Palestine: Israel Grabs More Land in WB

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Palestine: Israel Grabs More Land in WB
By: Kate Shuttleworth, the National.ae
26 June 2016
 

ESH KODESH, West Bank // Mohammed Kamal was at work when he received a call from his distraught father that the Israeli army had delivered an eviction order to their family home in the Palestinian village of Jalud in the northern West Bank.

Their one-storey house, along with the homes of dozens of Palestinian households, was slated to be demolished within three months.

The notices — which were served between November and May — warned that 1,250 acres of private land in Jalud will be confiscated. They will become state land and fall under the full control of the Israeli military.

But according to Palestinians, the land will be used to connect “extremist Jewish outposts with established settlements as part of Israel’s plan to further colonise the West Bank.

“We’ve been living in hell, we stay locked in our house in fear of the settlers, said Mr Kamal, 30, who lives with his parents, wife and children.

“I tell my family not to leave the house until I come home.

He said Jewish settlers have tried to burn down his cousin’s house and ruined his neighbour’s car while trying to get them to evict their respective properties.

His cousin, who lives nearby, has an eviction and demolition order for his entire house.

Mr Kamal received the same order, but for only half of his house — the portion that lies in Area C, which is part of the West Bank under full Israeli military control. The other half falls within Area B which is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control.

All Jewish settlements and their outposts in the occupied West Bank are deemed illegal by the international community.

But in Israel, most of the major settlements are considered legal and supported by government funds and services. The smaller outposts, often one or two temporary structures, are classified as illegal, but are often the start of a process which sees the land eventually turned into fully fledged settlements, and supported by the Israeli state.

Last year, Israel’s high court announced it would retroactively legalise the string of outposts near Jalud.

Under the government’s latest plans, the illegal settlement outposts of Esh Kodesh, Adei Ad, Ahiya and Kidah would be expanded and properties inside the four outposts — already built on stolen Palestinian land — would become legal.

The Israeli army’s head of Central Command, Roni Numa, who signed the eviction notices, said “certain steps were needed to prevent terror attacks. He said the land was being confiscated for “security reasons.

But Ghassan Dahglas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, said the confiscation orders were aimed at expanding settlements.

“The security reasons are a tool to cover up land robberies for settlement construction, Mr Dahglas said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) has denied it issued eviction notices and said “no decision has been made on this topic.

Another Palestinian resident of Jalud, Fouzi Ibrahim Haj Mohammed, 58, said a planned road between the Israeli settlements of Shilo and Alon would cut through his property including his farm land which was taken away by settlers in 1992.

They have since planted vineyards there and blocked Mr Mohammed from accessing the land.

After years of legal battles, Israel’s high court finally ruled in December last year that the settlers had 12 months to vacate the land. They still have not.

“There isn’t any more land left for us to farm on. Farmers are looking for other jobs. They are turning to construction in other cities in the West Bank and in Israel. Moving from the village to the city to find work, he said.

There are up to 12 illegal settlements and 27 outposts in the Nablus area where Jalud is located, and according to Mr Dahglas, they house about 23,000 of the most extreme settlers in the area.

One of the settlement outposts in question, Esh Kodesh, is not only considered illegal under international law but has been branded internationally and by Israel as a breeding ground for violence and extremism.

Home to 40 families, it is one of seven outposts around Shilo settlement and lies in one of the most barren parts of the northern West Bank.

In January, five settlers were indicted for firebombing the home of the Palestinian Dawabshe family in the small West Bank village of Duma, killing an 18-month-old boy and his parents. Among them was 21-year-old Amiram Ben-Uliel who lived in Esh Kodesh.

“Those attacks had nothing to do with us. We’re against violence, said Aaron Katsof, 31, a Jewish settler originally from California, who is also a spokesman for the Esh Kodesh settlers.

Still, there remain pockets of support for Ben-Uliel. At a bus stop next to the Esh Kodesh outpost entrance is a poster calling for protests over the alleged torture of those under administrative detention — including Ben-Uliel — by the Israeli security agency Shin Bet.

The roots of Esh Kodesh can be traced back to a violent past. The outpost was founded in 2000 and named after Esh Kodesh Gilmore, a 25-year-old who was shot dead by a Palestinian while working as a security guard in East Jerusalem.

In 2010, the Israeli supreme court sentenced one of its residents to 18 months in prison for kidnapping and assaulting a Palestinian teenager.

Since September 2011, the Israeli army has set up a new base near Esh Kodesh because of frequent clashes between settlers and Arabs from the Palestinian village of Qusra nearby.

Despite Esh Kodesh being deemed illegal, Israel has funded the building of structures at the outpost.

In January, the UN warned Israeli authorities against legalising the four settlement outposts near Jalud, which have been widely acknowledged by the international community and by Israel itself as a hotbed for settler violence.

Palestinians in Jalud who live outside of the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority have been forced to implement voluntary night guards to protect themselves against settler attacks launched by outpost residents.

“Our home is a jail, we’ve put up metal bars on the windows, said Mr Kamal who is still waiting for the day that Israel will carry out the threats of demolition.

“I’ve spent so much money and time trying to resolve this situation with no results. I am not sure what to do, no one really cares about us, he said.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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