The Civil Administration recently approved a plan under which an unauthorized outpost in the West Bank will appropriate part of an adjacent nature reserve, even as it restricts the activities of Palestinian farmers in the area.
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El Matan was founded in 2000 next to the Ma’aleh Shomron settlement and adjacent to the Kaneh River nature reserve. A synagogue that is part of the outpost extends into the reserve.
Following plans that were approved by then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak between November 2012 and March 2013, temporary structures in the outpost are being removed. They are to be replaced by 40 buildings that will be used for artists’ studios and year-round and vacation homes. Some of the land is to be used for farming.
The plans for the site were submitted for public comment by the Civil Administration’s planning council, which is now hearing objections filed by Palestinians from the adjacent villages. According to the plan, around 100 dunams (25 acres) of the nature reserve is earmarked for farmland, including community gardening plots, and related roads and buildings.
Palestinians from Deir Istiya continued to work their fields even after the Civil Administration designated farmland owned by the villagers as the Kaneh River reserve. But for several years, employees of the Civil Administration and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have claimed that the farmers damaged the reserve by expanding their cultivated areas and planting olive trees. They also claimed that Palestinians caused damage by building roads and putting up fences.
The farmers denied the accusations and made claims of discrimination, saying settlers built homes in the reserve and otherwise encroached on the reserve with impunity. Last year Palestinians from Deir Istiya petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration’s plan to uproot olive trees the agency said were planted without permission. The court rejected their petition, and more than 1,000 trees were removed.
Over the past year, Palestinians and human rights groups grew increasingly concerned about further settler activity in the area, when it emerged that the Samaria Regional Council and other entities were promoting a master plan for developing tourism in the Kaneh River region. Preliminary maps of the plan showed new roads within the reserve that would connect settlements and outposts in the area.
A month ago a road was built from the nearby Alonei Shilo outpost that encroached on the reserve. Work on the road was stopped by the Civil Administration and the Nature and Parks Authority.
In a response, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed that the appeals subcommittee of the Civil Administration’s planning council was reviewing objections submitted by members of the public to the plan.
“The land that is slated to be removed from the reserve under the plan is at the edge of the reserve and building on them will not harm the natural and fertile lands of the reserve,” the statement said in part.
In its response, the agency stressed that this land was part of the master plan for Ma’aleh Shomron, which is being implemented.
The Civil Administration added that all work at the reserve will comply with regulations and will be monitored by its nature reserves staff officer, adding that the authorities in the region will continue to do “everything in their power to preserve nature in general and this reserve in particular.”