Lords of the Land

The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007

Reviewed by L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs (capsule review), February 2008. (Nation Books, 531 pps.)

“fter the Six-Day War, Israel could have negotiated a restoration of the territories conquered in return for a definitive peace settlement with its Arab neighbors. Instead, Israeli governments, sometimes by stealth, other times openly, permitted settlements in the land that the 1947 UN decision had set as the Palestinian portion of the proposed two states.”

“Militant religio-nationalist Jewish settlers quickly moved onto what to them was the sacred land that God had commanded them to take. They have become “lords of the land” and a force significantly disproportionate to their numbers in Israeli politics. Such is the organizing theme of this hard-hitting study.”

“Zertal and Eldar provide a chilling account of the settlers’ messianic mindset, inspired as it was by the preaching of the rabbis Kook, father and son. They demonstrate the decisive tilt over the years of the Israeli military and the courts in favoring the settlers over the Palestinians. They show as well, adding to the complexity of this story, that many settlers are not religious zealots and that most Israelis are ambivalent toward the settlers and the settlements. Still, “facts on the ground” have been created since 1967, changing the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Lords of the Land provides a passionate and informed history of that change.”

Reviewed by Adan LeBor, New York Times, under the title Over the Line, 14 October 2007

“There are two Israels: one inside the Green Line, the 1967 border, the other an occupying power extending beyond it. The first is a vibrant democracy, with Arab members of Parliament, university professors and lawyers, beauty queens and soldiers, and even a Muslim cabinet minister. There are no separate roads for Arabs and Jews in the name of that all-purpose explanation “security,” no villages made inaccessible because their roads have been dug up by army bulldozers, no checkpoints and no security fence cleaving farmers from their land and schoolchildren from their playgrounds.”

“Across the Green Line, the West Bank, captured in 1967, is another country, neither Israel nor Palestine, but a lawless place, where the Jewish settler, rifle in one hand and prayer book in the other, is undisputed king. The settlers have their own roads, guarded by the Israeli Army, water, electricity, supplies and — occasional if well-publicized crackdowns aside — substantial impunity from the law. Much of the land on which their settlements stand, was, as Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar detail in this important book, simply stolen. The settlements are illegal, in contravention of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to occupied territories. But for those who claim a divine mandate, the Geneva Conventions count for nothing. According to the United Nations, more than a third of the West Bank is now off limits to Palestinians. A web of Israeli Army checkpoints and obstacles further atomizes what is left of Palestinian society.”

“Lords of the Land” is the first complete history of the settlement project. It provides a detailed narrative of injustice, and is profoundly depressing for anyone still hoping for a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even hoping that Jews and Arabs will be seen as equal in the eyes of Israeli law. In a chapter entitled “Everything Is Legal in the Land of Israel” Zertal and Eldar chronicle the paltry punishments given to settlers who kill Arabs, like the settlement leader Pinchas Wallerstein, who in 1988 shot two young Arabs in the back after he saw them burning a tire on the road. One died. Wallerstein was sentenced to four months community service.”…

“Indeed, the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of missed opportunities. Zertal and Eldar recount how in June 1967, immediately after the war, Mossad agents surveyed Palestinian public opinion in the newly conquered territories. They recommended that a demilitarized independent Palestinian state be established as quickly as possible, in agreement with the Palestinian leadership. Tragically for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the rest of us, this recommendation never stood a chance. And thanks in large part to the settlement project, such an opportunity may never arise again. “Lords of the Land” helps explain why.” (more…)

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