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Palestinians claim ownership of land declared 'absentee' by Israel for leasing to settlers

Sept. 9, 2016 7:36 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 10, 2016 4:02 P.M.)
"File picture shows Israeli settlers in the illegal outpost of Esh Kodesh near the West bank village of Tormusayya, on March 5, 2008"
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian residents of several villages in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah have claimed ownership on Thursday of land Israeli authorities deemed “absentee” last month as they announced plans to transfer the illegal Amona outpost to the area.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Palestinian residents of Taybeh, Ein Yabrud, and Silwad in the Ramallah district have come forward claiming to own two-thirds of the 35 land plots that Israeli authorities had attempted to allocate to the transfer of Amona residents.

Israeli authorities have scrambled for an alternative location for residents of the Amona outpost, which has been ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court to be demolished by the end of this year since it was found to be built on private Palestinian land.

In August, Israeli authorities proposed leasing private Palestinian land whose owners were 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.

The arrangement would also permit the Israeli state to collect rental payments while placing them in a fund that would be given to whoever could prove they owned the land, Haaretz reported.

However, residents in the area submitted an objection to the plan, saying that the so-called “absentee land” was in fact owned by several families who were physically residing in the area.

According to Haaretz, the Palestinian owners have sent in several documents validating their claims, including aerial photographs of their land plots.

The plan of leasing “absentee” Palestinian property would resemble Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law, which permits the Israeli government to transfer so-called “absentee" property belonging to Palestinians to Jewish residents.

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.

In May, the Israeli Defense Minister also spearheaded plans to build a new settlement in the West Bank to transfer the evacuees to, as Israeli authorities have rushed to assuage a right-wing public by maintaining the settlers' presence in the West Bank.

While the more than 232 settler outposts in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government -- despite authorities commonly retroactively legalizing the outposts, each of the some 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the West Bank are also considered illegal under international law.

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