Text size

Most of the land of the veteran West Bank settlement of Ofra was built on private land belonging to Palestinians, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said on Monday.

It said that 58 percent of Ofra was built on property shown in the official land registry to belong to Palestinian individuals, and that it therefore constituted an illegal outpost that should be dismantled.

Ofra residents said in response that the land was purchased legally from the Palestinian owners, but that there was no possibility of exposing the documents to public scrutiny, for fear of Palestinian retribution attacks on the sellers.

B'Tselem obtained 43 land registry records from the IDF's Civil Administration arm, covering 210 dunams [52.5 acres] of land and showing Palestinian property owners from the villages of Ein Yavrud and Silwad. Another 180 dunams [45 acres] are included in land taken over under an unlawful army expropriation order in 1977.

According to the group's figures, of Ofra's total area of 670 dunams [167.5 acres], 390 dunams [97.5 acres] or 58 percent, are owned by Palestinians.

Moreover, Ofra, since its founding in 1975, has never had a declared area of jurisdiction, has never had an approved master plan, and has not issued building permits according to the law, B'Tselem said.

"Hundreds of houses were erected without permits, and in fact, we are speaking of the illegal construction of an entire settlement," it said of Ofra, which now has about 3,000 residents.

Israeli law states that an Israeli settlement in the West Bank which is built on land registered to Palestinians, and which lacks building permits or a specified area of jurisdiction, is an illegal outpost and must be evacuated.

"The government of Israel is obligated to dismantle the Ofra outpost, to return to its owners the land that was taken from them in violation of the law, and to compensate them," B'Tselem said.

The settlers' Yesha Council said in response that the goal of the report was not to safeguard the rights of Arabs, but to remove the Jews from their land.

"Regrettably, B'Tselem is trying to systematically do harm to settlements, and in that regard, will spare no means - even lies - in order to harm settlements."