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2,026 settlement homes built on private Palestinian land right-wing study finds

Study conducted in support of possible legislation to expropriate land from Palestinians in exchange for reparations.

by Chaim Levinson        3 May 2015       Haaretz

The Amona outpost.

An archive image of the Amona outpost. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Some 2,026 structures in the West Bank were built on privately owned Palestinian land, according to a study conducted by the right-wing organization Regavim and submitted to Knesset members ahead of deliberations on legislation aimed at expropriating land from Palestinian owners.

Regavim claims that its mission is to "preserve national lands." Until the recent election, it was run by Bezalel Smotrich, who has since joined Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi roster. One of Smotrich's primary goals in the Knesset will be passing legislation to expropriate land from Palestinian owners in exchange for reparations.

Smotrich will seek to pass such legislation before December 2015, the date on which the Supreme Court has ordered the government to evacuate the Amona outpost, and demolish nine houses in the settlement Ofra.Smotrich has even stated that demolishing the Amona outpost could likely cause a governing coalition to collapse. When similar legislation was passed in 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thwarted it out of fear that it would lead to prosecution in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Regavim supports the proposed legislation, claiming that demolishing a house or two would not solve the problem, which it says is much larger. The organization conducted a study, examining aerial photographs of private Palestinian land, which it then submitted to Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud). According to the report, the 2,026 structures located on private Palestinian land include 1,232 permanent homes and 794 mobile homes. Roughly 1,500 families live in these structures. The study was first reported by Arutz Sheva.

The settlements mentioned in the report include Ofra with 530 houses, Beit El with 289, Eli with 166, Mechmesh with 133, Elon Moreh with 128, Psagot with 98, Kochav Ya'akov with 83, Kedumim with 71, Kokhav Hashahar with 65, Neve Tzuf with 52, Otniel with 47, Shavei Shomron with 45, Mitzpeh Yeriho with 45, Yitzhar with 43, Maon with 34, Tapuah with 27, Adam with 25, Beit Hagai with 25, Susya with 23, Neve Daniel with 19, Tekoa with 17, Har Bracha with 15, Nokdim with 15, Pnei Haver with 13, Ma'ale Amos with five houses, and Kedar with seven.

In response to inquiries, Regavim issued a statement that read "it is irresponsible to publish data that appears in the report; any discussion on this sensitive issue should be conducted with appropriate discretion in the proper forum. Regavim has presented its stance on this issue to the officials relevant in finding a solution for the complex situation that has arisen in these places."


Settlers farming land Israeli army has closed off to its Palestinian owners

An alleged 5,000 dunams (over 1,200 acres) of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley is under settler cultivation; owners have petitioned High Court for land's return.

by Chaim Levinson 26 April 2015         Haaretz

Date palms being cultivated in the Jordan Valley.

Date palms being cultivated in the Jordan Valley. Photo by Eyal Toueg

Settlers in the northern Jordan Valley are farming large tracts of land owned by Palestinians, who are being denied access to it by a military order. The Palestinians submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice last month asking for the return of their land.

After the West Bank’s occupation in 1967, the Israel Defense Forces forbade Palestinians in the Jordan Valley from encroaching on the Jordanian border. In 1969, Israel issued an order forbidding Palestinians from entering a wide strip of land between the border fence and the Jordan River.

This policy remained unaltered even after the peace agreement with Jordan was signed in 1994. Over the years, and despite the government order not to touch the private land in the area, settlers began to farm it.

In January 2013, following a Haaretz report about the settlers’ activity, a

number of Palestinian families – whose land near the Hamra settlement was turned into a date plantation – petitioned the High Court. The court issued a conditional order asking the state to explain why the land owners should not be allowed to farm the land.

Last month, another group of Palestinians, from Tubas, also petitioned the High Court, requesting their land back. The petitioners said they own 800 dunams (nearly 200 acres) in an area they are forbidden to enter, near the Mehola settlement.

They had tried to farm the land last December but a settler blocked their path, they said. The next day, they were told by the IDF that they were forbidden to enter the area. Aerial photographs of the land showed that some 200 dunams (nearly 50 acres) of it was being cultivated for crops.

In its response to the petition last month, the state confirmed that the lands in question belonged to Palestinians. However, it said it had “not completed sorting out the claim” that the land was being cultivated. The state sought to present its broader position at a later date. Justice Zvi Zylbertal instructed that a panel of justices hear the case.

Aerial photographs seemingly show that some 5,000 dunams (over 1,200 acres) of Palestinian land are being farmed by settlers in the fertile Jordan Valley. Some of the settlers were allocated fields by the World Zionist Organization, on the alleged order of the defense minister’s assistant in 1981. Another part of the land has apparently been seized by the settlers.

The state will have to decide whether the land belongs to the people registered as its owners in the Land Registry, or to those who received it from WZO. In the meantime, the state is trying to reach compensation agreements with the Palestinian owners.

Last week, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Menachem Mazuz, who heard the petition, criticized the state. “Someone decided to ignore [state] decisions and took rights in private land,” said Mazuz, while Naor noted, “I don’t understand how this can happen.”

Justice Barak-Erez, meanwhile, said, “If it’s a military area and a possibility to farm it, why aren’t those who are entering it the owners? In some closed areas, the owners receive a permit to farm the land. The people should be allowed to exercise their ownership, subject to security regulations.”

“The situation is, in fact, clear,” said Mazuz. “You [the state] admit it’s private land. Handing it over [to the settlers] was apparently contrary to the decisions of the ministerial committee for defense affairs. So the state’s first obligation is to restore the situation to its previous condition ... then we must think about the financial aspects.”


Israel's High Court blasts state for giving Palestinian-owned land to settlers

Court Vice-President Naor: 'I don't understand how this could happen!' when hearing that in 1990 the state gave Palestinian land to settlers.

By Chaim Levinson  21 April 2015       Haaretz

An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley

An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley. Photo by Miki Kratsman

Following a blunt verbal attack on the state’s actions over the course of decades, the High Court of Justice ordered it Monday to show cause why it should not return land in the Jordan Valley to its Palestinian owners, and why those owners should not be permitted to cultivate it.

The approximately 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres), located along the border with Jordan, was given in the 1990s to settlers for cultivation. In January 2013 Haaretz revealed that the Palestinian owners of the land had been banned from the area by military order.

High Court Vice-President Miriam Naor and Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Menahem Mazuz were sharply critical of the state at the hearing. “I don’t understand how this could happen,” Naor said.

According to the state’s attorney, Roi Shweiki, the state did not know how the land came to be transferred because it happened a long time ago. Barak-Erez asked: “If this is a military zone and people can go in to cultivate it, why can’t the owners go in?”

Mazuz said: “The situation here is in fact clear. You admit that this is private land. You admit that the transfer to Ayala Smith [the settler cultivating the land] ostensibly went against the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Security. So the state’s first obligation is to return the situation to its rightful state.”

The heirs of the Palestinian owners petitioned the High Court in October 2013. The state tried to reach a monetary settlement with the petitioners, but they turned down the offer.

The state’s representatives told the court last week that they do not know why the land was given to the settlers and could not present a position until the issue was brought before the government.

Smith’s attorney, Harel Arnon, said the state believed “one injustice cannot be corrected by another.”

The attorney for the petitioners, Wissam Asmar, said: “A major step has been taken to recognize the right of the owners, whose rights have been trampled by the settlers.”