The Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank uprooted some 3,000 olive trees near the Palestinian village of Dir Balut in the northern West Bank this month, although the Palestinian residents had filed an appeal of the order evicting them from the land. The eviction was ordered in August based on the government’s stance that the trees were planted on state-owned land.
A private lawyer representing the government on the appeal filed a response in the case six days after the trees were uprooted, but a source at the Civil Administration told Haaretz that Civil Administration inspectors only learned of the appeal after the trees had been removed. In a response for this article, the Civil Administration said the action was done in accordance with the law against individuals who were trespassing on state land.
Residents of the village said the uprooting of the large number of trees despite the filing of the appeal was unusual, as was the speed with which the trees were uprooted following the eviction citations. In the vast majority of such cases, they said, Israeli authorities take no action until a final ruling is made on any appeals.
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Village residents claim to own the land in question. A month after the eviction citations were issued, an appeal was filed by Wa’il Qut of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center. In late October, an appeal panel at the Ofer Military Base asked Qut to send a copy of notice of appeal to Yakov Ivatsin, the lawyer representing the Civil Administration.
It was sent but no response was received. This month, a large contingent of workers came and began uprooting the trees. The villagers said they had thought the eviction order had been suspended while their appeal was pending. Six days later, the response came from Ivatsin, who continued to maintain that the land in question is state land. The issue of the ownership of the land will be considered by the appeal panel, but it is expected to take time until its decision is issued.
“I invested all my money and myself into this land,” said Khatam Dar Musa, a mother of three who lives in Dir Balut. “My heart aches, because I thought I was building a future for my children and they just destroyed everything right in front of me. I have nothing left,” she said. “I’m mentally exhausted by what happened. It severely depressed me to see everything destroyed by a military force, as I stood there helplessly.”
Dar Musa’s neighbors alerted her two weeks ago, when they saw the trees being uprooted. She lost 750 olive-producing trees that she had planted 15 years ago.
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“The trees provided me with a very nice income, and I had planned to send my son to university with the money. How will I help him study now? I have nothing to give my children,” she said.
Seven other families were also affected by the removal of the trees, which were between five and 15 years old. “If the people replant the trees now, it will take 10 years before they start bearing fruit. It’s an enormous loss of income for the families,” said Daoud Abdullah, a social activist in the village.
Two years ago, Haaretz reported that only 0.27 percent of state land allocated to civilians in the areas of the West Bank under Israeli control since 1967 has been allocated to Palestinians. As a result, almost any construction or land cultivation by Palestinians there is considered illegal.
An analysis of 670 eviction orders from government-owned land, found that 91 percent of the orders between 2005 and 2018 were issued against Palestinians. The study was conducted by two Israeli non-profit organizations, Kerem Navot and Haqel.
In Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control (in contrast to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority), there are some 1.2 million dunams (300,000 acres) of state land. Most of it was declared as such after 1979, when the High Court of Justice ended the use of military orders to seize land in the territories for settlement construction.