Yesterday, seven men from the village of Anata in the West Bank stood in court. While the specific charges against them were unknown, the crime that has put them in front of a military judge is their attempt to reclaim land that they allege was stolen by a settler.
According to the alleged land owners, a lone settler was found to have erected a fence around their land and had begun cultivating the area. They were alerted to the confiscation of some 400 dunams of land in July 2013 and decided to take action after months of waiting for a response from the Israeli authorities.
On Monday, one hundred frustrated Anata residents came to the site to destroy the fence and plant tree saplings. The action had barely begun when Israeli police intercepted, arresting 11 protestors and injuring three. Two of the injured were hospitalised but released the same day.
After discovering the confiscation in July, the men had to enter the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, entrance of which is forbidden to Palestinians without prior special permission, in order to submit a complaint. They then reportedly obtained documents from the Beit El confirming that they were technically the registered owners of the area in question.
Anata, as with many places in the West Bank, has experienced a complex exercise of carving. During the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank, the Jordanian authorities carried on a process initiated by the British Mandate of systematic registration of land in a land registry by a procedure known as “land settlement”. In a land settlement procedure, a large area – usually the lands of an entire village or a single block – is registered after the rights in the land have been investigated, in line with the local law.
The Jordanians cut the map of Anata into 13 segments, each of which was then divided into smaller pieces marked by numbers determining ownership. The 400 dunums in question constitute part or whole sections taken from a number of pieces, spreading across two of the 13 larger segments, according to residents. The amount of land affected, taking in to account the entirety of the pieces of land which the settler has taken just a section of, equals some 2,000 dunams, according to residents.
The registration of Anata’s land by the Jordanian authorities means some 46 people are registered as owners of the 400 dunums, most of which are dead. Those filing the case today are direct descendents of the registered owners, with most of them the grandchildren.
Just over a third of the West Bank’s land had been registered by the time the Israeli occupation had begun, a process which Israel stopped in 1968. Since it gained control of the West Bank, the exercise of carving has become a much more sinister enterprise. Israel has declared hundreds of thousands of dunums of unregistered land in the West Bank as government property, known as “State Lands”.
Despite all of Anata’s lands, originally over 30,000 dumuns in size, having been registered by the Jordanian authority in 1952, the Israeli authorities have still managed to confiscate large swathes of the village’s lands, leaving Anata’s residents with less than 1,000. This remaining land falls mainly in Area C, which requires villagers to submit applications for building permits. These applications are rejected approximately 95 per cent of the time.
As a result, the West Bank village has become more and more like a semi-enclave. Settlements and the arteries of roads that connect them to the outside world, along with checkpoints and military bases have sliced up the land. The area is a mixture of both Area B – Palestinian civil control but Israeli security control – and Area C -under complete Israeli control, while around half of Anata also falls within the Jerusalem municipality.
Meanwhile, construction of the separation wall began in 2004, severing Anata from illegally annexed East Jerusalem. The move is technically strangling the village, with 45 per cent of Anata’s labourers relying on work in Israel. Many of the residents have Jerusalem ID’s, whilst many also hold Palestinian ID’s, which effectively cuts them off from the centre of their economy.
Shuafat refugee camp, also in Anata, technically lies in Israeli defined Jerusalem municipal boundaries, but was segregated from East Jerusalem when the wall was built. Like many of the villages which are defined as part of the Jerusalem municipality, but have been cut off from the city by the wall, residents barely receiving any support from the municipality. Ungoverned and unsupported by the Israeli authorities and with the Palestinian Authority not able to provide support, such places are without services and fall prey to high crime statistics.
On the land expropriated from Anata, Israel has built four illegal settlements; Kfar Adumin, Almon, Allon and Nofei Prat, home to a combined population of 2,500 settlers and the military base of Anatot. The settlements have been strategically established over the Eastern Aquifer Basin. The residents of Anata have to purchase their water from an Israeli company.
Similar stories can be heard across the West Bank. House demolition orders justified by complex land laws aimed at claiming swathes of Palestinian land for mushrooming settlements, which in-turn hem communities into isolated islands, while a reverse justice system sees the victim punished for the crimes of the perpetrator, is by no means rare for the Palestinians of the West Bank and illegally annexed East Jerusalem.
Following the trial, the defendants were fined 1,000 Israeli Shakels ($288) each and released.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.