Doubly illegal


For some years now, the Israeli trend following Palestinian attacks on soldiers and civilians has been to build more illegal settlements. After two Israeli soldiers were shot dead by a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank amid an upsurge of attacks in the area, the pattern continues.

In response to the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will look at ways to legalize thousands of illegal West Bank settlement homes. Since all the settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, it is a mystery how Netanyahu plans to make legal something that is illegal. This holds especially true for the Israeli settlement of Ofra where the attacks took place in and nearby. Ofra is considered illegal even by the Israeli authorities because it is built on private Palestinian land. At least 58 percent of the settlement’s built-up area is registered in the Land Registry Office under the names of Palestinians, and Israeli settlements may not be built on land of this kind, according to government decisions and Israeli High Court rulings.

So, while all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, whether or not they are officially recognized by the Israeli government, Ofra is illegal even under Israeli law. That makes Ofra doubly illegal, if that is possible.

Ofra’s settler residents claim the land was purchased legally from the Palestinians but contend that showing documents of the purchases would lead to Palestinian retribution attacks, on the assumption that land deals are usually kept secret to protect Palestinian sellers. This argument is baseless. It is doubtful that Israelis care if Palestinians turn on themselves. If anything, Israel would encourage such mutiny.

Netanyahu has told the attorney general’s office to look into approving 82 new housing units in Ofra. He also ordered housing officials to advance plans for building two new industrial zones in the West Bank, and start the punitive demolition of homes belonging to the families of suspected Palestinian assailants, all in an attempt to placate right-wing groups angered by the attacks.

The various governments of Israel established more than 130 settlements like Ofra throughout the West Bank and on the territory it annexed to Jerusalem. The population of these settlements is now almost one-half million people. Such moves have entrenched Israel’s settler colony project and military occupation of the West Bank, now in its 51st year.

The geographical location of Ofra in the heart of a densely-populated Palestinian area creates a partition between Palestinian villages in the area and impedes the villagers’ freedom of movement. The establishment of Ofra in 1979 also resulted in infringement of the right of property of Palestinian residents who own farmland adjacent to the settlement’s built-up area. Their access to this land has been severely restricted in recent years, impairing their ability to gain a livelihood from farming the land. Top quality soil from this agricultural land is systematically stolen for settlement use.

Ofra’s settlement fence was built over wide swathes of land belonging to Palestinian villages. The existence of Ofra is responsible for extensive violations of the human rights of Palestinians living in the area. The immediate violation is of the right of property of Palestinian landowners on whose lands Ofra was built.

Israeli officials have repeatedly emphasized the state’s commitment to dismantle unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. Given that, Ofra is an unauthorized outpost, so Israel must dismantle the settlement, return to the Palestinian landowners the land that was unlawfully taken from them, and remunerate them for the use of their land.