The Sasson Report: An Altered Israeli Landscape
By Marcia Freedman, President 

Under American pressure to provide an exact count of how many illegal outposts have been erected since March 2001, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon requested that a former staff attorney for the State Prosecutor's office prepare a report on the settlement outposts. The result, the Sasson Report, is a litany of criminal activity, even at the highest levels, in a number of government ministries, nationally owned utilities, the Israel Defense Forces, and the World Zionist Organization. Sasson uncovered a web of criminality that underpins the establishment and maintenance of settlements going back to 1977, unbroken by any government with the sole exception of the two post-Oslo years of the Rabin government.

According to Sasson's report, every settlement, from the 1970s on, began with an outpost. As Adi Mintz, until recently responsible for settlement policy for the Settlers Council, described it to correspondent Nadav Shragai: "Someone would sit with Sharon and tell him: 'This point is strategic and important.' Sharon would get back to him a few days later and say, 'you're right, this is an important point. It must be seized.'" [Sharon and the Outposts, Haaretz, March 9, 2005].

The "seized" hilltop outpost was then illegally supplied by the Israel Defense Forces (trailer homes), the Housing Ministry (permanent homes), the Infrastructure Ministry (connecting roads), the Education Ministry (daycare centers), the state-owned electric and water utilities, all protected by the IDF. The report also makes clear that almost a fifth of these outposts over the decades were erected on privately owned Palestinian land. Sasson recommends prosecuting those who broke the law to support the settlement movement and ultimately formed a state within a state.

What the Israeli peace movement has known for decades has now been officially documented.

At a subsequent press conference, Talia Sasson said she cannot be sure about exactly how many outposts have been erected since March 2001, because some ministries refuse to give her the relevant data. She said she believed it is more than 100. This is substantiated by Adi Mintz, who told Shragai that by the time Sharon turned his back on the settlers and began to talk about evacuating settlements, "on the ground there were already 100 outposts, some of them approved, some in the process of being approved. Everything was coordinated. We are not the lawbreakers. We are not the villain in this tale."

It appears that Ariel Sharon is being entrapped by historical forces and circumstances well beyond his control that are moving him more quickly than he likes in a direction he would prefer not to move in at all, and, for the first time, his progress is now open to public view. It appears that, for once, Ariel Sharon miscalculated.

In order to shift international and domestic attention from the Geneva Accord and other successful citizen initiatives, he unexpectedly proposed the Gaza disengagement plan. He intended the Gaza evacuation to enable him to co-opt the doves while continuing to grow the strings of outposts into established settlements. The center left in Israel, as well as the international community were quick to seize on the disengagement initiative, but in the spirit of "Gaza first."

Perhaps also unexpected by Sharon, the settlers saw the disengagement proposal as the ultimate betrayal and quickly became the new enemies of Ariel Sharon, the father and architect of their movement. (Sharon, it could be said, would have done well to have read Freud's Moses and Monotheism).

Finally, Ariel Sharon, whether master strategist or nimble improviser, could not have predicted the sudden death of Yasser Arafat and the immediate and peaceful emergence of a Palestinian democracy pledged to non-violence and ready to negotiate with Israel. In inevitable response, international pressure on Israel, including by the U.S., was immediately turned up.

It appears that the Bush administration has seen the writing on the wall. It is obvious now that there is a higher level of reengagement. There is also an initial indicator that the administration is thinking about using its big gun "aid" to persuade both Israel and the Palestinians to adhere to their agreements.

According to Akiva Eldar, a highly respected, veteran political columnist in Haaretz, Condaleeza Rice told Sharon's closest advisor, Dov Weisglas, in response to the Sasson findings, "that President Bush expects Jerusalem to take immediate action based on the conclusions and recommendations of attorney Talia Sasson in her report on the outposts." Eldar also reports that failure to remove the outposts "could have an impact on American aid to Israel." [U.S. to Israel: Leave Outposts or Relations Will Be Harmed, Haaretz, March 9, 2005].

Whether or not the report is accurate or further substantiated, the fact that it has been reported by a journalist of Eldar's stature and not repudiated is significant. The government of Israel must take note, but, equally, so must the American Jewish community. If the Sasson Report has done nothing else, it has exposed the elaborate network of lies and official flouting of the law that underlies this massive expansionist movement, fueled not only by messianic nationalism, but also outdated concepts of national security (hilltops?) and simple greed and exploitation. A very shameful chapter in our people's history has just been officially exposed. The good news, thanks to Talia Sasson, is that the full story of the widespread wrongdoing necessary to maintain the settler movement and the settlements was first made public by the government of Israel.

Though many thousands have struggled against the advance of the West Bank and Gaza settlements for as long as three decades and hopefully many millions will soon join them, until now the majority of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have turned a blind eye to the settlement movement. Again and again we have been asked for and the majority has given support, directly or indirectly, to a vision of Israel that included the settlement movement. Now that Talia Sasson's official Israeli government report has concluded that all of the settlements are illegal--under Israeli as well as international law--we have been given an opportunity to restore our vision, if we will but look.

Summary of the Sasson Report.

Fact sheet on the settlements, written by David Matz,  Brit Tzedek board member and director of the graduate program in dispute resolution at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

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