The Israel Lands Authority is advancing plans to build a new neighborhood for a Jerusalem suburb even though a large part of the neighborhood would be located in the West Bank, where the agency has no planning authority whatsoever.
Last week, Haaretz Magazine reported that 20 years ago, when the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion expanded northward, about 20 houses in the Reches Halilim neighborhood were built on the West Bank side of the Green Line, which demarcates Israel from the West Bank. It now turns out that the Lands Authority is advancing a plan for a whole new neighborhood of which about 40 percent will be located in the West Bank.
Three months ago, the plan was published to allow the public to submit objections, which are due to be discussed shortly. The plan calls for 10 apartment buildings, each seven to 10 stories high, for a total of 290 apartments. It also includes commercial space, preschools and green areas, covering 46 dunams.
The southern part of the new neighborhood will lie within Mevasseret’s existing municipal borders, and some of the northern portion will lie on uncultivated land. But the remainder of the northern portion will lie on agricultural land formerly owned by residents of the neighboring Palestinian village of Beit Surik. Aerial photographs analyzed by Dror Etkes, a researcher for the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog, show that until the 1980s, this land was farmed using terraces.
The area was declared state land many years ago and is registered as such by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. But because the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank lies north of the Green Line in this area, this land ended up on the Israeli side of the fence.
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Etkes said that because the plan was prepared by the Lands Authority for a town inside Israel, where the issue of Palestinian land doesn’t normally arise, no special precautions were taken to ensure that it didn’t include privately owned Palestinian land in agricultural use. In contrast, the Civil Administration usually takes such precautions when planning settlement construction.“It’s clear that had this been done in the territories, the terraced section wouldn’t have been included in the plan.”
Mevasseret’s city council objects to the plan for various reasons, including transportation issues and damage to the landscape. In addition, 134 residents of the area submitted objections to the plan.
The Lands Authority did not deny the facts in this report. It said merely that the plan has been publicized for public comment prior to discussion by the committee, and “if there are contradictions or deviations, adjustments will be made via the statutory process.”