"The media whirlwind surrounding this report has just begun," Americans for Peace Now boasted Nov. 21, 2006 with the release of a document charging that Palestinians privately own 40 percent of the lands upon which settlements are built.
The stunning case of Ma'aleh Adumim, 86.4 percent of which was reportedly private Palestinian land, was singled out in many international media outlets, the New York Times among them.
When the report again made headlines just last week, Peace Now was not so ecstatic. "Military database released to Peace Now shows little land seized from Palestinians to build largest West Bank settlement," was the headline in the International Herald Tribune March 14, prompting the organization to swing into damage-control mode. In the much publicized case of Ma'aleh Adumim, Peace Now was off by a factor of 15,900 percent; 0.5 percent - not 86.4 percent â€“ was built on private Palestinian land.
Peace Now "settlement expert" Dror Etkes is likewise careless with the facts in his Feb. 23
Op-Ed in Ynet, in which he egregiously downplayed and justified the widespread phenomenon of illegal Arab building.
For instance, he erroneously states that illegal Palestinian construction "is undertaken by private individuals in all cases." In fact, there is substantial evidence that for more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have abetted the massive
phenomenon of illegal Arab building.
On June 5, 2000, Ha'aretz quoted Feisal al-Husseini, the late Palestinian figure most associated with Jerusalem, speaking almost openly about the PA backing: "The most important Palestinian activity at this time is building, even without permits."
In his book Illegal Construction in Jerusalem: A Variation on an Alarming Global Phenomenon, Justus Reid Weiner documents numerous examples proving Palestinian Authority involvement in illegal construction.
They include letters from PA officials, like Ziad Abu Ziad, to Yasser Arafat, requesting infrastructure funding in neighborhoods such as Ras Hamis, which contains massive illegal building and which abuts the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev; an article in the PA's El Hiya El Jdida newspaper in which Jamil Othman Nasser, the PA governor of the Jerusalem District, calls for the establishment of a "development council" to aid Palestinians who skirt Israeli building laws; and requests from Nasser to Arafat that the PA pay the fines assessed against those who build illegally.
Hence, Etkes' claim that illegal Palestinian building is meant mostly to shelter families in need and serves no political purpose is also nonsense. Why, then, do apartment buildings stand empty in Arab suburbs of Jerusalem like A'Zaiam or E'Ram?
Similarly, on what basis does Etkes assert that "Most of the Palestinian illegal construction is undertaken on their own private land?" Has Peace Now undertaken a comprehensive study of all illegal construction, including the vast Muslim theft of Christian lands in greater Bethlehem, as well as the theft of private land by Arab developers in Jerusalem neighborhoods, Beit Hanina, the Old City, Shuafat and Hod El Tabel, among them? And, would such a study have a better margin of error than 15,900 percent?
In another blatant falsehood, Etkes states that the Palestinian population in "east Jerusalem does not have the right to vote. As a result, it does not have the practical possibility of taking part in shaping the planning and construction policy in the areas where it has been living for generations." East Jerusalem Arabs unconditionally have the right to vote in municipal elections, a fact that even Peace Now has elsewhere recognized ("Settlements in Focus," Vol. 2, Issue 4.)
Dror Etkes and Peace Now may very well persevere in their promises to deliver up "the facts." News consumers need only think two thoughts - "Ma'aleh Adumim" and "15,900 percent error" - and not be fooled.
The writer serves as director of the Israel office of CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)