Secret Israeli land seizure ruled unlawful (INDEPENDENT UK) By Donald Macintyre in Beit Jala 02/02/05)
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An Israeli government decision, taken in secret, to seize thousands
of acres of land around Jerusalem from its Palestinian owners was
reversed yesterday when the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz
announced that it was unlawful.
Mr Mazuz ruled that a ministerial committee which took the decision
had no power to apply a 55-year-old statute to confiscate without
compensation farmland in east Jerusalem cut off from its West Bank
owners by the route of the separation barrier being built by the army.
The Attorney General went on to warn that the move would have "grave
diplomatic repercussions" for the barrier, which has been declared
illegal by the International Court of Justice because its 420-mile
route cuts deep into territory on the Palestinian side of the 1967
border with Israel.
The climbdown over what had threatened to become a major
embarrassment to Israel in the run-up to a visit this month by the US
Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to examine the prospects for
political progress came after Mr Mazuz revealed that he had been kept
in the dark about the decision. He also indicated that the decision
would not survive scrutiny by the supreme court. The statute was
devised to sanction the expropriation of land vacated by Arabs who
fled their homes in what is now Israel during the war of 1948.
Human rights lawyers and activists welcomed the decision as a severe
setback - though not necessarily a terminal one - for a plan they see
as part of an overall strategy of maximising the Jewish presence in
Arab east Jerusalem, which was annexed after the 1967 war, is not
internationally recognised as part of Israel and is wanted by
Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer representing affected families in
Bethlehem, said he was "delighted" that Mr Mazuz had proved to be
a "decent and courageous public servant", but added: "Delight does
not become complacency."
Raji Zaidan, the mayor of Beit Jala, one of the West Bank towns most
threatened by the move, yesterday welcomed the decision as a "good
sign", but added: "I can´t be sure that Israel will not use other
methods to take the land. I personally think they prefer our land to
Under the plan, 1,000 acres of olive groves and orchards farmed for
generations by a community of some 200 mainly Christian Palestinian
Beit Jala residents within the Jerusalem municipal boundary as it was
expanded by Israel after the 1967 war were to have been seized. Mr
Zaidan said this was land which would in the future be needed for
expanding Beit Jala to accommodate natural growth, but which Israel
instead wanted to expand the Jewish settlement of Gilo.
The residents will be separated from the land by the barrier when its
circling of Jerusalem is complete, depending on army willingness to
open a gate to gain entry.
One fear is that Israel could still apply an Ottoman law which allows
state appropriation of land which has not been cultivated for three
years. Nadim Hadweh, whose family own a one-acre olive grove in the
affected area - as well as another partly destroyed to make way for
the barrier - said they had been stopped from harvesting it in
November by Israeli security forces. He said Israel had decided "this
is not the right time because of peace efforts", but feared "they
will tell their lawyers to find another way to take the land".
Mr Mazuz´s ruling incidentally removes one potential obstacle to
political progress at a time when the fragile de facto truce is under
its most severe strain since it began 10 days ago. Israel has decided
to slow down its planned handover of security control in five West
Bank cities to Palestinian forces following renewed violence in Gaza
after the killing of a 10-year-old girl at a UN school in Rafah in
what Hamas was adamant was Israeli gunfire. Five shells fired by
Palestinian militants hit settlements in the Strip yesterday.
The army continued to say yesterday that the girl had been
accidentally killed by Palestinians firing weapons in celebration of
the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. (© 2005 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
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