Addressing John Minto’s Fiction

Landscape of Masafer Yatta.

A couple of weeks ago, John Minto’s fictions were published in the New Zealand Herald, in which he drew a false equivalence between Eva Rickard’s battle to regain Tainui Awhiro land and the current situation in Masafer Yatta.

While the Herald did not allow an op-ed in response, they did publish some excellent letters from the public, which helped to address the lies.

Here’s a quick breakdown of fact versus fiction.

Fiction: “mass expulsions of Palestinians from their land in 1948 (more than 700,000 people evicted from their homes and land by Israeli militias from more than 500 villages with dozens of civilian massacres along the way)”.

Fact: The newly born state of Israel was immediately attacked by 5 surrounding Arab armies and had to fight for its life. It was a defensive war.  There were a variety of reasons why the Arabs left. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to get out of the way of the advancing armies, a number were expelled from villages for military strategic reasons, but most simply fled to avoid being caught in the crossfire of a war. This was not a mass expulsion.

Many Arabs did in fact remain and make up 20% of the population of Israel serving in all sectors of society, including roles as doctors, lawyers, Supreme Court judges, professors and MP’s.

Minto also fails to mention the approximately 850,000 Jews who were forced to leave Arab and Muslim countries between 1948 and 1972. Many had their property confiscated and all were absorbed into the fledgling state of Israel.

Fiction: Israel is stealing Palestinian land in Masafer Yatta.

Fact: The land in question has never been owned by Palestinians. Israel gained control of the territory in a defensive war against Jordan, who had ruled it from 1948 to 1967. During this time Jordan could have established a Palestinian state, but didn’t.  Prior to 1948, the land was under the British Mandate system, having been won from the Ottoman Empire who had ruled for 400 years. This region in the Eastern part of the West Bank was set aside for military purposes at a time when the threat from Jordan was a reality and a security buffer was seen as a necessity. There were no permanent dwellings or residences at the time.  The West Bank is Judea/Samaria and is the indigenous land of the Jewish people, the place where their unique culture, religion and Hebrew language began to develop over 3,000 years ago.

Fiction: Israel is committing the war crime of ethnic cleansing 

Fact: The original 700,000 who left their homes have now swelled to around 7 million, so the accusation of ethnic cleansing is again a falsehood.

The issues at hand are security and land ownership, not ethnic cleansing.

In addition, the notion that  Israel is expelling residents who have been living in the area for many years, is a distorted picture lacking any grasp on reality. There were never permanent residents in the area, and it is part of the Palestinian planning authorities’ intention to physically seize control over different areas as part of a campaign to control Area C.

Prior to 1980, there were no permanent residences in the area located in the southern Hebron Hills named Masafer Yatta. This area was designated and declared as a “training area – closed military zone” in 1980 and different military units have in fact used it.
Israel has and continues to try, in many different ways, to propose a compromise that will allow for the continued usage of the area for agricultural purposes.  For instance, Israel suggested that each party use the territory on different days of the week. Every offer was rejected in the lead up to the court’s resolution.

For many years, due to judicial procedures, the court prevented the state from conducting military training in the area due to the civilian presence employed in agricultural cultivation; the Supreme Court also simultaneously prohibited the petitioners from expanding illegal construction.

In recent years, large-scale construction has been deliberately planned by the Palestinian planning authorities with the intention of physically seizing control over the area as part of a campaign to control Area C. This issue therefore does not revolve around a petition to the court, but is rather an attempt to rewrite facts on the ground.

Despite the court’s ruling, there is no timetable for enforcing it. This decision remains at the discretion of the relevant authorities.

Israel is a law-abiding country. Israel’s judicial system, in particular its Supreme Court, have complete independence and are recognized and valued around the world. The fact that this ruling was issued after over 25 years of deliberation demonstrates the seriousness of the procedure, and that the examination of the circumstances and facts was thorough and in-depth.


Prof. Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

Information and Visual Media Department of the Israeli Government

Image: Landscape of Masafer Yatta by Eduardo Soteras Jalil



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