Palestinians want land seized by Modi'in Illit returned

Two Palestinians who allegedly own a 20-dunam plot of land near the Jewish settlement of Modi'in Illit petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, charging that the city had built a park on their land even though the authorities knew the construction was illegal. The 22-dunam park includes grassy areas, a playground, an amphitheater and other facilities. Settlers claim they bought the land from the Palestinians. However, it was not registered in their name in the Palestinian land registry, so there is nothing to back up their claim. Yehiel Sever, the spokesman for the haredi city of 42,000, told The Jerusalem Post he wanted to look at the petition before responding to its charges, but did not answer repeated phone calls afterwards. According to the petition, filed by attorney Michael Sfard on behalf of Muhammad and Hamad Alhawaja, residents of the nearby village of Nil'in, the land is designated for agricultural use according to the outline plan for the area, RJ5, in effect since the time of the British Mandate. A small part of the park is designated as public open space according to an outline plan from 1984. Some 15 years later, the authorities drafted outline plan 210/9/2, which earmarked the Hawaja land as open public space, even though it was privately owned. However, the plan was not approved because the legal adviser of the government and the legal adviser of the Civil Administration in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, refused to authorize it. On July 25, 2006, then-Peace Now official Dror Etkes informed the head of the Civil Administration about the construction of the park. The commander, Brig.-Gen. Camil Abu Rokun, said the area was outside the outline plan for Modi'in Illit and its land use status was determined by the mandatory plan. Another official informed Etkes that there was no legal permit for the construction of the park. However, the Civil Administration did nothing to stop the building. "Once again it has become clear that the law enforcement authorities are making a mockery of themselves and us," wrote Sfard. "The construction of the park in the settlement continued without interference until completion, despite the full knowledge of the law enforcement authorities who failed to carry out their elementary duties. This was done even though the authorities received reports all the time of the building violations and had a great deal of time to do their duty."