Israeli authorities have notified the municipal council of the occupied West Bank town of Silwad of plans to confiscate privately-owned land in the town's outskirts, to be used to house residents of the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona, which is slated for imminent demolition.
After the Israeli Supreme Court ruled for the outpost to be demolished on the grounds that it was built on privately-owned Palestinian land, an eleventh hour agreement was reached on Sunday between the Israeli government and Amona's settlers to relocate the majority of them to a nearby hilltop.
This will reportedly require the state to ask the court for a one-month extension of the evacuation deadline, originally set for 25 December, to allow for time to build the new structures.
However, as Mayor of Silwad Abd al-Rahman Salih pointed out, the new land in question is also privately owned by Palestinians. He told Ma'an yesterday that Israel plans to move the illegal outpost only 100 metres.
"Israel claims the new land slated for confiscation has been deserted by its owners who live abroad," the mayor said. However, according to Salih, the land belongs to Palestinian citizens who currently reside in Silwad and the neighbouring village of Ein Yabrud, both located just north of Amona's current location.
"Israel has forcibly seized the land, and we have all the documents to prove that the land is a private property of the town, known locally as Hawd Shbeikat. But this [Israeli] government brushes aside even the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court."
The land is located, according to Salih, in "Basin 17" and "Basin 6," according to the Jordan-era divisions. Basin 17, he said, is owned by eight Silwad residents and Basin 6 is owned by residents of Ein Yabrud.
"We have all the details and documents and we gave copies to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din to submit them to the Supreme Court to try and prevent the confiscation of this land."
When asked if Palestinian owners of the land where Amona is currently located would be able to take back their property after the outpost is evacuated, Salih hypothesised that Israeli authorities would not enforce the Supreme Court's decision on the ground.
"The Israeli army would declare the hill a closed military zone to protect settlers, and so Palestinian farmers won't be able to access their land and tend to it," he suggested. "For example, I personally own five dunums [0.005 square kilometres] in the area where we used to grow figs, vine trees, and wheat, but we cannot access it because it has been declared a closed military zone."
According to Salih, lawyers from Yesh Din said they have already notified the Israeli government's legal adviser of their plans to go to the Supreme Court to prevent the relocation plan. "The Israeli government is moving Amona settlers from private Palestinian land to other private Palestinian land! We will exert all legal efforts to prevent that," Yesh Din lawyer Michael Sfard reportedly said yesterday.
Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now added: "The Israeli government is replacing one land theft by another," adding that Israel was "willing to crush basic rights of Palestinians, bend Israeli law, and violate international law – all in order to satisfy 41 families who knowingly settled on private Palestinian lands. If approved, this temporary solution will quickly turn into another permanent new settlement with housing units and infrastructure on private Palestinian lands."
While the settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the West Bank are also built in direct violation of international law.