By Uzi Benziman
A month ago, Haaretz ran a sensational story on its front page: Reporter Nadav Shragai gave a detailed description of the findings of a Peace Now report, which said that close to 40 percent of the land under the control of West Bank settlements is privately owned by Palestinians. The report was based on an official state database that Peace Now leaked.
Haaretz was the only Israeli media outlet that adequately covered the report. The Maariv daily gave a synopsis of the report on page six; Israel Radio announced it in its midday broadcast; and it stayed on various electronic news sites for about a day. The remaining media outlets, including Yedioth Ahronoth, the television stations and Army Radio, completely ignored it.
The media was not alone in underplaying the findings of the report and avoiding its implications (except for Haaretz, which ran follow-up analyses by Shragai, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff). The key subjects of the report also adopted a tactic of minimizing it: No official government response was issued, the Civil Administration put out a statement saying, among other things, that "an initial review of the report shows that it suffers from serious inaccuracies," and the Yesha Council of settlements claimed that there was nothing new in the report and that Peace Now would use any means to fight Jewish settlement.
In contrast to the low-profile response to the report offered by the state and the Israeli media, it received a great deal of attention abroad: The New York Times published it as its lead story, and other large newspapers followed suit; and the report's authors, Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran, were interviewed by dozens of radio and television stations throughout the world. Etkes and Ofran estimate that their findings were covered by hundreds of media outlets. Etkes was also interviewed by Israel Radio - along with Benny Kashriel, mayor of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement - but only as a result of a report by the station's Washington correspondent, Yaron Dekel, about the buzz that the findings had produced in the United States.
What is more interesting than the extent of the coverage that the report received in Israel is the impression it left on Israeli public opinion: A day after the modest announcement of its findings, the report disappeared entirely from public discourse, except for one more announcement by the Yesha Council challenging its reliability. The parties on the left did not address it, the Knesset did not deliberate it, the press did not deal with it, the government ignored it, and the justice, defense and prime ministers were not asked to explain the findings that it exposed.
What the Peace Now researchers found is that state organs stole private lands from Palestinians living in the West Bank. The report found that state bodies broke the law, ignored Supreme Court decisions and behaved dishonestly, and certainly unethically. Peace Now claimed that 130 settlements were established, fully or partially, on private lands. Note: These are properties that the state recognized as private land, not private properties that were declared to be state land. This involved the systematic and blatant violation by state agencies of the property rights of thousands of Palestinians. This is the same repugnant, underhanded and apparently criminal modus operandi that attorney Talia Sasson detailed in the report she wrote on the establishment of the illegal outposts.
Israel's conscience is entirely black. Scandal follows scandal, and today's injustice wipes away yesterday's injustice in our consciousness. Israeli society's heart is so hard when it comes to Palestinians in the territories that it remains unmoved even when confronted with a scene of continuous injustice that strips individuals of their property.
The malice, deception and aggression embodied in the way the state took over lands belonging to private individuals, even if they are Palestinians, ought to stir up every honest person, even if he is a settler. This method has nothing to do with the ideological dispute over the establishment of the settlements: The issue at stake is that individuals have been stripped of their basic rights. The settlements could have been set up solely on state land. However, a society that is not shocked by the killing of innocent Palestinians will also not be moved even slightly by the sight of land stolen from any individual Palestinian.