After performing a vanishing trick on the occupation, the Levy Report attempts to do the same regarding the theft of Palestinian land

Our last post discussed the main problem of the Levy Report: the fact that it insists on arguing. Contrary to the universally-held position, it claims that what Israel is doing in the West Bank is not an occupation. The claim that there is “no occupation” is an ideological act of Hasbara, an argument to be pulled out of the hat in the heat of the debate in order to throw the opponent off course. At the same time, however, it is meaningless, since the government is not stupid enough to adopt the report. The second part of the report is more dangerous, since it has practical ramifications. This part concerns the theft of Palestinian land.

Let’s start with the facts. In 1995, the Israeli government promised not to establish any more settlements. In order to establish a settlement a government decision is needed, and such a decision would create an international diplomatic crisis. Since then, no Israeli government has chosen to take this risk. So what happens instead? Firstly, the settlers “expand construction.” Secondly – and this is a trick that has become fashionable in recent years – they forge purchase documents. And thirdly – and most productive – they establish outposts.

Outposts are illegal by definition and in everyone’s opinion. In many cases they are built on private Palestinian land. Demolition orders have been issued against almost all of the outposts, but the Civil Administration fails to implement the orders due to political pressure from the settlers. When the issue comes before the courts the government faces a problem and employs one trick after another in order to postpone the decision. In some cases, the court finds the state itself in contempt of court.

The Levy Committee found a solution to this problem, based on the time-honored tactic of first firing off arrows, and then drawing a target where they land. The committee began by claiming, contrary to global opinion, that Israel has the right to transfer its citizens into the West Bank. It then went on to claim that since the government promised the settlers in the outposts that it would establish an outpost, it cannot take back this promise.

First of all – BS. The government can certainly retract promises it makes, although in some cases it may be obliged to compensate those the promises were made to. Secondly, the government never made any such promise. Senior civil servants, such as the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Minister’s Assistant for Settlement Affairs, made promises, but they do not constitute “the government.” Thirdly, even if a minister had made a promise, it would be worthless. As already stated, a government decision is required in order to establish a settlement. Fourthly, even if the government decided to approve the outposts, the legality of this decision would be questionable. The courts have already ruled that the government cannot commit to break the law. In this instance the Levy Report effectively adopts the position of the land thieves – the settlers, contrary to the position of all the other legal experts involved in the issue.

Worse still, the report shows total disregard for Palestinian property rights. It argues that if a Jew receives any kind of vague promise, or even merely claims to have received some vague promise, this overrules the recognized right of a Palestinian to his land. The Levy Report appears to have feared that the settlers might be subjected to an epithet that already troubled the Jewish Biblical commentator Rashi in the eleventh century: what if “the other nations of the world say that the Israelites are robbers, having conquered the lands of seven nations?” Accordingly, it declares, the government should compensate the Palestinians, particularly – it adds – “when the settlers in that place acted in good faith.” Seriously?! The forceful seizure of private land, with illegal assistance from the army, without the necessary documents, and without the owners’ consent – what “good faith” can there be here, exactly?

All euphemisms aside, what is actually proposed here is confiscation, which is utterly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention. And this is precisely why the Levy Report tries so hard to claim that there is actually no occupation. The Levy Committee effectively argues that Palestinian property rights – which its report does everything possible to ignore – are inherently inferior to the property “rights” of Israeli trespassers, even when the Palestinian rights are well documented and the intruders have no case. So what need was there for a whole convoluted report? The committee could have just said “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine” and called it a day. Although I suppose it might have been harder to market that under the guise of a “legal report.”

This brings us to the real danger of the text concocted by the Levy Committee. It is packaged like a report. It looks like a report. And the State Attorney’s Office treats it as if it were a report, even if the government has not done so. It is sometimes quoted in Supreme Court petitions in hearings relating to demands to evict outposts. When no other excuse can be found for the theft of land, even a flimsy bundle of straw can be called to service. Maybe we’ll be able to stall for a while and gain a few months of peace, before we have to come up with the next excuse.

The settlements and the occupation have played a dominant role in the corruption of the Israeli legal system. But it is doubtful if there has ever been such a glaring act of corruption as the Levy Report.

To read the full report: “Unprecedented: A Legal Analysis of the Report of the Committee to Examine the Status of Construction in Judea and Samaria (“the Levy Committee”)”, click here.

To read the previous post –  An empty hat, with no more rabbits, click here.