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Two weeks ago, under the not-so-gentle pressure of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ariel Sharon was forced to pledge that Israel would not disrupt the elections for the legislative council of the Palestinian Authority, scheduled for late January 2006, due to the participation of Hamas, which is defined as a terror organization. This means the Hamas candidates, like their counterparts in other parties, will also be vying for the votes of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Despite this, three youths from East Jerusalem are now standing trial in Jerusalem District Court. Their crime: political activity prior to the elections for the legislative council. The criminal charges: membership and activity in a terrorist organization - the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). If the small fry from the Popular Front are being thrown into jail, what will be done to big fish of Hamas?

The PFLP activists, Ghassem Abidat from the neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber, Ahmed Muslimani from Beit Hanina and Nasser Abu Hadir from Shuafat, were arrested about six months ago. They are accused of attending a gathering the organization held at the YMCA club in East Jerusalem in honor of high-school students who completed their matriculation examinations; contributing NIS 800 to the event and distributing meat to families of jailed or deceased members of the organization in the Azariah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

However, the most serious crime committed by the three is involvement in political gatherings and speeches held at party meetings in East Jerusalem and environs, prior to the Palestinian Authority elections. "By virtue of these acts, the defendants were members of a terrorist organization, and were active in the organization through their attendance of its discussions and speeches, and their having acted in its framework," charges the prosecution.

The attorneys for the defendants, Leah Tsemel and Rami Othman, do not deny the facts. They remind the court that the portrait of Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, the candidate of the Popular Front, stares out at them from the public notice board across the street from the courthouse on Saladin Street, alongside the photos of other candidates. The lawyers would like to know what would happen if Hamas were permitted to run in the elections: Would the Israeli government dispatch the police to peek behind the curtains of the ballot booths of East Jerusalem residents, and instruct the State Prosecutor to bring to trial anyone caught with a ballot for the PFLP, not to mention a Hamas ballot?

Needless to say, if a party is permitted to run in the elections, its activists should be permitted to hold gatherings and conduct election propaganda. A Shin Bet source stated that the organization has no knowledge of this event, and that it is not its practice to arrest and press charges against persons who have conducted activities unrelated to security matters. The Justice Ministry did not respond to Haaretz's request for a comment.

Amona is not alone

Ever since the High Court of Justice ruling on the route of the separation fence in Jerusalem, which sent the defense establishment back to the drawing board, there have been increasing signs of an erosion in the mythological status of the concept of "security considerations" in the eyes of Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and his colleagues. The most recent sign is a show-cause order issued this week by a judicial panel headed by Barak in a case involving the two settlement outposts Harasha and Hayovel.

The justices complied with a petition brought by Peace Now and gave the state 90 days to explain why the two outposts should not be evacuated. Evidently they were not impressed with the explanation offered by the prosecution, that the state is not free to restore these lands to their Palestinian neighbors, due to "the currently prevailing political circumstances and primarily the fact that there is a genuine possibility of elections being held within a period of approximately four months."

This happened less than a week after Justice Ayala Procaccia ordered the defense minister to report to her on his preparations for evacuation of the trespassers in Amona, a settlement outpost that is also built on private land.

At the same time, the Supreme Court addressed a development that is no less serious than the government's failures in the matter of the unlawful settlement outposts.

A tiniest bit of the phenomenon surfaced in the headlines this week after 200 olive trees were cut down in the village of Salem, right under the nose of IDF forces in the region. It seems the army cooperates, in the best case, with the systematic seizure of Palestinian farmland by settlers, on a scope of thousands of dunams. An official Civil Administration source confirms the problem is a veritable plague and says the administration is helpless to act, since the law permits the issuance of demolition orders solely against unlawful structures, and not against saplings or herds of sheep.

