Under the title of operation "Brothers Return", an operation that was launched after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli settlers last June near Gush Etzion settlement bloc, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a decision on Sunday that Israel will expropriate 4,000 hectares (988 acres) of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
This land seizure in the southern Bethlehem area is the biggest of its kind in three decades. The operation targets more than five villages to the west of Bethlehem city. The Palestinians from Al-Jabaa village will suffer the most from the expropriation process. Other villages that will also suffer from this decision are Wadi Fuken. Nahaleen, Safa and Housan.
This decision was made in order to serve the Israeli settlers who are living in Gvaot settlement. The illegal settlement of Gvaot was established in 1984 as a military base. It was later turned into a Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) and currently it is inhabited by 16 jewish families. The recent Israeli confiscation will allow for the illegal settlements in the area to grow to the size of a city. It aims at linking the illegal settlements with the green line, grabbing more Palestinian land to facilitate future annexation.
Palestinian owners of the land were given 45 days to submit formal objections to the announcement in Israeli courts, otherwise all confiscated lands would automatically become Israeli state property.
On Tuesday 2nd of September Muhanad Qaisy, the coordinator of the Olive Tree Campaign (OTC), visited the farmers in the area. During his visit most of the farmers showed him their land ownership papers. But will these papers stop the Israeli plans and the confiscation of the land of the Palestinian landowners? I found the answer of this question in the eyes of the farmers and in the way they expressed their attachment to the land. People of these villages stated that the only way that Israel will get us out of our land is by killing us, we will not leave on our own account, we will not leave voluntarily.
The Olive Tree Campaign works and supports the farmers in this area since many years. The OTC planted more than 7,000 olive trees in the threatened area. Hundreds of volunteers came and supported the farmers in the villages of Al-Jabaa, Wadi Foukin and Nahaleen especially during the planting and harvesting seasons. The area where Israel is trying to confiscate the lands and further establish their control is considered as one of the most beautiful places in Palestine. It is located on the top of the mountains between Bethlehem and Hebron city. When the sky is clear one can see the Mediterranean from there. The area is also rich of very old olive trees, pine trees and many different kinds of fruit trees.
Khalid Mashaalah is a 65 years old Palestinian farmer from Al-Jabaa Village and a beneficiary of the Olive Tree Campaign. He owns more than 70 hectares of land that are now being threatened with confiscation. During Muhanad's visit he gave a tour in the village in which he explained about his daily life and the difficulties he faces as a farmer. The people of those area suffer from the shortage of water and access to their lands. On top of that there are continuous attacks by Israeli settlers who uproot olive trees and destroy the agricultural lands.
Khalid stated that while all eyes were focussed on Israels war crimes in Gaza, Israel committed another crime in the West Bank. "Stealing the lands from the Palestinians is a crime and no one has the right to take the land from us."
He showed all his ownership papers.
If the Israeli authorities continue to implement the plan, Al-Jabaa village will be completely separated and isolated from the other villages.
JAI calls on you to write to the Israeli representatives in your country, to your country representatives in Israel, to your Ministries of Foreign Affairs, to the media, to human rights organisations and to your representatives in Parliament, to urge the Israeli government to stop this land theft and to abide by international law. According to the 4th Geneva Convention it is forbidden to any occupying power to transfer its citizens into the area it occupies. It is illegal to create settlements and to confiscate Palestinian lands. This is an absolute obstacle for peace.