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July 24, 2013

Who Played the American Friends Service Committee?

The American Friends Service Committee, a so-called “peace and justice�? organization supported by Quakers in the United States, has recently issued a report about Israeli policies in the West Bank. The report laments the suffering of Palestinians whose homes have been demolished in the West Bank.

The report opens with a description of the plight of Palestinians living in the village of Susiya. The AFSC reports that the Israeli government issued 52 demolition orders in Susiya in August 2012 and that “Every structure in the village is now under the threat of demolition, and the community’s 250 residents are all at risk of being forcibly displaced from their homes.�?

The report also states that Susiya was “[e]stablished in the early 1800s�? and describes the locale as a “small herding community.�?

What the AFSC fails to report, however, is that while herders may have historically used the site to graze their animals, there have not been permanent structures on the site until recently and that these structures were built illegally by inhabitants of a nearby town called Yatta.

Moreover, the AFSC’s depiction of people living under the threat of losing their homes is not accurate because many of them have permanent homes in the nearby village of Yatta. That’s the message offered by the Israeli organization Regavim, whose video about the village of Susiya is posted at the top of this entry. The facts offered by Regavim directly contradict the story AFSC tells about the site.

Ari Briggs from Regavim has written about Susiya in an article published in the Jerusalem Post in August 2012. Briggs describes the people currently living in Susiya as squatters supported by the Palestinian Authority, which is trying to create facts on the ground to strengthen its hand in any negotiations. Briggs writes:

Arab shepherds from the nearby town of Yata, a Palestinian Arab city of 80,000 in Area A, have created a new village there called Khirbet Sussiya.

They claim that their families have lived on this land for decades, if not centuries. Their struggle has become the cause célèbre of the cadre of foreigners and locals wishing to harm Israel and its standing worldwide through misrepresentations and outright lies.

In truth, this is just a matter of squatters illegally trying to grab state lands. These illegal squatters will always be portrayed as helpless, weak and vulnerable, but they are nothing of the sort. They all have alternate, permanent homes in Yata and are encouraged by the PA to grab land.

The area occupied by the squatters has been state land since the days of the Ottoman Empire. It has only ever served as grazing land and the caves found there have only ever been used for temporary dwelling by the shepherds for two weeks to a month a year during the grazing season.

Aerial photo archives prove that the squatters have not lived there – or anywhere in the environs of Sussiya – for decades.

These squatters also falsely claim they have been forced to build illegally because of the limited number of building permits approved by the Civil Administration (CA). In fact, the CA has approved over 100 new town plans for Area C in the past 10 years. A good example of these new town plans is a village only five kilometers north of Sussiya, called Khirbet Tawani.

However, the Palestinian Arabs have no interest in applying for building permits anywhere in Area C, as this would be seen as accepting Israel’s authority.

Briggs’s article, which clearly contradicts the AFSC’s narrative, is worth a full read.

There are other problems with the AFSC’s report. The report also states that Palestinians who lost their land as a result of the 1948 war were not compensated for their land. “These people’s rights to compensation and return were never fulfilled …�? the text reports. In fact, Palestinians have been compensated. A previously prepared CAMERA report provides the following detail:

Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property. As of the end of 1993, a total of 14,692 claims had been filed, claims were settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Sheckels) had been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land had been given in compensation.

And if the AFSC wants to raise the issue of compensation, what about the approximately 1 million Jews who lost their homes in Arab lands who have been given nothing for their loss? Have activists from the AFSC ever addressed this issue? Probably not.

The report also fails to mention that many structures built by the Palestinians without a permit have been retroactively legalized by the Israeli government, which has also approved a number of Palestinian construction projects in the West Bank in recent years.

These errors and omissions raise an important question: Does the AFSC know what it is talking about, or is it merely passing on anti-Israel propaganda handed to it by Palestinians and their ideological allies in Israel?

And while we’re at it, where do AFSC’s supporters live? On land taken from Native Americans who were virtually extirpated from North America. Arabs, by way of comparison, comprise approximately 20 percent of Israel's population.

Do the activists from AFSC have any idea how hypocritical they look? Do they even know the history of the conflict they seek to end?

Apparently not.

Do the activists from AFSC represent the attitudes of Quakers in the U.S.?

Hopefully not.

Posted by dvz at July 24, 2013 04:45 PM


Interesting article that is marred at the end by the discussion of North America and native Indian lands. Israel's (and Jewish) connection to the land of Israel is rooted in its history, a claim that America and Americans can't make. By comparing the two, the writer indicates that these are parallel developments and essentially makes the Palestinians into the indigenous people of the land of Israel. This is incorrect from a historic perspective and greatly weakens Israel's just claims over this land.

Posted by: Bar at July 25, 2013 01:59 PM

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