Peace Now: 40 Percent of Settlements' Land Is Owned by Private Palestinians

One hundred and thirty settlements in the West Bank were built completely or partially on private Palestinian lands, according to a report published yesterday by Peace Now. Altogether, private Palestinian lands comprise almost 40 percent of the area of the settlements.

The report is based on official statistics of the Civil Administration, which the state has tried to hide from the public for years, despite the law on free information, Peace Now spokesmen said at a Jerusalem news conference yesterday.

The Civil Administration last night responded to the claims in the report, saying the report did not reflect the reality accurately. The report treated some of the illegal outposts as if they were settlements and thus distorted the picture, the Civil Administration said. It did not react to the claim that the state continued to build settlements on private land even after the 1979 High Court ruling on Elon Moreh.

"For several years," the statement said, "the Civil Administration has regularly carried out a check of the status of land before approving planning measures and/or allocating lands, by a repeated and thorough examination of the status of the land, in order to check that there is no infringement or use of land of Palestinian individuals for Israeli settlement."

The report states that, out of a total area of 157,000 dunams used by West Bank settlements and industrial zones, 61,000 dunams (approximately 38 percent) are privately owned by Palestinians and about 9,000 dunams will soon be declared state-owned lands. Only some 2,000 dunams are Jewish-owned lands, and the remainder are state-owned lands.

"At least 3,436 buildings on settlements were constructed on private Palestinian lands," the report states. It adds that a similar situation exists on the western side of the separation fence, in the settlement blocs that Israel intends to annex under a final-status agreement. Altogether, some 75,000 dunams in these blocs are Palestinian-owned, about 30,000 dunams (41.4 percent) of them privately owned. East of the separation fence, the state-owned lands comprise some 55 percent of the settlements and the private lands - 36.5 percent. The remainder have an interim status and will soon be declared state-owned.

The report singles out the two largest settlements, both of which have city status. It says that 86.4 percent of Ma'ale Adumim is built on Palestinian land, and 35.1 percent of Ariel. Ninety-three percent of the lands on which the settlement of Ofra is built, for example, are Palestinian.

In a breakdown of the various sections of the West Bank, the report says that most of these privately owned Palestinian lands are in the Binyamin region - 55.14 percent. In Samaria, 36.2 percent of the settlement lands are private; in the southern Hebron hills region, 28.62 percent; in the Gush Etzion region, 23.85 percent; and in the Jordan Valley, 11 percent.

A list of the individual settlements shows that 44 percent of Givat Ze'ev stands on Palestinian lands, 55 percent of Eli, 60 percent of Immanuel, 97 percent of Beit El and 52 percent of Kiryat Arba.

Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary-general of Peace Now, and Dror Etkes, the head of its settlement watch, told reporters that the data presented in the report "demonstrates that the property rights of many Palestinians have been systematically violated in the course of settlement building." The data shows that settlers are guilty not only of larceny, by stealing collective assets of the Palestinian people, but also of disinheriting Palestinian residents of their privately owned property, they said. "Israel has violated even its own norms and laws in the West Bank."

The group called on the attorney general to open an investigation into the report's findings and "to bring those responsible to trial."

The Council of Yesha Settlers reacted yesterday to publication of the report, saying there was no foundation to the claims that settlements have been built on private lands.

"There is nothing new in Peace Now's claims," the council said. "As usual in the struggle against Jewish settlement, the end justifies all the means. Since 1979, the State of Israel has not set up settlements on private lands. Until the High Court of Justice ruling in 1979 [forbidding this], dozens of communities, kibbutzim and towns in the Galilee, the Negev, the Jordan Valley and throughout Israel were also built on private lands confiscated by the army. Since then, the state has set up communities only on state-owned land. That is how all the settlements in Judea and Samaria have been set up since then." Amiram Barkat adds:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has chosen MK Eli Aflalo to head the settlements division of the World Zionist Organiziation, the body that is responsible, inter alia, for developing infrastructure in the settlements. Olmert is expected to announce this today to Jewish Agency head Ze'ev Bielsky.

Aflalo said yesterday he is "studying the proposal." Aflalo, a Likud MK, was Olmert's deputy at the Trade and Commerce ministry.