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Settlers level Palestinian land as proposed law threatens mass land confiscation

Dec. 6, 2016 1:40 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2016 3:46 P.M.)
(File)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli bulldozers leveled private Palestinian lands in the northern occupied West Bank village of Jalud in the Nablus district on Tuesday morning, a day after the Israeli Knesset moved forward with a bill seeking to retroactively legalize illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, which would see thousands of dunams of Palestinian lands confiscated.

A Palestinian official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, Ghassan Daghlas, told Ma'an that several bulldozers escorted by Israeli settlers and troops started to level lands on the eastern outskirts of Jalud "without prior notice."

More than 40 dunams (9.88 acres) of land belonging to the family of Ahmad Nasser al-Hajj were leveled, Daghlas added.

The illegal Israeli settlement outpost Esh Kodesh is located only a few hundred meters away from the area leveled on Tuesday.

Daghlas said that the al-Hajj family tried to access the land on Monday to plow it, but that Israeli forces denied them access, confiscating the keys of the tractors they had brought with them.

The al-Hajjs emphatically said that they had not received any documents from the Israeli government regarding a decision to confiscate their land.

However, residents in Jalud were alerted on April 23 that 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of private land were slated for confiscation, in what appeared to be the retroactive legalization of illegal outposts in the area. It was not immediately clear if the land leveled on Tuesday was on the same lands threatened with confiscation in April. In May Israeli settler bulldozers leveled lands in Jalud as well.

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

The land leveling came as the Knesset passed a preliminary reading of the “Legalization bill” on Monday, which would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized.

While the law initially gained traction among Israeli ministers and lawmakers seeking to avoid the imminent evacuation of residents of the Amona outpost, the revised version of the bill that passed Monday does not apply to Amona as it has already been ordered to be demolished by Dec. 25 by the Israeli Supreme Court.

In October, Israel's Higher Planning Committee (HPC) of the Civil Administration pre-approved a plan for 98 settler housing units to be built on Jalud's lands, which Israeli rights group Peace Now said at the time would likely be used to relocate settlers residing in the Amona outpost. The move was met with widespread international condemnation and came among numerous legally dubious attempts by Israeli authorities to find a solution for Amona.

On Tuesday, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned the Knesset against passing the bill into law.

“If adopted, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace,” Mladenov said in a statement.

“I reiterate that all settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace."

The latest report from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said, referring to the bill, that the “dispossession of Palestinians was never a matter contingent on this legislation, it has been integral to the settlement enterprise from its very inception and is one of the most consistent trends in Israeli policy over the decades.”

An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Israeli settlers reside in 196 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in contravention of international law, and a further 232 settler outposts considered illegal both by international law and Israeli domestic law -- despite Israeli authorities commonly retroactively legalizing the outposts, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ).

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state as envisioned in the two-state solution by changing the facts on the ground.
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