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Gov't Silent as Illegal Arab Building Cuts Off Gush Etzion

Arabs, funded by the Palestinian Authority, are deciding Israel's future borders through unhindered illegal building.
By Ezra HaLevi
First Publish: 1/19/2006, 11:02 AM / Last Update: 1/19/2006, 1:15 PM

As the government declares "war" on unauthorized Jewish communities, Arabs, funded by the Palestinian Authority, are deciding Israel's future borders through unhindered illegal building.

An investigative report by Erez Tadmor, of the Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon, exposed the massive unauthorized Arab building projects, which are going on all over Gush Etzion, the 'settlement bloc' just south of Jerusalem that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeatedly claimed would remain in Jewish hands. Mr. Sharon insisted that a letter he received from US President George W. Bush bolstered that claim.

The Gush Etzion bloc is shown even by left-wing polls to be within the consensus of Israeli willingness to fight to retain. According to the platforms of the Kadima and Labor parties, and even Yossi Beilin's Geneva Initiative, Gush Etzion's future under Israeli sovereignty is assured. At the same time, however, the region, where Jews return to in 1967 after being expelled in 1948, is being surrendered through the government's decision to destroy only unauthorized Jewish building, ignoring 7,380 Arab violations.

In 1998, then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was broadcast on Israel Radio exhorting idealistic Jews to, "Move, run, grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that's grabbed, will be in our hands. Everything we don't grab will be in their hands." Sharon has since destroyed 25 Jewish towns in Gaza and northern Samaria and is now in a coma, while his deputy, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has declared "war" on unauthorized Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.

With the Partition Wall about to be constructed in the region, it is acknowledged that the real route of the fence will be drawn by the State’s High Court, which has already taken Arab agriculture and construction into consideration over Jewish contiguity in Samaria. The route of the Partition Wall will be the future border of the State of Israel, according to Justice Minister Tzippy Livni.

The decisions of the Supreme Court on the fence-route in Ariel Bloc in Samaria resulted in a route that looks very similar to the map of Jewish communities in Gaza prior to their destruction - a group of isolated enclaves, connected to pre-1967 Israel by narrow corridors, similar to the Kissufim corridor, and just as susceptible to attacks.

"Those who have truly internalized the rules of the game are the Palestinian Authority and international bodies," Tadmor wrote, "who are now acting with the intent of isolating Gush Etzion in accordance with the rules established by the Supreme Court."

In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the construction of the Partition Wall in Gush Etzion, local Arabs are racing to create facts on the ground. "In the full light of day and with the knowledge of the relevant authorities, intensive works have been underway during the past months to seize control of thousands of [acres] of uncultivated lands between the settlements of western Gush Etzion and the Green Line. The goal is to prevent any possibility of creating territorial contiguity in the direction of Jerusalem and in the direction of Beitar-Illit and Tsur Hadassah. In the last months, the Palestinians have expedited the pace of work undertaken in a number of parallel areas. So far, they've managed to seize control of hundreds of acres of state lands in the southwestern Gush, and one sees a similar picture unfolding in the central Gush and in the lands north of it."


According to the report, official vehicles of the Palestinian Authority, manned by paid PA employees, are supervising the work and traveling freely in the areas between Gush Etzion's Jewish towns. The areas are worked day in and day out using heavy equipment such as bulldozers, tractors, dump trucks, and large teams of workers. They are focusing on state lands (land purchased by the JNF prior to the state on behalf of the Jewish people) and on 'survey' lands (lands whose status is unclear due to their lack of registry in the lands authority, much of them state lands as well). New roads are being paved, dirt paths are being widened, land is being indiscriminately plowed, and terraces are being built to seize legal control of the land, all with the financial backing of the PA and international donors under the guise of assisting Palestinian farmers.

A similar effort by the PA was halted by Ehud Barak during his term as prime minister, after he and Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh were convinced that the project at that time aimed at driving wedges between the Gush Etzion communities and between the region and the Green Line, rather than to assist the small farmer. The Civil Administration was instructed to prevent any future attempts at seizing land, including the impounding of equipment working the area. In recent months, however, the Civil Administration has not interfered with the illegal building. During these months the Civil Administration called in massive forces to destroy a small house in the Jewish outlying community of Sde Boaz, whose residents witness the illegal Arab construction a stone-throw from their homes daily.

The report outlines details of the construction projects that are ongoing: "The PA has seized hundreds of [acres] on every one of the slopes that descend from the settlements of the Gush westwards and northwards. On the slopes that descend westwards from the communities of Elazar and Givat Hachish (Alon Shvut's caravan neighborhood), heavy equipment has been working to clear wide tracts, by hewing the rocky landscape and opening access routes for trucks. At the same time, dozens of laborers are operating in the area continuously with the help of tractors. Tract after tract of terraces are prepared, followed by a stream of trucks that dump their loads of arable soil onto the newly created terraces.

"The result, after a few days of work is to transform the area from a virgin and rocky hillside to a terraced landscape awaiting planting. In addition, wells are being dug to facilitate the future agriculture. A similar situation exists on the northern and western slopes of Neve Daniel, where Sde Boaz is located, and on land abutting the city of Beitar Illit, separating it from the rest of Gush Etzion."

A large sign has even been erected in the area, displaying the logos of the PA and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). "The UNDP, which is supposed to be a neutral organization that assists Palestinian farmers, is overreaching its mission by lending its authority and resources to aid the PA in its land-grab," reads the report.

As for the Civil Administration, 7,380 demolition orders have been issued against illegal Arab building projects in Judea and Samaria that have not been executed due to orders by the government.

Orders to dismantle hundreds of other illegal structures in the Negev also have not been carried out. Bedouins in the Negev have built thousands of illegal metal shacks on land that they have taken over during the past two decades. Instead of calling them "illegal" or "unauthorized" the government and state-run media call them "unrecognized villages."

A spokesman for the Negev District Police said recently that the Arabs have erected over 35,000 illegal structures in that region. Few of these structures are ever demolished.