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‘Settlers are free to take what they want’: Palestinian landowners fear for the worst as land-grab law is passed

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Fathy Shebana’s family has lived in Sinjil, a rural village between Ramallah and Nablus for as long as any of them can remember. His family, mostly farmers, has land deeds distributed from the Ottoman era, passed down through generations and split up among sons, daughters and cousins, but always kept in the family.

Today, much of that land is gone — annexed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank for the use of illegal Israeli settlements. Since Israel passed a new law on February 6, dubbed the Regularization Law, Fathy and his community fear for the future of their land and livelihoods.

The law retroactively legalized at least a dozen settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land, and laid the framework for easily legalizing other outposts in the future.

Settlement outposts are Israeli communities in the occupied West Bank built without authorization from the Israeli government’s planning and zoning apparatus, many of which are located near larger settlements recognized by Israel. In many cases, settlement outposts are retroactively declared neighborhoods of already existing settlements, but in the past, before the Regularization Law, legalizing such outposts on private Palestinian land was more difficult, as Palestinians had the right to fight the outposts’ existence on their land in court.

One of the main features of the Regularization Law is a legal mechanism that allows outposts built on private Palestinian land to be legalized under Israeli law, as long as the settlers living in the community can prove the outpost was created “in good faith,” or without the knowledge that the land belonged to Palestinian citizens.

Both Israeli settlements and Israeli settlement outposts are considered illegal under international law.

Fathy Shebana looks through binoculars toward illegal Israeli settlements on neighboring hilltops. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

Peering through binoculars, Fathy pointed out several settlements along the horizon. The binoculars aren’t that necessary, as the settlement blocs on the tops of neighboring hills stand apart from the Palestinian villages in the valley below quite easily. The red shingled roofs of the settlements are devoid of the black water tanks used by Palestinians, and the massive development-styled manner of the illegal settlements stick out from the mismatched style of buildings constructed over many decades in the Palestinian villages.

“With these you can see the details though,” Fathy said, handing over the binoculars. “See there, those caravans below the settlements? That is one of the outposts.”

Sinjil is surrounded by four Israeli settlements — Shiloh, Shvut Rahel, Eli and Ma’ale Levona —  four more settlement outposts —  South Eli, Eli South (Hill 792), Apiryon Hill and Givat Harel — and several Israeli bypass roads that are built directly on private Palestinian land belonging to residents of Sinjil and other Palestinian villages.

During the interview, Fathy stopped twice to point out groups of four to five large lorries carrying more caravans, or small trailer like homes, toward the settlements.

“I’ve seen at least forty new caravans being pulled through the main insection down there today alone,” Fathy said.

“They’re probably bringing them here from Amona,” Fathy’s cousin, Kamal Shebana interjected with a sardonic smile, referring to a settler outpost that, before the Regularization Law was passed, was forcibly evicted under orders of an Israeli court after Palestinian landowners won their cases.

“That won’t happen again now, after this law,” Kamal, also a farmer, said.

Kamal has been involved in several court cases against the Israeli government and settlers, in attempts to regain the rights to his private land.

Kamal Shebana has taken settlers to court in order to get his private land back several times, but fears the Regularization law will take that legal mechanism away from him and Palestinians like him. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

“It was like a game,” Kamal said. “We would go to court to challenge where the outposts were being built on our land, or where these roads were being built, and we would win sometimes, but then when they complied, they would just move the outpost from one spot to another spot — but the new spot would be someone else’s land and they would have to take them to court to then get them to move that as well.”

Kamal’s concerns are not unfounded. On the other side of the Shiloh settlement is the outpost of Adi Ad. Israeli announced on Tuesday that the government plans on using the new law to legalize houses in the outpost, according to a Haaretz report.

“At least before we had some kind of tool, the courts, but after this law we won’t have any way to try and get our land back when they take it, now settlers are free to take what they want.”

The international community, human rights organizations and Palestinians have vehemently condemned the law, calling it a serious threat to the two-state solution. The Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has to take the legislation to the Supreme Court to challenge the law. Without such an intervention, Palestinians fear for the worst.

“They will just keep building these outposts, then legalize them, create a new settlement, and keep doing that until places like Sinjil are completely surrounded by Israeli settlements,” Fathy said. “We will be caged in.”

The Shebana’s fear for their land and livelihood, but also the violence that comes with living near an Israeli settlement.

