Settlements & land
Houses in Dura al-Qara with Beit El in the background. Photo: Silan Dallal, B'Tselem, 29 June 2010
Almost the entire Beit El settlement is built on private Palestinian land, most of which was confiscated during the 1970s by means of military orders issued on the dubious pretext that settlement there was an urgent military necessity. However, five of the buildings in Ulpana Hill, which lies northeast of Beit El and houses 33 families, were built on private Palestinian land not encompassed by the military orders. Moreover, these houses were erected without a building permit. The Civil Administration, whose offices are just a few hundred meters from the neighborhood, documented the land theft and building violations in this case, as it has for construction carried out without permits in dozens of other cases in Beit El not far from Ulpana Hill, on private Palestinian land similarly not encompassed in the military orders. The Civil Administration issued orders to halt the Ulpana construction and demolish the structures, but it did not carry out these orders and did not move to punish those responsible for the illegal construction.
The settlers of Beit El, via the settler movement Amana and the Kiryat HaYeshiva Beit El company, told the Civil Administration’s that they had purchased the land on which the Ulpana Hill houses stand. However, the state rejected this claim as false. The man who the settlers claimed had sold them the land was never its owner. Moreover, this man ostensibly purchased the land from its former owner, although it turned out that the former “owner” of the land was, at the time of the “sale,” a boy of only seven years old, who could not have been registered as the owner of land. The purchase agreement was not registered in the Tabu (land registry) or approved by the Civil Administration, as required by the military orders. The Judea and Samaria Police file on the forged Ulpana Hill land purchase agreement was closed due to “absence of culpability” and the police explained that “some kind of transaction was concluded” by someone “thought to be the land owner, but who in fact was only a relative of the owner,” without addressing the responsibility of Amana and Kiryat Hayeshiva Beit El for the forged purchase agreement. A year and a half ago, Yesh Din lodged an appeal with the state prosecutor’s office contesting the closing of the case. Thus far no decision has been announced.
Following the petition submitted by Yesh Din on behalf of the Palestinian owners of the land who are residents of Dura al-Qara village, the state promised the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to enforce the law regarding the land theft and the illegal construction. However, this commitment was never acted on. The state further committed to the HCJ that it would demolish the five buildings by 1 May 2012. The state requested an additional one-year postponement of the demolition and evacuation of the settlers. The HCJ deniedthis request and instructed the state of carry out evacuation of the buildings by 1 July 2012.
As a prize for the theft of private Palestinian land in Beit El, for illegal construction and forging a land purchase agreement, and in exchange for the settlers’ promise to avoid violence when the Ulpana Hill buildings are evacuated, the ministerial committee approved the following deal: Residents of the said buildings on Ulpana Hill will be moved temporarily to upscale caravan homes on the nearby Judea and Samaria Division military base. This site was erected without a permit but with a special dispensation from Israel’s Attorney General.
Until 1979, the High Court interpreted international law as permitting the military commander to seize land for civilian settlements if establishment of the settlement served military needs. However, in the Elon Moreh case, the HCJ clarified that land seizure, when not intended to serve such needs, contravenes international law and hence is illegal. Since that decision was handed down in 1979, the state stopped seizing Palestinian land to erect settlements and instead began building settlements on Palestinian land that had been declared “state land.” Since moving the Ulpana Hill residents to a military base is clearly not intended to serve military needs, and no official figure has even tried to claim as much, this agreement is illegal and contravenes the HCJ ruling. The argument that this is a temporary measure is irrelevant, apart from which, past experience has shown that a temporary location is liable to become a permanent residential community.
In addition, media reports indicate that the settlers have been promised that 300 new apartments will be built in a settlement on land the state has declared as “state land.” It is not yet clear whether these apartments will indeed be built or where, but Israel has no such land in the occupied West Bank. Under international law, the lands in the West Bank, irrespective of their classification, are intended for the use of the local Palestinian population and Israel does not have the authority to designate them for settlements, whose erection is prohibited to begin with by international law. The “price tag” claimed by the government of Israel for “safeguarding the law” leads to additional criminal offenses and to contravention of the HCJ verdict in the Elon Moreh case.
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The writing is on the wall: Defense Minister must act to prevent next "Price Tag" incident
Anticipating possible settler reprisals to the evacuation of the Ulpana Hill, human rights organizations call on security services to prepare in advance.
Five human rights organizations sent an urgent letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Judea and Samaria Police District Commander Amos Yaakov, and GOC Central Command General Nitzan Alon, demanding a preconceived and proactive approach to the possiblitly of violent activities carried out by extreme right-wing activists against Palestinians in the days leading up to the removal of five houses from Ulpana Hill in the settlement of Beit El.
The signatory organizations, Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Yesh Din, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Rabbis for Human Rights, state that based on past experience there is a real concern that Israeli citizens will carry out violent acts of reprisal against Palestinians in the context of a policy known as “price tag.” This concern is substantiated by the arson and vandalizing of a mosque in the village of Jaba’, which occurred despite the fact that the evacuation of Ulpana is, according to various publications, being carried out with consent. The organizations also stress that past experience shows that when security forces are adequately organized, damage to Palestinians and to their property is prevented..
"Israel’s obligation to protect the well being of the Palestinians is anchored in law and in High Court rulings and is not an act of kindness,” write the organizations. “Even if it requires the allocation of significant resources, it is necessary in order to fulfill the duty to protect the security of Palestinians, and past experience demonstrates that in situations in which the security forces were not adequately prepared, settlers harmed Palestinians and caused damage to their property. We ask that you act to prevent violence against Palestinians as the imminent eviction approaches."
The organizations demand the following from security forces:
- Provide clear guidelines to all military and police forces regarding their obligation to protect the well being and property of Palestinians
- Enforce the law on lawbreaking settlers and place police and security guards in areas prone to violence
- If settlers succeed in trespassing on Palestinian lands and villages despite the preemptive preparation of security forces, instruct the forces in the field to disperse such settlers immediately
- Arrest lawbreakers and bring them to trial
- Allow freedom of movement and activity to Palestinian fire and rescue services
- If their movement is restricted, Israeli fire and rescue services must act swiftly to evacuate the wounded and to put out fires