(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
West Bank settlers, often with the cooperation of the army and the state, have effectively expropriated thousands of dunams of private Palestinian land in so-called security zones beyond the perimeter of settlements located east of the security barrier, B'Tselem-The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories charges in a 58-page report set for release on Thursday morning.
The report, titled "Stolen Land," deals with official "special security areas" around 12 settlements and many other self-declared security areas policed by the settlers themselves.
According to B'Tselem, "For many years Israeli authorities have surrounded settlements with rings of land which are off limits to Palestinians, and have refrained from eradicating instances of 'pirate' closures and the blocking of access by Palestinians to land adjacent to other settlements by settlers. The prevention of access to Palestinians is one of the many ways used to expand the settlements."
In many cases the original fences erected far from the settlement perimeters on privately owned Palestinian or state land were put up by the settlers without permission, according to the report. The army then whitewashed the settlers' actions by declaring all the land between the settlement and the fence as a "special security area," B'Tselem said.
The report found that a total of 4,560 dunams (456 hectares) of land outside but surrounding 12 settlements were officially declared off limits by the IDF. The settlements in question are Adura, Hermesh, Carmei Tzur, Mevo Dotan, Ma'aleh Levona, Nahliel, Atarot, Einav, Pnei Hever, Kiryat Arba, Shavei Shomron and Telem.
Officially, neither Palestinians nor Jewish civilians are allowed to be in the designated areas. However, the restriction is observed only against the Palestinians. While the army strictly enforces the restrictions against Palestinians, it fails to do so regarding settlers, the report charged. While the areas are fenced off on all sides to keep out the Palestinians, the settlers have unobstructed access to them from the settlements themselves.
Palestinian farmers who can prove they own land in the special security areas may cultivate it on condition that they coordinate entry with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria and obtain the consent of the settlers for each entry. It is very difficult to do this. According to the report, very few farmers are able to cultivate their land and those who can may only do so for a few days each year.
Aside from the 12 official special security areas, the settlers have built fences and patrol roads surrounding other settlements without government permission. They enforce the prohibited areas on their own, though often with IDF backing.
"In the past few years, B'Tselem has documented many efforts on the part of the settlers to forcibly expel Palestinians from land close to the settlements," the report stated. "For example, B'Tselem documented shooting incidents, threats of shooting and murder, beatings, stone-throwing, siccing assault dogs on Palestinians, hitting them with fists, rifle stocks and baseball bats, trying to run them over, vandalizing their agricultural equipment and harvests, stealing their harvests, killing their farm animals and stealing animals used to cultivate the land, demanding to see identity papers without authorization and stealing documents. The phenomenon is very widespread," according to the report.
The report cites several examples of how settlers took over land that was supposedly off limits to them as well as the Palestinians. For example, north of Givat Harsina in Hebron, there is a yeshiva on Palestinian land that was closed off to protect the settlement. The students cultivate some of the land and there is a winery, a residential building and mobile homes there.
Settlers bitterly attacked the report.
"I think it is one of the most outrageous reports that B'Tselem has ever published," said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
B'Tselem had "crossed a red" line and was "cooperating with terrorism," Dayan told The Jerusalem Post.
It was inconceivable, he said, that the group would attack security measures taken to protect the lives of Israelis. In so doing, it was no different than a Palestinian nationalist organization.
The core of their report is their effort to abolish security measures that were dictated by the IDF to protect the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, he said.
At one point in the report, they blame the IDF and the government for prioritizing measures to protect the lives of the settlers instead of worrying about Palestinian civil rights, he said.
It demonstrated that B'Tselem did not care at all about Jewish lives, he said.