The unauthorized establishment of outposts and roads across the 1967 Green Line has become almost a matter of routine. It is perceived as an expression of the absence of any influence by the courts and the planning institutions in territory that is under the control of the military. In fact, these same norms exist inside the Green Line, too, as manifested by the one-person or one-family settlements, mainly in the Negev and Galilee, that are being promoted intensively by several government ministries, including the Agriculture Ministry, regional councils and land settlement bodies such as the Jewish Agency.
These sites are depicted as offering individuals a chance to realize a dream of living in nature and developing singular modes of agriculture or tourism. However, their main purpose is to gain a hold on state land in order to prevent its takeover by Bedouin and Arabs.
In 1999, two environmental groups, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED), asked the High Court of Justice to put a stop to the phenomenon, arguing that the settlements in question were being established illegally. The two groups maintained that this form of settlement conflicts with the established planning principles of an efficient use of land by preserving reserves of open territory, brings about the dispersal of infrastructures and leads to the fencing off of open land and the establishment of structures there.
In the wake of the petition, the High Court laid down a procedure for establishing single-family settlements. The first principle is that they are to be established only in exceptional cases and only after all the necessary legal permits are obtained and the land rights arranged beforehand.
That procedure has been eroded of late as a series of such settlements have come into being in the center of the Negev, promoted by several governmental bodies and the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. Again residential structures are being put up before the planning procedures have been completed, and again they are getting the backing of the establishment. SPNI submitted a complaint on the subject to the attorney general, but in the meantime has not received a reply.
The settlement activity is ostensibly being carried out as part of a tourism project called "The Wine Road," which is intended to boost the number of visitors to the Negev. One of the major methods involved is the establishment of farms that will combine agricultural activity and tourism.
In practice, the project makes possible the establishment of one-family settlements, though it has not yet been approved. Only recently was it decided to set up a steering committee within the framework of the planning institutions, which will consider the authorization and implementation of the project. The project has many opponents, including environmental activists in the Negev; they have no objections to tourism projects but not if they include residential units.
The fact that the project has not been approved did not stop interested parties from creating facts on the ground. The objections raised by SPNI made no impression on the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. Its statement contained no response to the contentions about residential units, noting only that the project would be implemented in stages, in accordance with the guidelines of the planning bodies. The council accused SPNI of petty and obsessive opposition to Jewish settlement in the Negev and of ignoring the illegal building by Bedouin.
Apart from environmental and planning considerations, there is an important social issue at stake, as extensive areas will effectively become the private preserve of private individuals. In some cases a lone settler is given thousands of dunams of farmland, and in time he comes to consider himself the owner of that land. Even now there are large tracts in the Negev that have been fenced off and become a kind of private estate. The most striking of these is, of course, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Sycamore Ranch.
The implementation of the new project and of other planned projects creates the concrete danger that large areas of the Negev, Galilee and the Judean Hills will become huge estates of lone settlers. These people will enjoy their vineyards and the vast desert landscape, while the residents of the southern development towns continue to live in crowded tenements.
The compilers of The Wine Road project did not ignore this subject. They noted that the legal and contractual aspect of the one-person settlements has to be examined, including scenarios in which the area may cease to be used for agricultural and tourist purposes, and the question of inheritance. But who has time for such niceties when the race is on to conquer every hilltop in the name of strengthening Jewish settlement?
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