(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In his article, “The truth about Gush Etzion” (The Jerusalem Post, March 1), Davidi Perel, the mayor of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, writes that the Jewish settlers “built their homes, planted their fields and established their enterprises... without in any way harming the homes or lands of the Palestinian residents.”
In another article, “Gush Etzion has a right to flourish and prosper” (The Jerusalem Post, March 2), Oded Ravivi, the mayor of Efrat, writes that “Israel does not dispute private land claims and does not touch privately owned properties.”
Let’s examine one area which has not yet been settled by Jews, but which the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Efrat Municipality are hoping to settle forthwith. South of Bethlehem near the village of Nahla lies an area of about 1,700 dunams which Israel plans to convert into a settlement for some 10,000 Jews. This area is called E2, because just like area E1 (between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem) settling here will make a two-state solution extremely difficult.
This land has been owned by Palestinians at least since Ottoman times. For example, the landowners, who appealed against Israel’s nationalizing their private lands in E2, produced their kushans (i.e.land deeds) and/or tax records documenting their ownership.
The Civil Administration and the court all agree that the land of E2 belonged to the Palestinian owners.
But the authorities carried out the state’s policy of declaring these lands “state lands” to enable turning them over for Jewish settlement.
How are private Palestinian lands given to the settlers? In Ottoman times the sultan received taxes based on the crops raised on the land, so arable land not tilled caused him to lose money. Such land could therefore be taken away by the state. But in E2 much of the land is rocky and unfit for farming.
However, it is excellent for home building. But Israel will allow only Jews to build in E2, so the state declared the lands unused and is nationalizing them to allow Jews to build on them. The state is penalizing the Palestinian owners for not farming the rocky land, but would not allow them to use the land to build houses for themselves.
A new Jewish settlement in E2 will certainly be “harming the...lands of the Palestinian residents.”
Will the new settlers’ consciences be clean, knowing that the State of Israel does the dirty work for them of displacing the Palestinian owners and giving their lands to Jews? Throughout the West Bank Israel has used the ruse of “unworked land” to nationalize hundreds of thousands of dunams of Palestinian lands, many of them private property, converting them to state land. Ravivi’s claim that “Israel does not dispute private land claims and does not touch privately owned properties” simply does not hold water.
In recent years, many scores of residents of the nearby Dehaishe Refugee Camp bought land in E2 in the hopes that, with peace, they would be able to build homes there and leave the squalid conditions of life in the refugee camp. If settlers build their homes on this land, the refugees’ dreams of leaving the camp and building a normal life will be destroyed. Can the future settlers claim that they are not “in any way harming the homes or lands of the Palestinian residents”? The simple truth is that the settlements in the Bethlehem area are part of a national policy of territorial expansion. If Perel really wants “good relations and cooperation with all the residents of this region, Jew and Palestinian alike,” he should consider that it’s hard to expect those whose private lands are taken from them to have good relations with those who are settling upon that land.
The author is an activist in Combatants for Peace (Jerusalem-Bethlehem group).