Most of the settlements which have taken over privately owned Palestinian lands in order to create security buffer zones have in fact been using the land for other purposes while the Civil Administration turns a blind eye, according to an investigation by Haaretz.
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These buffer zones were first created in the wake of the second intifada, when, between 2002 and 2004, 31 people were killed by terror attacks in which the perpetrators managed to penetrate settlements.
This prompted a search for electronic security mechanisms specific to each community to improve the fence and create a secure space between the settlement fence (if there was one) and the settlement’s first line of defense. The intent was to install observation elements in the area, to be able to pursue terrorists as well as to establish a psychological barrier to those attempting to breach the settlement.
In settlements that were built on or near private Palestinian land, occupation of these zones was supported by orders of successive commanders of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command. Thousands of dunams of cultivated land have been taken from their Palestinian owners under these circumstances.
Theoretically, the owners can ask to enter the settlement to work the land, but receipt of such permits is a lengthy process and even if it is given, it is sometimes canceled because of problems of coordination or threats from the settlements.
In practice, few landowners have been allowed in to work their land in these special zones.
Haaretz found that in recent years, under the guise of these security buffer zones and with the Civil Administration turning a blind eye, most of the settlements that have taken over private lands are actually using them as land reserves or for agriculture. In seven out of 12 settlements in which there are official security buffer zones, private lands were taken over. In two other settlements, state lands were breached.
For example, in the settlement of Karmei Tzur, a strip of land was taken over in 2005 to protect the settlement from the north, but in fact, a basketball court was put up there. In the settlements of Ateret, Pnei Hever, Nahliel and Kiryat Arba, these buffer zone lands are being cultivated by settlement farmers. In Kiryat Arba, prefabricated buildings were put up in the security zone.
In the settlement of Mevo Dotan, a road was built in the buffer zone to connect the settlement with a new outpost nearby.
Only in the settlements of Hermesh, Shavei Shomron and Telem are the security buffer zones being used for their original purpose.
In addition to official security buffer zones, some settlements have built unofficial zones of this type, which are enforced by the IDF and settlement security heads as a line the Palestinians are not allowed to cross. The unofficial zone is sometimes marked by a fence and sometimes enforced by patrols.
Around the settlement of Kokhav Hashachar there is a partial fence and large areas where Palestinians are not allowed. Dozens of dunams were taken over and are being cultivated by settlers in Itamar and Ma’ale Michmash. At Psagot, homes are being constructed in the security zone.
Dror Etkes, a researcher on settlement policies in the territories, told Haaretz: “Experience shows that even in cases in which areas were initially closed out of security considerations, with time this became a de facto means of expanding the area under the control of the settlers. This is another manifestation of the attitude of the state that treats Palestinian property as if it was ownerless."
The Civil Administration responded: “In places where illegal construction exists, stop-work and demolition orders have been issued,” citing Karmei Tzur, Mevo Dotan, Ateret, Pnei Hever and Kiryat Arba as places where such orders were issued. The Civil Administration coordinates Palestinian entry to the buffer zones to cultivate their land when a request is filed." The Civil Administration added that it acts when it receives a complaint from Palestinians about trespassing.