Masafer Yatta: How to Get the Most Punch out of B’Tselem Lies
It’s kind-of funny. It doesn’t matter what happens in Masafer Yatta, the area of the South Hebron Hills that has been in the news for almost a solid year. Whatever happens can be twisted into fodder for the anti-Israel propaganda machine generated most effectively by the European supported NGO, B’Tselem. Here I critique a video that appeared on MSNBC Cable News that proves this point. In his closing statement in the video, Ayman Mohyeldin asks:
So what have the residents of Masafer Yatta, already living in such vulnerable circumstances, done to exacerbate tensions, to undercut efforts for a two-state-solution? Perhaps, it’s simply choosing to live on the land they have called home for generations.
If this were true, it would be tragic. But it is not true. They have permanent homes in legal towns and villages and are only on-site at the illegal shanty towns when it suits them: to promote their anti-Israel propaganda, when expecting visitors to whom they can cry about their vulnerable circumstances. They complain about not having water, for example, but they truck in containers of water when the anti-Israel activists aren’t filming, they divert Israel’s water pipes and steal water, and if they want a hot shower or running tap-water, they merely have to walk across the highway to their permanent homes. Is Ayman willing to actually examine what I am saying here below, in response to his “news” report, to verify where the truth really lies, or is it enough for him to regurgitate B’Tselem’s anti-Israel lies and call it a day?
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MSNBC is apparently among the top five Cable news stations.Ayman , the moderator of the video under examination here, is a popular award-winning journalist. The video garnered almost 70K views over the first two days of its posting. Note that in his Tweet, he declares that he will be providing an in-depth report and he has previously argued that mainstream media is biased TOWARD Israel. I suppose he rationalizes to himself that he is adding balance with this ANTI-Israel reportage.
President Biden wrapped up his trip to the Middle East but he did not mention or meet with Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, a region that captures life under occupation in a way few stories do.
WATCH our in depth report produced by @kiranalvi: pic.twitter.com/b29SUXmcKb
— Ayman (@AymanM) July 16, 2022
Let us look at the script of the video and see what falsehoods he is propagating under the guise of news.
For the last 50 years it [Masafer Yatta] has been at the center of an ongoing at, at times, deadly battle between the Israeli state and its Palestinian civilians. And it may soon be the site of the largest displacement of Palestinians since the 1967 war, when Israel first occupied the territory.
First of all, whether or not Israel is occupying the area is under dispute. Second, the battle is not between the State of Israel and “its” Palestinian civilians. Palestinian residents of the region are not Israeli citizens — they are citizens of the Palestinian Authority. And thirdly, the displacement of Palestinians from Firing Zone 918 is a removal of illegal squatters. That is what the two-decade-long court case was all about: to determine whether or not the people actually own the land from which Israel wants to evict them, as they claim.
Moreover, by saying that this is a battle that has been going on for 50 years the report gives the impression that the battle for Arab rights to live on this land began in 1967. It did not. It began 20 years ago. There were no permanent Arab residents there before that time. They only moved onto the land after Israel was assigned control of it via the Oslo Accords in 1993 and filed the first petition only in the late 1990s.
In 1999, Israel exercised its new controls under the agreement to evict 700 of Masafer Yatta’s residents. The state claimed they weren’t permanent residents in the area and therefore had to leave. The Palestinians argued that they weren’t squatters but actually heirs to the land that they had farmed and grazed since the Ottoman era. In 2000, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed an emergency petition on behalf of the residents and the Israeli High Court allowed them to return to their homes until the court reached a final decision. The army was banned from evacuating them in the meantime. But since then Palestinians have still been subject to what the UN called a coercive environment imposed on them through other forms of harassment. They live in either makeshift homes or underground cave dwellings and because Israel declares the area a so-called firing zone, residents are effectively unable to obtain permits to build any real infrastructure.
This is the propaganda.
But this is the court’s decision: The court examined aerial photos from the 1980s onward and documents that the petitioners brought as proof of their ownership. The court determined that there was no proof the Arabs had resided in the area before the mid 1990s. In fact, the geohistory book the petitioners brought to support their contention actually proves the opposite; the book shows that only temporary agricultural huts were present at the site and not permanent homes. (You can read my detailed description of the court decision here.)
Since they were proven as not having title to the land, it makes sense that all structures they built are unquestionably illegal. They only added to the problem over the years by continuing to build homes, fences and roads in contravention to the court order which ordered them to desist until a final decision could be handed down. Perhaps they thought the court would rule in their favour, taking pity on the families that supposedly have nowhere else to go.
The army has consistently been considerate regarding their agricultural enterprises on the land. For example, the IDF refrains from any training until the squatters are informed beforehand and have safely moved aside for the duration of the training. In addition, they are free to graze their animals and tend to crops on Shabbat and Jewish holidays when the army would not be doing any training at all. That amounts to almost one-third of the year during which they can be on the land without fear of any “harassment” from the army.
