So there was this BDS conference held at Pennsylvania University -- one of the Ivy League institutions. Myself, I'm a fence-sitter with regard to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- I don't boycott Israeli products as such (although if I knew that they were made in the occupied territories, I would), while I think that divesting from Israeli companies makes sense only in certain specific cases. I'm more comfortable with the idea of sanctions.
In any case, this BDS event was organized at UPenn and, as might be expected, lots of Israel firsterssupporters rallied to organize counterevents that brought much larger attendances. This is not surprising since BDS is taking its first infant steps in the realm of mainstream discourse.
One of the anti-BDS events was a speech by the ineffable Alan Dershowitz. Under the headline Dershowitz strikes back, the StandWithUs site provides a raving review of the Dersh's presentation which, as can be predicted, consists basically of a regurgitation of tired Hasbara points. Of a somewhat higher interest is the Q&A, and in particular this exchange with a student:
During the question-and-answer session after the Annenberg presentation, one female student asked, "If an Arab student comes up to me and says, 'You took my land,' and I respond, 'Yeah, but we support gay rights,' how does that add up?"
Dershowitz said the answer is that the Jews didn't steal the land.
"The land on which Israel was established had a Jewish majority," he said. "In Israel's case, they bought the land, in this case from distant land owners, who lived in Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli policy of the yishuv was never to throw indigenous Arabs off the land.
"Israel's birth certificate is cleaner than the birth certificate of almost any other modern country in the world," he added. "Israel was established by law."
Notice Dershowitz's goal-shifting. In his last paragraph he seems to suggest that because Israel is cleaner than "almost any other modern country in the world," an Arab has no right to complain that his land was stolen. It's, of course, the case of the tax evader who claims he can't be jailed because other, worse criminals are free.
But to his credit, he does provide an answer to the student's question: the land was not stolen; the Jews bought it from "distant landowners" in Syria and Lebanon.
There's no denying that the Jews bought land in Mandate Palestine. But the land? Israel consists of some 22,000 sq km of land. By 1946, a year before the UN partition resolution, land ownership was distributed as follows:
This map was first published in the excellent Palestinian advocacy site PalestineRemembered.com, which in turn obtained the information from this United Nations document from the time.
As can be seen, the Jews didn't enjoy majoritarian ownership in any district. Quite on the contrary, in most districts of present-day Israel the land was overwhelmingly owned by private Arab citizens, with the Jews coming close (but still lagging behind) only in Haifa and Jaffa. This can be more startingly underlined by seeing a map of the land that the Jews did own:
Thus, the land was not bought from distant landowners. In fact, only about 1,500 sq km (some 6% of present-day Israel) was bought by the Jews. See here for the scanned relevant page of the British report "Survey of Palestine" published prior to the partition plan.
What happened, then, with the Arab-owned land? After some 700,000 Arabs were expelled or fled the 1948 war, their property was confiscated by the 1950 Absentee Property Law, whereby the real estate of those "absent" owners was transfered to a State Custodian, who in turn leased it to the Jews. Here are a few relevant paragraphs from this law:
2. (a) The Minister of Finance shall appoint, by order published in Reshumot, a Custodianship Council for Absentees' Property, and shall designate one of its members to be the chairman of the Council. The chairman of the Council shall be called the Custodian.
3. (b) The Custodian may appoint agents for the management of held property on his behalf and may fix and pay their remuneration.
4. (a) Subject to the provisions of this Law -
(1) all absentees' property is hereby vested in the Custodian as from the day of publication of his appointment or the day on which it became absentees' property, whichever is the later date;
(2), every right an absentee had in any property shall pass automatically to the Custodian at the time of the vesting of the property; and the status of the Custodian shall be the same as was that of the owner of the property.
The emphasized (by me) sentences can't be described in any other way than the Custodian stealing the Arab owners' land.
So that no, Mr. Dershowitz, the Jews didn't buy the land but some land which constituted a very small proportion of present-day Israel; and yes, what the Jews did with Arab-owned property is tantamount to barefaced thievery. And by the way, you've just been exposed once again as a straight-faced liar.