Exposed: Arabs silently taking over land in Gush Etzion

Israeli NGO and politicians campaign to fight Palestinian landgrabs in areas where Israel is in full control.

By Aryeh Savir,TPS 

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has recently increased its efforts to take control of a strategic area in the Nahal Heletz area between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion.

Regavim, a research-based legal advocacy NGO which says it is dedicated to ensuring accountable use of Israel’s national land, published on Wednesday a report which exposes the PA’s construction work at Nahal Heletz, near Har Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

A large number of heavy tractors have been turning the landscape of the riverbed into a wide and flat expanse, and ancient agricultural huts have been renovated and transformed into residential buildings for Arabs.

These lands are survey lands which are not privately owned and therefore can be declared state lands.

Yishai Hemo, the Regavim director in Judea and Samaria, argues that the engineering work and high cost involved in the effort prove that this is not a private initiative.

“In this case, too, the Palestinian Authority serves as a guiding hand that finances the work with aid from foreign countries, and as in other places, the agricultural work was exposed as an illegal outpost established by the Palestinian Authority in a strategic area,” Hemo said.

Regavim has contacted the IDF’s Civil Administration several times demanding that “real enforcement be carried out in this super-strategic area, but at the moment the situation is that the work continues unabated,” he added.

Downstream, there are many lands that were purchased by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) years before the establishment of the State of Israel, and recently the JNF and the Civil Administration have begun planting trees in the area.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council and Regavim have documented several Arab incursions into the JNF-owned land, as well as the damaging and uprooting of trees planted in the area.

“The theft of land financed by Abu Mazen [PA head Mahmoud Abbas] and his cohorts is unfortunately not new to us,” stated Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman.

“This phenomenon should concern all policy-makers in the State of Israel. It is unthinkable that they are destroying and taking over state lands that are supposed to be declared state lands in the near future, undisturbed,” he added.

“Our Arab neighbors systematically steal land and exploit the lack of enforcement, at the end of which they rely on presumptions under a law that discriminates against the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria,” he charged.

The Civil Administration told Regavim that “the implementation of enforcement will be determined in accordance with the order of priorities.”

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria in June 2018 convened a special meeting to discuss, what it referred to as, the PA’s “strategic takeover of land in Area C.”

Area C comprises some 60 percent of the Judea and Samaria region that remained under full Israeli control as part of the Oslo interim peace accords.

Israel seeks to keep control of the area, which is home to close to 500,000 Israelis, under any final agreement.

According to the interim peace agreements, any construction in Area C requires permission from Israel. The move by the PA to seize Israeli land is seen as an attempt to change facts on the ground and influence the outcome of peace negotiations.

“The territorial takeover of lands in Area C is part of the strategic outlook of the PA, which has even set up an official office to coordinate its activities in Area C,”  said MK Mordechai Yogev, the subcommittee chairman.

“At the same time, the subcommittee is under the impression that our government authorities have not been properly monitoring this issue, and there is no organized activity to stop this phenomenon,” Yogev added.