Talia Sasson, former head of the Special Tasks Division in the
State Attorney's Office, and Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Applied
Research Institute's Monitoring Settlements Unit in Jerusalem,
joined Haaretz chief political columnist and author Akiva Eldar to
discuss the implications of Israel's settlement policy for the West
Bank, Gaza and Israel. The November 13, 2007 event, organized
jointly with the Yakar Center for Social Concern, marked the
English publication of Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's
Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Eldar and
Prof. Idith Zertal. (See Book Review, p.93) The discussion was
moderated by Yakar director and PIJ Editorial Board member Benjamin
Eldar began with a question: "Are the settlements making Israel
more Jewish?" His answer, unequivocally, was no. "The settlements,"
he said, "are the greatest threat to Zionism. I would even say they
are post-Zionist." He explained how the settlement project
contradicts the ideals of a Jewish, democratic, just and peaceful
Given the demographics of the occupied territories, Israel is
already a "bi-national state" that has lost its Jewish character,
Eldar said. The "clear discrimination between Arabs and Jews" in
the West Bank, specifically with reference to resource
distribution, belies Israel's just and democratic nature.
Additionally, the military divisions in the West Bank protect
settlers, not the state. This security apparatus for West Bank
settlements cost $6.5 billion between 1997 and 2005, and may have
caused Israel's poor showing in the summer 2006 war in
Moreover, the settler movement has failed to create an extensive
Jewish presence in the West Bank. The settlers comprise only 12% of
the West Bank's population and 4.5% of Israel's. Despite their
limited, though expanding, numbers, settlers remain an impediment
to peace. The separation wall, road blocks and continued occupation
disrupt the possibility for a viable, contiguous Palestinian
"Is it still possible to save the Zionist dream?" Eldar asked. He
believed it was. Following the Annapolis conference, Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert could freeze settlements and begin moving Israel down
the path to a two-state solution.
Sasson reaffirmed her recommendation to the Sharon government in
her 2005 "Outposts Report": Outposts are illegal; "if you cannot
build legally, don't build at all." She added that Israel's Supreme
Court has also declared the occupation of the West Bank temporary
until an agreement with the Palestinian people is reached, thus
implicitly recognizing her belief that Israel has no legal
sovereignty in the West Bank. Despite this, Israel has reneged on
its agreement with the Untied States to evacuate all outposts and
not to build beyond the construction lines of the
Khalilieh spoke of the impact of settlements on the Palestinian
population, both in Gaza and the West Bank. "Settlements are in
violation of international law," he declared. "This is indisputable
fact." Israel's settlement program, instituted in 1967, aims to
colonize the West Bank, he said, and to prevent the emergence of a
Palestinian state. He maintained that Israel's discriminatory
building policies replicate those of apartheid South Africa.
"Settlements are allowed to build freely," he said, "While
Palestinians cannot even cope with the growth of their own
According to the Applied Research Institute's satellite surveys,
there are 199 settlements in the West Bank, inhabiting 3.3% of the
land, alongside 220 outposts. With East Jerusalem included, 500,000
settlers reside in the Palestinian territories. "Without the
settlers," said Khalilieh, "the Israeli army would just be an
Similarly, the Gaza disengagement barely dented Israel's control
over the Strip, according to Khalilieh. An expanded buffer zone
along the border allows Israel to maintain control over 24% of the
land, compared to 37% when Israel formally occupied Gaza.
The reality in Gaza, combined with the various mechanisms of
control in the West Bank, including road blocks, checkpoints,
tunnels, terminals and gates, all signify Israel's desire to
prevent a contiguous and viable Palestinian state, Khalilieh
argued. "Palestinians ask for 22% of the British mandate," he said.
"This is much less than the 45% that was originally promised
The panel presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session,
The right of the Jewish people to closely settle the land is
established in the Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations.
Also, the Geneva Conventions say that the relationship of occupier
and occupied can only be between two high [state] contracting
Eldar: … According to international law and official Israeli
policy that accepted [United Nations Security Council Resolution]
242, Israel has to withdraw to the 1967 borders with minor
modifications. … [If you want to be] democratic and Jewish,
let's start [by] asking: Why didn't the Likud governments annex the
territories… and then allow the Palestinians to vote?
