West Bank settlements have expanded their jurisdictions by taking control of private Palestinian land and allocating it to settlers. The land takeover - which the Civil Administration calls "theft" - has occured in an orderly manner, without any official authorization.
The method of taking over land is being publicized for the first time, based on testimony from a hearing on an appeal filed by a Kedumim resident, Michael Lesence, against a Civil Administration order to vacate 35 dunams (almost 9 acres) near the Mitzpe Yishai neighborhood of the settlement. Official records show the land as belonging to Palestinians from Kafr Qaddum.
Lesence's lawyer, Doron Nir Zvi, admitted at the hearing that the land in question was private Palestinian property. However, Lesence claims ownership on the grounds that he has been working the land for more than a decade, after he received it in an orderly procedure, complete with a signed agreement, from the heads of the Kedumim local council.
Affidavits from Civil Administration officials stated that Lesence began cultivating the land only in the past six months.
Attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zecharia, who represent the Palestinian landowners on behalf of Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights, insist their clients continued to work the land, and that the army and settlers from Kedumim are denying their access to it.
Kedumim residents who testified before the board said that the Palestinian have no problem reaching their lands. However, a visit to the area reveals a different picture: The guard at Mitzpe Yishai announced that "it is forbidden to allow Arabs in" to the lands abutting the neighborhood. After the Palestinians approached their property on foot, an army patrol arrived and moved them off. When the commander was told they have Civil Administration documents proving they own the land, the commander replied: "Documents don't interest me."
The land-takeover method was developed in Kedumim and neighboring settlements during the mid-1990s, after the Oslo Accords, and continues to this day.
Zeev Mushinsky, the "land coordinator" at the Kedumim local council, testified as to how it works: Council employees, Mushinsky in this case, would map the "abandoned lands" around the settlements, even if they were outside the council's jurisdiction, with the aim of taking them over. The council would "allocate" the lands to settlers, who would sign an official form stating that they have no ownership claim on the m, and that the council is entitled to evict them whenever it sees fit, in return for compensating them solely for their investment in cultivating the land.
Kedumim's former security chief, Michael Bar-Neder, testified that the land "allocation" was followed by an effort to expand the settlement. Bar-Neder said that once the settlers seized the lands, an application would be made to the military commander to declare them state-owned, since under the law covering the West Bank, anyone who does not cultivate his land for three years forfeits ownership of it.
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