Settlement and Occupation – Historical Documents

Gershom Gorenberg

This page is intended as a gradually developing library of historical documents that I’ve found in various archives and that shed light on Israeli rule of the occupied territories and on the settlement enterprise.

1967, September 14-21: Theodor Meron: Legal Opinion on Civilian Settlement in the Occupied Territories.

Source: Israel State Archives, 153.8/7921/3A. Legal opinion numbered as document 289-291, with unnumbered cover notes.

Theodor Meron was legal counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in September 1967. He was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office for his opinion on the legality of civilian settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a cover note to his opinion, he summarized his conclusion: “…civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The file here includes Meron’s cover note, dated September 18, 1967; another cover note, showing that the opinion was passed onward to the justice minister; and the opinion itself.

For further context, see The Accidental Empire, Chapter 4, and my article in The New York Times, “Israel’s Tragedy Foretold,” March 10, 2006.

As of September 2008, Theodor Meron is a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and an emeritus professor at New York University.

1967, September 29: Initial U.S. Diplomatic Response to Settlement

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Via: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 451.

Despite Meron’s opinion, the Israeli cabinet ratified an announcement by Prime Minister Eshkol that an “outpost” would be established in the Etzion Bloc. The term meant that the settlement would be a paramilitary base belonging to Nahal, a branch of the Israeli army. In fact, Kfar Etzion had no connection to Nahal or the military.

Paragraph 4 of this  diplomatic cable and the footnotes to it  describe the initial low-key U.S. to the Israeli move.

1972, 9 March: Report of the IDF internal inquiry on the expulsion of the Beduin from the Rafiah Plain (NE Sinai

Source: IDF Archive, 953/85/918

In January 1972, the IDF expelled somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 Beduin from their land in the area that Israel called the Rafiah Plain in the northeast Sinai Peninsula, then under Israeli occupation. Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon, commander of the Southern Command, ordered the expulsion. When IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar learned of the expulsion, he appointed an internal military inquiry commission, which presented its conclusions on 9 March 1972. The results of the inquiry remained classified.

When the leaders of nine Beduin tribes petitioned the High Court of Justice against the expulsion, the state argued that it served immediate security needs. The court upheld the expulsion on those grounds.

The inquiry commission report, made public here for the first time, shows that the actual reasons for the expulsion were entirely different: The purpose was to clear land for Israeli settlement. The argument that the state made to the High Court of Justice in no way reflects the actual chain of events as detailed by the IDF inquiry.

For further explanation in English of report’s significance, see my articleThe Expulsion and the Evidence,” The American Prospect, 3 June 2016. For a more extensive description of the expulsion and the use of the land for settlement, see The Accidental EmpireChap. 8, “All Quiet on the Suez Front.” (Please note that the book was written before I had access to the inquiry report.)

For the legal significance of this and two other major High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) cases dealing with occupied territory in which the state hid the actual reasons for its decisions, see David Kretzmer and Gershom Gorenberg, “Politika, Mishpat Vehahlikh Hashiputi – Hamikreh shel Bagatz Vehashtahim” in Mishpat Umemshal, Vol. 17, 5775

I am grateful to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and in particular to ACRI attorney Avner Pinchuk, who represented me in the High Court of Justice case that led to the IDF Archive releasing this and other documents.

1974, July 23: The State Department’s Response to Reports of Settlement Construction

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, National Security Council files Box 612, Israel Vol. 16, State Department cable 159161, July 23, 1974.

In July 1974, following his success in mediating a separation-of-forces agreement between Israel and Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger hoped to achieve a similar agreement between Israel and Jordan. In the meantime, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led government continued settlement expansion. The State Department, concerned about the impact on U.S.-Arab relations, cabled the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, asking how the Israeli government “might be induced to turn off public comments on expanding settlements.”

1974, July 25: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Reports Willingness to Reduce Publicity About Settlement

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, National Security Council files Box 612, Israel Vol. 16, Tel Aviv cable 4185, July 25, 1974.

Two days after the receiving the State Department cable, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Keating cabled back that he had met Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, and explained the “adverse effects” that press reports on settlement could have on the negotiations. Allon said he would be meeting Israel’s newspaper editors to ask them to play down “sensitive issues” connected to peace negotiations, and “volunteered to add settlement to his list,” in Keating’s description. The cables do not indicate any U.S. request to slow or stop settlement expansion, only to limit publicity about it.

For further context, see The Accidental Empire, Chapter 10.

1975, April-1977, December: Expropriation of Land for Ma’aleh Adumim

Source: Dror Etkes, Yesh Din Land Advocacy Project, based on data from the Civil Administration, acquired on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act.

On April 1, 1975, an expropriation order numbered 14/75 was issued for 28,230 dunams of land east of Jerusalem, for “public use.” On December 25, 1977, an additional order, numbered 9/77, was issued, expropriating 2,455 dunams. The total area taken is 30.685 square kilometers, or 11.85 square miles.

