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Peace Now: New settlement will add 100 more Israeli settlers in Hebron

Aug. 23, 2016 7:43 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2016 6:29 P.M.)
A bulldozer is seen next to a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa (background) in east Jerusalem on March 19, 2014 (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli human rights group Peace Now Tuesday revealed further information on a planned settlement in the location of an Israeli military base in the occupied West Bank district of Hebron, saying that the settlement plan would increase the number of Israeli settlers by 100.

The group said in the statement that Israel’s Housing Ministry was planning to build 28 housing units at the military compound of Plugat Hamitkanim for Israeli settlers, after former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon approved a portion of the land for allocation to the ministry, adding that the move would increase the settler population in the city by 10 percent -- adding approximately 100 settlers to the area.

While Peace Now reported on Monday that the renovations for the housing units were already underway, the statement on Tuesday said the planning process for the new settlement had not yet begun in the Israeli Civil Administration's High Planning Committee.

Despite a legal opinion issued by the administration’s legal adviser in 2007 which concluded that it was forbidden to establish a settlement at the base, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the units for the settlement anyway.

The housing plan reportedly seeks to sidestep the law by deducting the area in question from its military designation. However, Peace Now highlighted in the statement that, according to the administration’s legal adviser, the land was leased to the Hebron municipality in a protected lease agreement -- first by the Jordanians and then by Israel -- and should the military seizure be lifted, the land must be returned to its Palestinian tenants.

According to the statement, the Ministry of Justice was quoted on Israel’s Army Radio as saying the legal modifications were a result of an “internal discussion” that “"essentially the protected tenancy ended in the area, and that on the face of this there are extenuating circumstances on the matter.”

“Today the intention is to use the land for a settlement rather than for a security need. The argument that the right of the Hebron Municipality for protected tenancy has ended is essentially a way of turning the military seizure order to a land expropriation,” Peace Now argued.

Israeli settlers and security forces have argued that the land belonged to Jews before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and that the settlement was planned long before the land was seized by the military, according to Haaretz.

The area was seized through an Israeli military order during the 1990s. As noted by Peace Now, using military land for a settlement would violate both a 1979 Israeli Supreme Court decision and international law.

“The only thing that changed since the previous legal opinion is the strengthening of the Israeli right wing,” the statement continued. “We are witnessing a worrying process of the loosening of legal standards in favor of settlement expansion, including by the legal system itself, which cannot withstand the pressure coming from the government.”

Before the Israeli military base was established, the area, located in the heart of Hebron, was used as the city’s central bus station. The land was owned partly by Palestinian individuals and Jewish individuals since before 1948, who leased it to the municipality.

After its expropriation by the Israeli military, settlers in the 1990s moved into the outpost illegally, but were later expelled when the seizure order was issued.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told Haaretz in response to an inquiry on the reports that “authorities in the area are examining returning some of the land for civilian use,” referring to the outpost. “However, plans for civilian building have not yet been submitted or approved.”

The statement also underscored the heightened tension in Hebron as a result of Israeli settlement expansion, saying that “the government invests massive efforts into establishing a settlement in Hebron out of all places, the city where the daily reality of the occupation is the harshest and the most disgraceful.”

Israeli settlers in the Hebron area are notoriously aggressive towards Palestinians. Hebron residents frequently report attacks and harassment by the settlers, carried out in the presence of Israeli forces.

Mistreatment of Palestinians in the Hebron area has been common since the city was divided in 1997 under the Oslo agreements.

The area is home to 30,000 Palestinians and around 800 Israeli settlers who live under the protection of Israeli forces.

Israel has come under harsh criticism for a spike in illegal settlement activity in recent weeks, with plans for thousands of housing units moving forward in various stages in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, have publicly announced their support for plans aimed to annex the entirety of Area C.

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