It all began with a permit that was issued by the previous attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein to issue "closure orders" for areas at a radius of 400 meters around every settlement in the territories, for defense purposes. It was determined that the Palestinian landowners, whose territory was closed off, would be permitted to enter the security areas from time to time for the purpose of working their land. Reserve Colonel Yehuda Golan, a former Golani Brigade commander and the chief staff officer of the Central Command, and reserve Colonel Shaul Arieli, a former commander of the Gaza regional brigade and the head of the permanent settlement negotiating team in the Ehud Barak administration, went to the Binyamin and Samaria areas three weeks ago to see how the arrangement was working out in the field. They were accompanied by attorney Limor Yehuda of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, who had filed a petition on this matter, as well as a group of landowners and representatives of the IDF and the Civil Administration.

In the closed-off territories, which include lands of the villages of Burin and Klil, near the settlement of Bracha, the group discerned dozens of young olive saplings, planted in colorful barrels and wrapped in cardboard boxes. The Civil Administration official had no doubt this was the work of Jewish settlers. This is the proper place to note that the entire region is subject to full and ongoing inspection by army forces stationed in the area.

As they were reconnoitering the area, an armed settler arrived in the Palestinian orchards (which are a closed military zone to Israelis, as well). Instead of kicking him out, the army and Civil Administration representatives decided to end the tour, claiming "the zone is heating up." They were not referring to possible gunfire from a Palestinian enemy. Afterwards, it was hinted to the reserve army officers that it would be best also to cancel the tour at Yitzhar, based on the argument that "the access route to it crosses through unlawful settlement outposts around the settlement."

The head of the village of Burin, Ra'id Najar, later said that due to their fear of the settlers, and given the incompetence of the authorities, residents of the village had not planted a single sapling on their land in the past seven years. "This state of affairs, in which settlers enter undisturbed and plant dozens of trees on land that is not theirs, and which is even subject to a land-closure warrant, underscores the lack of an appropriate deployment of security forces in the region," wrote Golan and Arieli in a guarded tone in a written opinion to be submitted to the High Court of Justice.

The array of security forces in the region largely relies on the ongoing security coordinators, some of whom receive their wages from the state and their directions from the residents of the outposts. A clue to the role played by these coordinators in the campaign to banish the Palestinians from their land may be found in a letter written by the regional defense officer in the Central Command, Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Avni, on September 18.

Avni wrote to his colleagues in the Judea and Samaria headquarters and in the regional brigade that the experience of the past few years has shown that the olive-harvest season is "rife with clashes, some of them violent, which have triggered casualties and use of weapons." He did not state which side was being harmed and which was using the weapons. Avni made do with a warning that a security coordinator who acted outside of his settlement, or would be involved in violent events against Palestinians, would be summarily dismissed.

The IDF, which bears formal responsibility for the well-being of the Palestinians and of their property, refused to respond, and suggested that all these questions be directed to the police. The Civil Administration did the same. The Judea and Samaria police district spokesman stated that the police investigate every complaint submitted to it. And the victims, the Palestinian landowners - what do they say? They do not go to the trouble of going to the police station. It's a waste of time. They have nothing left to do but hope there are judges in Israel.

Jewish terror in Netanya

The initiative taken by politicians from the right and from the left to expand the extent of rezoning of agricultural land is driving city mayors crazy. Some, for example Netanya Mayor Miriam Feierberg-Ikar, are made crazy by the flight of property taxes to the nearby kibbutzim and moshavim.

Feierberg-Ikar chose to compare the dangers of the rezoning law to those of Palestinian terror. "It is unclear what constitutes a greater existential danger to the residents of Netanya - the city's Palestinian neighbors, who ate at its flesh and paralyzed the city, or the other neighbors that surround it and strangle the livelihood of its residents," wonders the Likud-affiliated mayor in a letter to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - who in the meantime has crossed the lines to Kadima - and to Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, who in the meantime has crossed over to the opposition.

Feierberg-Ikar alleges the policy of fostering the real-estate fortunes of "the farmers" (the quotation marks are hers) creates "two states for one people - one large state on 90 percent of the state land for a limited number of `agricultural' lobbyists, and the other state, with 90 percent of the people, on the remaining 10 percent of the land."