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Illegal settlement infrastructure exposed on Palestinian land

Bil’in 29/05/07- Two days before the Israeli Supreme Court will hear the appeal (1526/07) submitted by Bil’in residents and Peace Now against the decision of the High Commission of Planning in the civil administration to ‘launder’ the illegal building in the settlement Matityahu East, agricultural work on land that the Israeli Civil Administration has defined as a private Palestinian ‘enclave’ was stopped after a tractor used for ploughing exposed the sewage pipes of the Matityahu East settlement. The head of the security of Modiin Elite warned the farmers that working the land was endangering their lives, because of buried electricity cables..

On January 2007 a new master plan for the settlement of Matityahu East, an outpost of Modiin Elite, was approved with the conditions that enclaves – that the state recognizes as privately owned by Bil’in residents – be restored, building debris removed and free access be granted for agricultural work by Palestinian farmers. Almost all of the Matityahu East settlement – in which the building of 2722 residential units are planned – occupies land belonging to the village of Bil’in, West of the current route of the separation fence, six kilometers east of the green line. The state admitted in court that the new settlement is the main reason for the current route of the barrier in Bil’in. The new plan was meant to retrospectively legitimize ‘large scale illegal building’ in Matityahu by real estate companies Green Park and Kheftzeba, who built hundreds of living units in complete opposition to planning and building laws.

Today, on Tuesday 29th May 2007, residents of Bil’in, accompanied by Israeli peace activists, came to assert their right to work the land in one of the enclaves. The Israeli peace activists filmed as Bil’in residents began to plough the land, using a tractor brought from Israel (Bil’in’s tractor is not being allowed to cross the gate in the barrier, despite access for agricultural work being promised by the Supreme court and a condition of the master plan). They soon exposed a sewage pit that had been buried under dirt and debris. The plough hit a pipe leading to the pit, causing a leak.

Shuki Levin, the head of security in Modiin Elite arrived on the scene, informing those present that they must immediately stop working on the enclave and saying that such work was ‘life threatening’ due to underground electricity cables which could electrocute farmers using standard agricultural tools. After this warning the workers immediately stopped work, but soon military forces arrived and declared the area a Closed Military Zone, confiscating the tractor on the claim that it had committed work without a permit.

The events of today in Matityahu expose again the reality of the neighbourhood’s new master plan. Utilities including sewage, water and electricity facilities lie a few dozen centimeters under the ground, making agricultural work impossible in complete contradiction to the instructions of the master plan. Any agricultural work requiring machinery like tractors endanger both the farmer working the land the settlers living in the neighbourhood. In contradiction to the demands of the plan, there is no access to the enclave for the Palestinian landowners or possibility of agricultural work.

The High Planning Committee in Beit El that approved the new master plan in January 2007 was well aware of these facts. In the hearing, they were presented with photographs proving that settlement infrastructure and building debris is buried in the enclave. However the planning committee decided to serve the interests of the law-flouting real estate sharks by approving the plan, completely ignoring these facts. The events today offer compelling evidence that the commitment to restoring the enclaves declared by the High Committee of Planning is merely a fig leaf covering the reality on the ground, which is that the master plan of Matityahu effectively confiscates all the land of the enclaves, uses it illegally to contain the infrastructure of the settlement and prevents any use by its legal owners, the Palestinian residents of Bil’in.

In 1991 Israel annexed 1,100 dunums (275 acres) of the land of Bil’in. The confiscation was justified by reference to an old Ottoman-era law allowing for confiscation of ‘unused’ land for State purposes. In the same year the villagers appealed to the Supreme Court – the Court approved the majority of the land confiscation, but acknowledged that some of the plots in which the olive trees were densely planted were being used. These plots were not confiscated and their ownership by villagers from Bil’in was acknowledged by the court at that time. These plots became the enclaves in question. A decade after the confiscation, Israeli settlements began to be built. This has followed a typical pattern of settlement expansion, whereby Palestinian land is first declared State property and then eventually distributed to Israelis for private use.

For more information: Mohammad Khatib 0545573285
Attorney Michael Sfard 0544713930 or 035607345