exported under a different label.”
          http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.762600

          Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      ​Amira Hass dissects the several flagrant distortions involved in A.B. Yehoshua’s recent proposal about granting residency status to select Palestinians (a step, whether he intends it or not, towards solidifying the annexation underway and furthering the stealth annexation plans of Bennett and Shaked).

      It’s Hard for A.B. Yehoshua to Admit: Zionism Created a Monster
      http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.762478

      The concluding paragraph:

      “The distortion makes it easier to create an emotional and intellectual separation from the significance of the facts. The separation is understandable. It’s hard to admit that the Zionist ideology and its creation – Israel – have created a thieving, racist, arrogant monster that robs water and land and history, which has blood on its hands using the excuse of security, which has been deliberately planning today’s dangerous Bantustan situation for decades, on both sides of the Green Line. All Yehoshua is doing is toeing the line and suggesting another sub-definition that helps Israeli bureaucracy to subdivide the Palestinian people and separate them from their spaces and their land.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Gustav

      BEN:”I don’t deny any history. You erect straw men”

      Ok Ben, on this one I owe you an apology. I misread what you said. It was an honest mistake on my part.

      Reply to Comment

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