NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli settler bulldozers under the protection of Israeli army and intelligence forces uprooted hundreds of olive trees from Palestinian lands in the village of Iskaka in eastern Salfit on Wednesday morning.Local activist Khalid Maali told Ma’an that two bulldozers belonging to settlers from the illegal Israeli outpost of Nefih Hanania and the nearby Rachelim settlement razed 35 dunams (8.6 acres) of agricultural land planted with some 500 olive trees in the eastern al-Bayyada area of the village, near the outpost and settlement.
Head of the Iskaka village council Abd al-Qader Abu Hakmeh told Ma’an that villagers were taken by surprise when the convoy stormed the village and uprooted the olive trees without giving prior notice, under the pretext that they were located on state lands confiscated by Israel.A spokesperson for Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is responsible for implementing the Israeli government's policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, said that "enforcements were made against a Palestinian resident, who illegally overtook land that he did not own," adding that approximately 400 trees were removed.
The COGAT spokesperson added that an appeal committee reportedly gave the Palestinian resident an opportunity to prove ownership of the land, which they claimed he failed to do.
Maali said that land leveling had escalated recently in the occupied West Bank, especially around Salfit for the expansion of the 24 illegal Israeli settlements surrounding the district.
Iskaka has been subjected to numerous Israeli confiscations over the years for the construction of Israeli settlements, checkpoints, outposts, bypass roads, and Israel’s separation wall.
Some 5 percent of Iskaka was confiscated to establish the Ariel settlement which lies beyond the wall west of the village -- the second largest settlement in the occupied West Bank in terms of area.
Iskaka’s lands were also forcefully seized by Israeli settlers to establish the illegal outpost southeast of the village on the road leading to Rachelim.
The settlement of Rachelim, established in 1991, was retroactively legalized by the Israeli government in 2012. Israel’s Civil Administration approved scores of new housing
for the settlement in January.
Mounting international pressure on Israel, including demands to freeze new construction in settlements, has influenced the Israeli government to adopt an overt policy of approving settlement outposts -- which are considered illegal even under Israel’s own laws -- and existing illegal construction in settlements, according to ARIJ.