Most of the built-up area of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim today lies on the expropriated land, as indicated in this graphic – an overlay of the expropriation area on an aerial photograph.

The area outlined in red on the bottom left is the built-up area of Ma’aleh Adumim as of 2008. Other areas outlined in red are additional settlements. The area marked in beige is the land expropriated in 1975 and 1977.

1976, Spring: Settlement Proposal, Including Road from Latrun to Northern Jerusalem.

Source: IDF Archive, 1510/89/498/89. Document is undated. Preceding and following documents in file are dated April, 1976.

In 1976, Shimon Peres was defense minister. This document, from his settlement files, is a list of proposed projects intended to expand the city of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Corridor – the strip of land that connected the city to coastal Israel between 1948 and 1967. First on the list is building a new access road to Jerusalem, north of the Green Line. The road would connect two new areas of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The road was eventually built, and is known as Road 443. For the significance of this document, see South Jerusalem, Lies, Damn Lies, and Supreme Court Briefs.

1976: April 29: Build Your House in Ofrah

Source: Personal Collection

The settlement of Ofrah was established in April 1975. A small group, led by Gush Emunim activist Yehudah Etzion, moved into an abandoned Jordanian army base north of Ramallah without government permission and in defiance of a policy barring settlement in the area. Nonetheless, Defense Minister Shimon Peres allowed them to stay under the guise of a “work camp,” and became the settlement’s patron.

In 1976, the settlers were planning to build houses on an area of 220 dunam (55 acres) which, they believed, belonged to the state. The document clearly states that construction will take place “without approval from the owner of the land.”

According to Dror Etkes of the Land Advocacy Project of Yesh Din, the actual area of the Jordanian base was 140 dunam (35 acres), and the surrounding land is the private property of individual Palestinians. Ownership of the land on which the Jordanian base stood is uncertain. Actual construction, as shown in aerial photographs, did not take place until the early 1980s, by which time the settlers may have had government permission to use the area of the base.

Nonetheless, the document is significant in that it testifies to the Ofrah settler’s willingness to build on land to which they lack title.

In June 2008, residents of the neighboring Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud, with the help of Yesh Din and B’Tselem, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to demolish five houses in Ofrah built on their land. As of this writing (November 2008), legal proceedings continue.

For further context, see The Accidental Empire, chapters 10-11, and my article, “A New Legal Challenge to Israeli Settlements,” The American Prospect, June 19, 2008.

1976, June 29: Settlement Committee Meeting, Including Decision to Build Road to Northern Jerusalem

Source: IDF Archive, 1510/89/498/55

Also from Defense Minister Shimon Peres’s settlement file, this is a report on a meeting of the Ministerial Committee. Item No. 2 refers to a decision of another ministerial panel to begin planning of the road to northern Jerusalem.

For the significance of this document, see South Jerusalem, Lies, Damn Lies, and Supreme Court Briefs.

2009, January: Lehu Lahamu Belahmi


Under IDF Chief Rabbi Avihai Ronski, the military rabbinate’s Jewish Consciousness section issued this pocket-sized pamphlet for “daily Torah study” to soldiers during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The texts were selected from a book of the same name by prominent settlement rabbi Shlomo Aviner.

Among its highly politicized messages, the book tells soldiers that the Torah prohibits “giving up a millimeter of the Land of Israel to gentiles, even by allowing Palestinian autonomy (p. 17) that  it is a mitzvah (commandment) to conquer the Land of Israel (p. 34) ; that any time the Jewish people is humiliated, “it is a desecration of God’s name (p. 34);  and that “cruelty is a bad quality but it all depends when” (p .67).

The booklet reached public attention after an Orthodox soldier, upset that this was the presentation of Judaism in the IDF, gave a copy of the booklet to the dovish veterans organization, Breaking the Silence. In the wake of public criticism, Ronski said that he had not seen the booklet before it was distributed.

For further context, see The Unmaking of Israel, Chapter 5.

2009, October 28: ‘Be Strong, and Take From the Fruit of the Land’: Leaflet on Raiding Palestinian Olive Groves

Source: Unsigned leaflet, found on the bulletin board at Yeshivat Shiru Lamelekh in the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad near Nablus during the 2009 olive harvest.  Using the diction and sources of halakhah, Jewish religious law, the handbill asserts that stealing olives from Palestinian groves or destroying the trees is not only permissible but obligatory in the context of the war between Jews and Arabs over possession of the Land of Israel.

The argument is not theoretical, but rather a justification of ongoing actions. The West Bank olive harvest has become an annual low-level battle, with settlers stealing from and ravaging Palestinian groves, and with outpost settlers as prime suspects. Israeli human rights groups documented over thirty attacks on Palestinian property in the first six weeks of the 2010 harvest alone. See: “Re: Preventing vandalization of Palestinian olive groves and urgent request for meeting,” joint letter to military commanders by The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, October 28, 2010 (Hebrew text; English text).

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