B'Tselem: Over half of Ofra built on Arab land

Binyamin council head Avi Roeh calls report by left-wing group "utterly baseless hatred."

ofra 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The legal status of a major West Bank settlement is identical to that of an illegal outpost, as more than half of it was constructed on Palestinian land, according to a report released Monday by the human rights group B'Tselem. The report said that at least 58 percent of Ofra, near Ramallah, was located on land registered as privately owned by Palestinians. The human rights group noted that government decisions and High Court rulings prohibited the construction of settlements on private Palestinian land. Government officials have repeatedly said that settlements were built on state land and not on private land. The report, based on data B'Tselem obtained from the Civil Administration, stated that 210 dunams of the 670-dunam settlement consisted of land belonging to nearby Palestinian villagers, while another 180 dunams were "unlawfully expropriated by the Israeli army three decades ago." Ofra is home to 600 families and was established in 1975. "The Israeli cabinet decided that an Israeli community in the West Bank that is built on land registered to Palestinians and that was constructed without the requisite permits and without declared boundaries is an illegal outpost which must be dismantled," the organization said in a press release. The report followed comments by Vice Premier Haim Ramon that Ofra was built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Ramon has advocated ceding the West Bank and east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The mainstream settlement movement on Sunday dismissed B'Tselem's claims. "The facts in the B'Tselem report are completely distorted and aim to portray a false situation," Yesha spokesman Yishai Hollander wrote in a response. Hollander noted that in contrast to what was written in the report, residents of the settlement had reached agreements that would enable private Palestinian landowners to work on their land. "The purpose of the report is not to safeguard the rights of Arabs but to evict the Jews from their land," he said. "Regretfully, the B'Tselem organization systematically tries to harm the Jewish settlement movement and does not hesitate to use any means - including lies - to that end." Also responding to B'Tselem's charges was Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Roeh, who said the report "is not worthy of a response since it is utterly baseless hatred." Ofra is part of the Binyamin region. Nearly 300,000 Israelis live in 120 settlements amid 2.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Much of the international community views the settlements as a violation of international law. Israel says the territory is disputed and that its fate should be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians. In any future peace deal, Israel is expected to maintain several of the major West Bank settlement blocs.