At Least 166 Homes in Israeli Settlement Built on Private Palestinian Land

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At least 166 houses in the West Bank settlement of Eli were constructed on private Palestinian land, a recent survey by the Civil Administration revealed.

Eli was established in 1984 between Ramallah and Nablus, and within years it expanded into one of the larger settlements in the West Bank, reaching nine hilltops and widening its control over thousands of dunams of land.

Despite its growth, the settlement never had a legally approved urban plan - one plan that had been promoted in the past was halted due to its incursion on to private property. Houses in Eli could thus not be issued legal building permits, which led to several petitions being filed at the High Court of Justice.

Following pressure from the settlers, the government began working on a zoning plan for the settlement, which in turn led to comprehensive mapping by the Civil Administration to clarify what lands could be included in the plan.

Haaretz obtained a certified map of Eli's borders, signed last November by the GOC Central Command, which reveals that 166 of the settlement's houses were built on private Palestinian property. The survey also included aerial photographs dating back to 1970.

It should be noted that land in this area was never officially registered, and that ownership is dictated by Ottoman law, which determines that any land farmed for a period of 10 years is considered the legal property of its cultivator.

The 166 houses refer only to land that was examined as part of the survey, and did not include the adjacent outposts of Givat Haroeh and Palgei Mayim, home to some 80 houses.

According to the information obtained by Haaretz, the status of lands in these outposts is either private or state land. In some instances, like at the outpost Hayovel, the state is trying to retroactively legalize the outpost's status by having the land declared state-owned land - despite an eight-year-old petition to the High Court which demands that illegal construction in the outpost be demolished.

A Civil Administration survey carried out a year ago determined that two houses in the settlement were built on private land, but Palestinians from the nearby village of Krayot argue that much more of the land is privately owned.

The Civil Administration has no plans at present to take action over Eli, but it might be forced to do so by the High Court of Justice, which has several petitions concerning illegal construction in the settlement on its table.

"The contemptible cooperation of the state with land theft in the West Bank is constantly growing," said Dror Etkes, an activist aiding the petitioners. "They are trying to retroactively legalize whatever they can in order to enable massive future construction. At the same time, the state turns a blind eye to construction on private land and there is no way to legalize it."

The Civil Administration responded: "Following the determination of jurisdiction, the authorities will examine any further steps required."

Kobi Eliraz, chairman of Eli's local committee, said in response: "The houses were not built on private land. Some of them might have been constructed on cultivated land by the state of Israel. The houses are within the boundaries decree signed at the time by [GOC Central Commander] Danny Yatom. It's nice that now, 28 years later, the state is reducing the settlement's size following rigorous inspections that show some of the land appear to have cultivated, without plaintiffs or trees."

A construction site in Eli.Credit: Moti Milrod
Map of the Eli homes built on private land.Credit: Haaretz

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