Umm Harun: I live under the occupation and I can’t do anything freely. If I want to build a house, they won’t allow me to do that. If I want to build a bathroom they deny me that. If I want to fix the cave or build up a gate, they don’t allow me to do so. Even if we buy a car we can’t use it. I won’t use it because I am scared of the police.
Residents face demolition after demolition.
This has already been covered. If squatters are on the land illegally and have no title to the land, they cannot build anything on it. That means that anything they do build will be taken down. I sincerely wish they really were “scared of the police.”
Israel claims these demolitions and destruction are authorized because the Palestinian residents don’t have permits for them but the reality is this:Israel rejects over 98% of Palestinian permit requests in Area C. This is according to data from Israel’s own civil administration. This wasn’t always the case. Bimkom, an Israeli human rights group, found that this has to do with Israeli settlement. As the Israeli stake in the West Bank keeps increasing over the years, the number of permits is dramatically decreasing… especially… after the Oslo Accords.
Seventy percent of the land in Areas A and B is undeveloped and available for building homes, schools, roads, and anything else the residents need. These areas are under the auspices of the PA and it is the PA to which they should apply for construction licenses. But it is much more politically savvy to apply to the Israeli government and then use the inevitable refusal of the government to provide licenses as an excuse to accuse Israel of discrimination.
In fact, over the years, building permits have been increased for Arabs in certain towns.
Regavim reports that there is an average of seven illegal buildings constructed EACH DAY in Area C by Palestinian Arabs so that there are currently about 75K illegal structures. Of these, fewer than 10% have been demolished. Had Ayman have been interested in true in-depth and balanced reporting, he might have included such details as these. They are easy to find.
Israeli settlers have largely been given free reign to take Palestinian land while the army too often turns a blind eye, including during the brutal settler attack on the village of el-Mufaqara in 2021. Crowds of settlers descended on the village and according to the Associated Press began smashing windows, cars and water cisterns as families hid inside their homes and Israeli soldiers looked on. Other soldiers who came to the scene fired tear gas canisters at residents.
The tale of the el-Mufaqara violence has become a flag around which to rally Jew-haters looking for good stories with which to vilify Israelis. Combatting the lies of how the violence began and how it proceeded was made more difficult by the fact that some of our well-known elected representatives (Lapid and Gantz, for example) accepted the narrative presented by B’Tselem in total, without even suggesting that we should wait until it a thorough investigation of the incident could be carried out. When I saw that it was not being openly investigated, I did some investigation on my own. I wrote a report of what I found here: another side to the lie that refuses to die. B’Tselem is counting on nobody reading the results of my investigation so they can continue accusing Jewish settlers of unprovoked violence against Palestinian Arabs.
On May 4 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on the twenty-year-old legal battle over Musafa Yatta: The military has the right to the land. It also has the legal authority to displace the more than 1000 Palestinians who live in eight villages inside Firing Zone 918.
The court decision notes that mediation had been attempted in order to reach a solution outside of litigation but it failed when the petitioners refused to accept any compromise. For them, it was “all or nothing,” as remarked by one of the judges. This is characteristic of all negotiations toward a two-state-solution whereby all concessions are expected to come from Israel with the PA unwilling to give on any point. In the end, in this particular case, the petitioners got nothing.
Interestingly, Ayman mentions that the IDF offered to allow the squatters (he called them residents) to continue to use the land for grazing and crops on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. He does not say how much of the year that comprises (1/3) nor that the IDF did this from the beginning of the declaration of the region a military training ground. He notes that the Palestinian Arabs rejected this offer. In other words, they really will not accept ANYTHING if they do not get EVERYTHING. I think the term for that is “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Instead of accepting the situation, they will likely continue to construct illegal structures and roads with European money and cry out against the “brutal occupation” when Israel takes them down.
Ayman concludes the video with the argument that, in the past, the American administration accused Israel of preventing Palestinian development in Area C (that is not Palestinian land according to the Oslo contract signed on the Whitehouse lawn), by taking down illegal structures (as sovereign nations do everywhere else) and displacing families (back to their own permanent homes, in fact,) in Areas A and B (that is Palestinian land according to that contract). And Ayman called this: “the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel.” He prefers that illegal sqatters determine the future of Israel. Well, he is entitled to his opinion but this does not make for fair in-depth reporting. It is nothing more than propaganda.
He decries the fact that curently the “rhetoric’s been watered down. Now it’s about both sides.”
Ned Price [State Dept Spokesman]: Well, we’re aware of and we’re watching this case closely. We believe it is critical for all sides to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance and negotiate a two-state-solution. This certainly includes evictions.
But I guess it does not include illegal construction on land that is not your own if we are talking about Israel.
Feature Image Credit: Screenshot from the MSNBC video report.