The question was how to fix the issues of Israel’s settlements regarding building and ownership. Over the years the government halted settlement activity and froze the activity of the planning and zoning committees and the statutory laws dealing with giving permits for purchasing and settling. Many people had paid money and started building and found themselves in the middle without approval. So they continued to build and hence their buildings were declared illegal outposts. The illegality wasn’t because they stole land from anybody but because they simply weren’t able to complete the statutory requirements.
The Levy Committee examined the rights that Jews have in the territories and came to the conclusion that we have well-based legal and historical rights, stemming from the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate and the UN Charter.
We recommended setting up a special court to deal with competing land claims because in many cases an Arab would sell land to Jews and after the Jews would build a settlement, some other Arab would come along and say this is my land. In most cases the Israeli military government or civil administration would accept the Arab’s claims without really questioning them, like in Ulpana and Migron.
There are judgments by Israel’s Supreme Court, by Aharon Barak and others, which said they’d treat the territories as if they were occupied territories. In order to avoid this, we recommended setting up a special court to deal with land issues and freeing up the planning and zoning committees so that they can consider whether a building is in accordance with the law.
Do you feel the report was widely accepted?
No. To a large extent it was hidden because we got into the election process and regrettably Netanyahu was afraid to push it. When we first gave it to him he was overjoyed. He said, “Where have you been? This is the answer.” But somebody must have put pressure on him. What was publicized was the initial determination that the territories aren’t occupied. Hillary Clinton directly opposed it and recommended to Bibi that it should be rejected, without even knowing what was written there.
The UN Human Rights Council recently declared that Israel must immediately withdraw all of its citizens from the “occupied Palestinian territories.” With this rhetoric representative of much of world opinion, can Israel afford to just ignore it?
Of course not. However, such rhetoric is bordering on anti-Semitism, because they’re coming out with expressions like “settlement master plan,” hinting at Nazi terminology, and “OPT – Occupied Palestinian Territories” and “settler violence,” as if settler violence is a different and worse type of violence from others. They’ve decided that the territories are Palestinian, in violation of the Geneva Convention and against the UN’s own determinations that negotiations need to take place.
It’s easy to think we can climb into our own little shell. Ben-Gurion famously referred to the UN as “Um Shmum” and said, “What matters is not what the gentiles will say, but what the Jews will do.” I think the Israeli government is hoping that the Human Rights Council is so discredited as an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic organization that nobody will take its resolutions very seriously. The question is whether we should relate to it in a serious manner because by doing so we might be giving it credibility it doesn’t have, which was my reservation regarding the Goldstone Commission. But our economy is based on involvement in the world economy and we can’t ignore that. In addition, Jewish organizations that go to Geneva have approached me for help.
To that end, you are currently in New York to launch an initiative at the UN, begun by MK Nissim Ze’ev and his assistant Shoshana Beckerman, on the rights of Jews as indigenous people to the Land of Israel. Can you explain this initiative and what you hope to achieve by it?
The UN has recently recognized the rights of indigenous people, who are thereby entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of such people in their land. This is a very serious claim as to our rights to the territories, because even before the Balfour Declaration the Jewish people can truly claim we were the indigenous people. Jews have lived constantly in the area and we’ve suffered from exiles. No one can deny this. If anyone doubts it, the one question to ask is, “Do you believe in Jesus? Was Jesus a Jew?” Here’s your answer. And so we are preparing a series of documents clarifying our history.
About the Author: Sara Lehmann, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, was formerly an editor at a major New York publishing house.
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