I think that a lot of people in this room are concerned about
terrorism. Hamas is killing Fateh, Fateh is killing Hamas, and when
they don't get to kill each other, they try to kill Jews. If
Palestinians got the land that they want … would they shell
Tel Aviv and Haifa?
Khalilieh: … In 2002 or 2003, the Israeli army … got
information that [a wanted Hamas member] was meeting his family
secretly in one of Gaza's refugee camps, which are some of the most
densely populated areas in the world. So the Israeli army dropped a
one-metric-ton bomb on that neighborhood and killed [him] and maybe
16 others with him. After that the spokesman of the Israeli army
said that "we did not intend to kill any civilians." What you say
is terrorism, I say we are resisting an occupation.
Hamas is shelling Sderot. Do you agree with that?
Khalilieh: Did you ever consider the Israeli army shelling refugee
camps in Gaza?
Why is the Israeli government scared of the settlers?
Eldar: This government, as well as previous governments, is using
settlements as a bargaining chip. According to the polls - besides
the people who live in areas that might be annexed to Israel in a
swap with Palestinians - there are 80,000 people who live on the
other side of the wall, 60% of [whom] want to get back to Israel.
This leaves 40,000 people in about 10,000 households. Olmert is
keeping them as a bargaining chip. … We dealt with Gush Katif
[in Gaza]. We could deal with the West Bank.
Sasson: I do not agree with you that this is the same threat as
Gush Katif. I think many politicians are quite afraid of the
violent settlers and afraid of dealing with the problems. I don't
think that the hard core in the West Bank are similar to Gush
Talia Sasson, why did Ariel Sharon appoint you? Here is the man who
is the self-proclaimed father of the settlements. Illegal outposts
were a hot issue at the time, yet he appoints you to investigate
them and do a report. Why?
Sasson: I never asked him this question… But I can assume
why. One reason was that he had to explain to the Americans why he
didn't fulfill the Israeli commitments to evacuate the outposts.
… The other reason was entirely different. I think Mr. Sharon
thought the settlers and all the governmental organizations that
helped them caused a lot of damage to Israel and, therefore, he
thought that it must be stopped. But when he wanted to stop it, he
found out that he couldn't. He wanted to show the settlers that he
meant business by appointing somebody who [would] write a report
revealing the real truth about what's going on.
Why have road blocks within the West Bank not been removed to
improve the economic situation there?
Khalilieh: The Israelis want to keep us on a short leash. They want
to keep controlling the Palestinian movement throughout the
territories. … The network of bypass roads works hand-in-hand
with the settlements. The Israelis have made another network of
roads just for the Palestinians. If you want to talk about racism,
they call the network of Israeli bypass roads the "sterile
network," meaning there are no Palestinians.
Do you believe the rabbinical community will sanction violence if
settlements are ordered cleared in the West Bank?
Eldar: Since the disengagement in Gaza there's been a tremendous
crisis between rabbis and the settler communities. The message
coming from the rabbis was that if you pray hard enough it will not
happen. Trust us and trust God. Settlers feel they were betrayed by
the rabbis and the political establishment.
[For Suhail Khalilieh] What would you like Israelis to know about
you as a Palestinian and about Palestinians in general?
Khalilieh: I would expect you to know more about the human side of
Palestinians. We are not all what you see on TV. We are not all
with masks and guns trying to shoot and kill people. We've been
living long years under oppression that have not been easy for us.
Children have not been out of their neighborhoods in years. Many in
the younger generation have not even seen Jerusalem… We do
not have the luxuries of even the poorest Israeli neighborhoods. I
was asked if my children knew any Jewish children: The only Jewish
people we see are the Israeli army and settlers. …We want to
relate to other people. Many people who come from abroad relate to
us and see what we go through… If you tried to communicate
with Palestinians, they would communicate back.
Report compiled and written by Geoffrey Macdonald, PIJ contributing
writer and editorial intern. For a more detailed report, please go