Dutch expert maps Israeli land grab

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Jewish settlers account for just one percent of the population of the West Bank, according to a Dutch map maker, but are claiming 60 percent of the land.

Palestinians have been finding it difficult to come up with exact figures detailing the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Dutch map maker Jan de Jong has come to their aid.

Reliable maps play an essential role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The delineation of borders are of central importance, but good maps are scarce. Dutch cartographer Jan de Jong:

“The Palestinians had a real problem. They couldn’t call on the use of good maps or satellite images in talks with the Israelis. The only thing they could do was drive around the country and look at what was going on around the settlements. But it’s next to impossible for Palestinians to get near them.”

Of course, every internet user can get hold of satellite pictures via Google Maps. But these are not good enough for this kind of official use and expensive satellite images are needed.

Major land grab
While working on development projects, Mr De Jong set up a data base to be used by Palestinian farmers. He had at his disposal the latest detailed satellite images and was able to delineate the size of Jewish settlements. They are much bigger than Israel is publicly admitting.

“They are just one percent of the whole West Bank population, but they are claiming 60 percent of the land. The settlements are actually just built-up pockets, but the settlers include huge tracts of land around them by laying down barbed wire. So in effect it’s more like estates, containing just a few houses.”

The Israeli authorities prefer not to go into details about the size of Jewish settlements. The barbed wire barriers with which the settlement land is demarcated and enlarged are not to be found on Israeli maps. “You can’t find them, even on the most detailed Israeli maps,” says Mr De Jong. “You have to map the detail you see on satellite images and that you have recorded on the ground.”

He says construction was going on in the settlements even during the 10-month building moratorium which has just expired. “There was building work every day, except on Jewish holidays. That’s why I call it a virtual moratorium.”

Land grab
Buildings are constantly being added to the settlements, but Mr De Jong is more worried by the amount of land surrounding them. He calls it “an unbridled land grab”.

“It looks like the settlers are intent on keeping Palestinian farmers from coming near the settlements and leaving the land to go to waste. And, under Israeli law, if land is lying waste, you can claim it as your own.”

Is Mr De Jong’s work achieving anything? Will he have any effect on changing Israeli government policy? He says he is in contact with senior Israeli civil servants.

“Lots of Israeli ministry officials are interested in a kind of unbiased Western view of this information. These talks are ongoing and intense. But, at the highest level, you’re dealing with politics and that’s to do with fundamental decisions. These have nothing to do with the facts on the ground.”