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Israel challenges ownership of Palestinian land in Bethlehem

February 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

The Israeli High Court of Justice is to decide on Wednesday the ownership of 1,000 dunams of Palestinian land near the illegal settlement of Efrat on the southern outskirts of Bethlehem.

Informed Palestinian sources told MEMO that Palestinian farmers have been banned by Israeli settlers in the Efrat settlement from reaching their farms since 2004h. The farms were later annexed to the settlement.

In 2009, twelve Palestinian farmers filled a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice against the annexation. However, the Court ruling today does not pertain to this petition but rather to a dispute between Israel’s Ministry of Housing and the settlers over control of the confiscated land.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the Court is to rule today on the right of the government to declare ownership of the land. The government claims that the land is undeveloped, but Palestinians say it belongs to them.

Israel’s housing ministry is planning to build 2,500 housing units, sources told MEMO, but it is waiting for the Court ruling on ownership.

The land is exactly located between the city of Bethlehem and the Palestinian villages on the southern outskirts.

Since confiscating the land, the settlers have isolated those villages from Bethlehem. However, if the land is officially owned by the government, this would pave a way to connect the Efrat Settlement to the Taqo Settlement and officially isolate the two areas.

“Such measure would undermine any future expansion of the city,” the sources said.

Activists against the Israeli Wall in Bethlehem said that part of the land is owned by the Awqaf [Islamic endowment fund] and the remainder is officially registered in the Palestinian Land Authority as having Palestinian owners.