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Private Palestinian land under threat of confiscation for evacuees of illegal Israeli outpost

Aug. 3, 2016 3:38 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 9, 2016 6:07 P.M.)
Israeli forces talk with Jewish settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost as they stage a sit-in to prevent Palestinians from working in their fields, Jan. 2, 2013. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now slammed on Tuesday a recent position by an Israeli government committee advocating the leasing privately held Palestinian property for the resettlement of Israeli settlers residing in the nearby illegal outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, which was ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court to be demolished by the end of the year.

According to the group, Israel's Army Radio reported Tuesday morning that a committee established to relocate the residents of the Amona outpost issued a legal opinion to the attorney general, suggesting the takeover of nearby Palestinian land whose owners are currently residing outside of the West Bank, in order to transfer the settlers there.

The plan would allow the privately held Palestinian properties near the outpost to be leased to Israeli settlers for three years, with the ability to renew the lease after each lease period.

Peace Now said that the potential move would constitute “the crossing of a red line.”

“The acceptance of the legal opinion would have dire consequences on a future peace agreement as it could lead to the establishment of dozens of new settlements and to the multiplying of the land taken up by settlements in the West Bank,” the group continued in the statement.

“The Israeli government cannot justify the stealing of private lands of absentees only to please the demands of settlers who themselves stole private lands against the law."

In May, Israel’s Defense Ministry, in coordination with leaders of Israel’s right-wing settlement movements, presented plans for a new settlement to be constructed for the Amona evacuees adjacent to the already established settlement of Shiloh.

The building of a new settlement for Israelis residing in Amona is seen as direct resistance to the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that ordered Amona's demolition after eight Palestinians from neighboring villages -- with the support of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din -- successfully petitioned the court to remove the outpost on grounds that the construction was carried out on privately held Palestinian land.

In 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction on the Israeli government demanding an explanation as to why no steps had been taken to begin the demolition of the illegal outpost.

The Amona outpost also received demolition orders after rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1997, 2003, and 2004, according to Haaretz, demolishing only nine structures in 1996.

Allowing the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank under the pretext of the owners of the property being absent would mark a significant development in Israeli land confiscation strategies.

The proposal would also resemble Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law, which permits the Israeli government to transfer so-called “absentee" property belonging to Palestinians to Jewish residents by submitting a payment to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, allowing the Israeli government to claim that the properties had been acquired by payment instead of through direct confiscation.

The law was established following the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel, that resulted in the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians. Israel’s definition of an “absentee” allowed for the Israeli state to take over Palestinian property even when the displaced residents ended up within the borders of the newly established state.

Palestinians have continued to be denied access to their properties for having been absent from their homes, even if just for a few days, as of 1947, when many Palestinians fled from their homes to escape Jewish Zionist forces during the Arab-Israeli war.

According to Peace Now, the proposal to lease property from absentee Palestinians in the West Bank would “create an opening for the takeover of tens of thousands of dunams in the West Bank. The scope of absentees’ property (property owned by Palestinians not currently residing inside the West Bank) is estimated at around 100,000 dunams (double the size of Tel Aviv and similar to the land taken up by all of the settlements today).”

Peace Now warned that the move could pave the way for the construction of even more settlements across the West Bank.

“The most severe implication is that the state of Israel will crush the basic rights of Palestinians under its rule in the occupied territories, while violating international law -- all out of the will to comply to the demands of a group of settlers that established an illegal outpost on stolen Palestinian land with the backing of the government,” the group added.

The Amona outpost, located near the settlement of Ofra, which was also constructed on top of privately held Palestinian land, has some 40 Israeli families residing in the area.

The more than 200 Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank are considered illegal by the Israeli government. However, Israeli authorities often legalize the outposts retroactively by declaring them official settlements after they have been connected to Israel’s water and electricity infrastructure.

Each of the some 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory were constructed in contravention to international law.

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