Israeli Settlers Move in to West Bank Land Days After Palestinians Family's Eviction

Owner of the plot, the Jewish National Fund, said it has been leased for agricultural use, but a group of Jews have built residential structures there without permits

Heavy machinery at the JNF site.
Olivier Fitoussi

Just days after a Palestinian family was evicted by the Israeli Civil Administration from land in the West Bank that is owned by a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund, an unauthorized settlement outpost has been established there.

The JNF, the organization known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, said it leased the land near the Palestinian town of Beit Jala to the settlement of Neveh Daniel in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc for agricultural use following the eviction of the Palestinians, whom it said were squatting at the site. The Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank confirmed that the temporary structures erected there by Israelis are illegal and said they will be removed “in accordance with our order of priorities.”

In late August, the Civil Administration demolished a home at the site where the Palestinian Cassia family had been living, along with a restaurant that the family ran. Both had been built without a permit on the isolated hilltop near Bethlehem. Over the past several years, the Civil Administration razed the restaurant three times, but this is the first time that it also tore down the house.

The demolitions were carried out after Himnuta, a JNF subsidiary that manages the organization’s land, produced documents showing that it has owned the land since the late 1960s. The Cassia family disputes this, and is trying to prove its ownership of the land in court. In the interim, the family is living in a tent near its former home.

A member of the Cassia family at the site of the demolished restaurant.
AFP

A few days after the family was evicted, a group of Jews came to a plot adjacent to where the house and restaurant had stood and began working the land. A short time later, they erected temporary buildings that in practice turned the site into an unauthorized residential outpost.

Although JNF had leased the land to the group of Jews for agricultural purposes, no permits have ever been issued for the construction of buildings at the site, and the new structures therefore have no more legal validity than the Cassia family’s home and restaurant.

A visit to the site revealed that considerable work is being done on the land with heavy machinery. There were several cars there, along with a truck and construction tools. The Civil Administration confirmed that the new buildings there were constructed illegally.

For its part, the Peace Now organization, which opposes the settlement enterprise, was critical of the handling of the matter: “The establishment of a new outpost 70 meters (230 feet) from the Palestinian home that was destroyed under pressure from the JNF lets the cat out of the bag. It turns out that when JNF demanded that the Cassia family’s home be demolished, it didn’t care if illegal construction was carried out on its land, but it didn’t want Palestinians to build on its land.”

The Jewish National Fund said it “will continue to work to uphold its rights to the land it owns.” The Cassia family, it added, had been squatters on the land owned by JNF and were therefore evicted by court order, but returned the same day and remain at the site. The JNF said the site in question is one of seven plots in the area that it owns.