Palestinians accuse Israeli settlers for eating up lands

Palestinians in the West Bank stand by and watch as Jewish settlers continue to claim land rights and demolish their property, leaving some homeless and without better prospects and diminishing chances of peace between both sides.

Palestinians say the land is privately owned but Israeli settlement plans have exposed the deep division between the two sides.

The community of Bani Nuaim which houses around 30 families is serene and families continue to go on with their everyday lives. Palestinians say this land was theirs and has been taken from them illegally.

“Each morning when I come to this place, really I start crying. It’s my land for many many years and that I know of my family owned this land maybe three or four hundred years ago. And suddenly, almost twenty years ago now, we can’t even get close to the land,” said Harbi Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan, one of the land owners.

Hasan, along with other private owners like him, took their case to Israel’s High Court. A ruling in their favor called for the settlers to vacate by May 1 and their homes to be destroyed – but the settlers appealed.

“Demolishing the homes is not justice. If justice were to be done, then the Supreme court will wait until the case finishes in the district court and the case is decided based on proof and evidence and not on hearsay,” said Judy Simon, settler.

According to analysts the Israeli government is pressuring the court into stalling the case so that new laws can be formulated to enable the settlers to stay despite land deeds proving ownership by Palestinians.

The High Court has granted a 60-day stay on the demolition.

“Israel tried to manipulate the Supreme Court’s Decision and re-open the case. It is illegal and we consider this a declaration of war on the court system itself,” said attorney Mohammed Shgeir.

The delay has favored Jewish settlers.

“I am very happy to see that the government is changing its policy. It’s examining again the facts and when it will restate its position before the Supreme Court. I’m quite hopeful and believe it will do the right thing and reverse the Supreme Court decision," said Dani Dayan, Chairman of the Settler Council.

This case has highlighted the difficulties Palestinians face over the illegal settlers issue.

Farmers in a West bank village were recently devastated after Israeli forces demolished what they say was several makeshift structures that had been built illegally.

The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a unit within the Israeli defense ministry which administers the West Bank, said forces demolished the illegally built areas on the outskirts of Hebron, in “Area C” -- the 60 percent of West Bank where Israel exercises total control.

Defined by interim peace agreements concluded between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, “Area C” is where all of Israel’s West Bank settlements are located.

Palestinians, however, claim their legally owned properties were destroyed.

Tareq Jabri, one of the farm owners said he had all the valid papers and documents to prove the land belongs to him.

“We lost around one million shekels ($264,765). This farm belongs to my brother-in-law who has all the papers from a Palestinian municipality. The farm has been here for four years,” Jabari said.

Last December, 20 human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, endorsed a report accusing Israel of stepping up its demolitions of Palestinian property in occupied land in 2011, razing double the number of homes and water wells from 2010 and displacing more than 1,000 people, the greatest number in a single year since 2005.

Israel dismissed the report as “one-sided and biased,” and said it would continue to “professionally and transparently” enforce laws regarding illegal construction by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinians, along with their property, are increasingly experiencing settler violence since the growth of Jewish settlements which has gained authority over their lands.

Palestinians say what once was theirs can now only be viewed from a distance.

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