Guardian falsely suggests Efrat was built on Palestinian land

An article in the Guardian included interviews with a few residents of Efrat to gauge the views of Israelis living across the Green Line to the decision by the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s to end sales to the “Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

The piece (“‘It’s just ice-cream’: settlers’ chilly response to Ben & Jerry’s boycott”, July 23), written by their Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan, included the following claim:

Houses [in Efrat] are expensive, reflecting the high demand from Jerusalem commuters seeking a suburban lifestyle on land that once belonged to four Palestinian villages.

Efrat, via Wikimedia Commons

Briefly: Efrat, 20 kilometers south of Jerusalem, was founded in 1983, has around 11,500 residents, and is considered the capital of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, land that’s been predominantly owned and populated by Jews since decades prior to 1948.

Gush Etzion has been recognized in past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as an area that would remain part of Israel in any future peace agreement.

Contrary to McKernan’s suggestion, Efrat was built on state land and some private Jewish land, a fact CAMERA-UK confirmed in a phone call with the city’s mayor, Oded Revivi.

He told us that when it was declared state land by Israeli authorities in the 1970s, it was based on a thorough review of land registries during Ottoman, British and Jordanian control of the territory, which determined that there was no private Palestinian land in the area.  So, the land in question has been state land going back hundreds of years.

Revivi stressed in our phone call that, when the town was built, they were extremely careful to avoid building even one dunam on any private Palestinian land.  So, when the founders of the community discovered some small plots of land that, the records showed, did belong to Palestinians, they were careful to avoid building on it. Instead, they built around it. So, as the town is not surrounded by a fence, the small amount of privately owned land is accessible to the Palestinian owners.  There are many examples, he mentioned, of Arab fields in Efrat that literally sit right next to Jewish homes.

Further, he added, there hasn’t been any legal claims in the decades since then arguing that Efrat was built on private Palestinian land.

In other words, contrary to McKernan’s suggestion and the broader narrative it advances, the construction of Efrat didn’t involve the illegal seizure of private Palestinian land, and it didn’t involve the displacement of any Palestinians or the destruction of any Palestinian homes.

We of course don’t know for sure what McKernan is basing her assertion on, but the reliably unreliable Wikipedia does have a page on Efrat which includes a similar accusation. The Wikipedia links take you to several reports by the radical Palestinian NGO, ARIJ.  However, after reading these three documents, it’s clear that not even ARIJ is accusing Israel of building Efrat on private Palestinian land.

We’ll be complaining to the Guardian Readers’ Editor about McKernan’s extremely misleading assertion.

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