Palestinians Claiming Land at Illegal Outpost Take Israel's Deal With Settlers to Court

The petitioners demand the removal of the buildings put up by the settlers, who as things stand have a chance to return in the future

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The evacuation of the Evyatar outpost last week.
The evacuation of the Evyatar outpost last week. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Palestinians from villages near the illegal outpost Evyatar have petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to revoke the state’s compromise that gives the settlers a chance to return in the future.

Under the deal, the outpost’s structures are to remain intact and the settlers may return if the land is deemed state-owned.

The 12 petitioners are demanding that the structures be removed. They also want the military “seizure order” in the area to be lifted, and that an investigation be opened against the officials and entities that allegedly helped establish the outpost – the defense minister, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank and the Shomron Regional Council.

The petitioners say they hold the rights to the land on which the outpost’s buildings and infrastructure have been built. In the petition that was submitted Thursday, some of them attached property-tax documents as proof of their ownership of the land.

A contemporary aerial photograph of Evyatar showing the area of a military base from the 1980s (red), a 2018 seizure order (green) and the area of the current takeover.

About two-thirds of the West Bank’s land is not registered in any land registry, as the registry process has been halted by the Israeli occupation. Instead, there are property-tax books that the Ottoman and British authorities used for collecting taxes.

Israel, however, does not recognize the tax books as proof of land ownership; instead, it demands proof that the land was cultivated by its alleged owners.

The petitioners have aerial photographs from the ‘80s showing that the land at Evyatar was cultivated for farming. Later, to set up a base there, the army issued a seizure order that stopped Palestinians from working their land.

The petitioners say that even after the army reduced its presence in the area at the end of the ‘90s, it left facilities and infrastructure there and continued using it, while soldiers stopped Palestinians from reaching the land, claiming that it was a closed military area.

An aerial photograph from the '80s at Evyatar, whose name is written above in Hebrew. Local Palestinians say the photo shows that the land is their agricultural land.

The petition says that in 2018 the army issued another seizure order for a larger area that was in effect until July that year. The area of the Evyatar outpost is larger than the area covered in both seizure orders, the petitioners say. They say they have never been notified that the military’s hold on the area has ended or been canceled.

Also, some of the petitioners are owners of farming land near the outpost, and since its establishment they have been driven off their fields by the army or settlers, they say.

Before the agreement with the settlers was signed, two lawyers for the petitioners asked the attorney general not to approve it. The two attorneys, Sliman Shahin and Alaa Mahajna, never received a response from the attorney general’s office.

“The new government is continuing its predecessors’ policy with a vengeance, encouraging the culture of taking over Palestinian lands in the West Bank,” Shahin said. “With this agreement the state is enlisting the army as a trustee for the squatters to protect the illegal structures at the outpost.”

Mahajna added: “In Evyatar’s case, the government intervened on behalf of the squatters and forced an unprecedented, corrupt mechanism that spits in the face of the law. The government has signaled to the settlers that it’s possible to act like the West Bank is the Wild West.”

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