“They built that military base in 2001,” Fathy said pointing off to a base atop a neighboring hill. “It was supposed to be temporary but they kept building and building and now it’s here permanently. It’s here to protect the settlers, not us.”

Fathy Shebana shows photos of a home owned by Palestinians living in America that is frequently vandalized by Israeli settlers. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

Fathy said crops and homes are often destroyed and vandalized by settlers living nearby. During any confrontation, the Israeli military always sides with the settlers, he said. Pulling out a small camera, Fathy starts scrolling through photos of the inside of a home. The photos show belongings broken and in disarray in every room of the house.

“These are from that home down there,” he said, pointing to a house positioned far from other homes near one of the settler bypass roads. “The family who owns it lives in America, and the settlers come down every now and again and break inside to vandalise it. The more settlements we have around us, and the closer they are, the more this will happen.”

Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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7 Responses

  1. Talkback on February 17, 2017, 7:19 pm

    “Settlers are free to take what they want”

    They have been since they started their terror campagne in the late 30s.

  2. Williamvmller on February 18, 2017, 3:36 am

    Thank you very much for sharing your post here. Do you know that , I did not read about this news yet. Your post made such situation like to read about your post. Thank you .

  3. john_manyjars on February 18, 2017, 4:29 am

    Who can honestly blame Palestinians for violently resisting this? What other hope do they have? What would we in the US do if some religious fanatics tried to evict us from our land (yes, I know we did the same damned thing to the Native Americans- but we’re supposed to be smarter and fairer 400 years on). And how sympathetic would we feel to the country that bankrolls most of this treachery?

    To think that pro-Zionists ask, ‘Why do they hate us so?’ without any irony…

  4. amigo on February 19, 2017, 12:32 pm

    Israel (sans frontiere) is not the only place that Israel,s Jew,s are allowed to do as they please. Here is an example of three of the chosen ones behaving like thugs and abusing a flight attendant on Israir and making racist comment

    “You work for me,” shouted the first woman. “I paid for the flight and I want chocolate. Another passenger, reportedly her sister, chimed in with “sell her the chocolate, you piece of rubbish. What, is she an Arab?”
    read more:

    As one Facebook user wrote in response to the video, “flight attendants from foreign airlines call the flight to Tel Aviv – Hell Aviv. I wonder why?”

    Meanwhile back on planet zion , the IOF sprayed herbicide near the border fence (which is on Gaza land)and destroyed 1 million dollars worth of crops which had to be dumped by the owners.

    Put that with the Israeli Gov claiming the $162,000 insurance award to a Palestinian woman whose Husband was killed in a truck accident , as being State Property.

    “A court awarded Raba’a Ali Satal $162,000 in compensation after her Israeli Arab husband was killed in a road accident. The Finance Ministry claims the state is the rightful owner.
    read more:

    Ah yes , the light unto the nations and only democracy in the ME , run by thieves and murderers .

    • oldgeezer on February 19, 2017, 2:48 pm

      Geeze is there no humiliation to, or theft from, Palestinians that is off limits to the thugs and bandits in Israel?

      Israel, a blight unto nations.

  5. gamal on February 19, 2017, 1:36 pm

    “Neoliberal Apartheid

    Andy Clarno

    In recent years, as peace between Israelis and Palestinians has remained cruelly elusive, scholars and activists have increasingly turned to South African history and politics to make sense of the situation. In the early 1990s, both South Africa and Israel began negotiating with their colonized populations. South Africans saw results: the state was democratized and black South Africans gained formal legal equality. Palestinians, on the other hand, won neither freedom nor equality, and today Israel remains a settler-colonial state. Despite these different outcomes, the transitions of the last twenty years have produced surprisingly similar socioeconomic changes in both regions: growing inequality, racialized poverty, and advanced strategies for securing the powerful and policing the racialized poor. Neoliberal Apartheid explores this paradox through an analysis of (de)colonization and neoliberal racial capitalism.

    After a decade of research in the Johannesburg and Jerusalem regions, Andy Clarno presents here a detailed ethnographic study of the precariousness of the poor in Alexandra township, the dynamics of colonization and enclosure in Bethlehem, the growth of fortress suburbs and private security in Johannesburg, and the regime of security coordination between the Israeli military and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The first comparative study of the changes in these two areas since the early 1990s, the book addresses the limitations of liberation in South Africa, highlights the impact of neoliberal restructuring in Palestine, and argues that a new form of neoliberal apartheid has emerged in both contexts.”

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