Israeli authorities have begun work on new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem intended only for former members of the security forces, reported Haaretz.
The land for the project, “which is to include 180 residential units”, was expropriated in the 1970s from Palestinian residents of Sur Baher, a neighbourhood “adjacent to the site”.
On Monday, “employees of the Bailiff’s Office and the Israel Land Authority [ILA] uprooted dozens of olive trees on the future building site”, accompanied by Border Police officers.
The project was announced by the ILA in 2012, said Haaretz, “in the wake of a cabinet resolution passed in May of that year to build housing for members of the police and the military in Jerusalem”.
The Construction and Housing Ministry then drew up plans for the settlement, “and four years ago the ILA issued an eviction order against the landowners, the Nimr family of Sur Baher”.
An Israeli court subsequently backed the authorities, ruling “that the family should have objected to the expropriation when it was being carried out, in the 1970s, and not 40 years later.”
Yoav Sasson, a Jerusalem-area official in the ILA, described the Palestinian family as “squatters” who had tried “to establish facts on the ground”.
“The ILA conducted a legal battle, at the end of which it was decided that they are squatters and must remove the trees by themselves, but they didn’t do so, and therefore the inspectors were forced to clear the trees from the land to enable its sale.”
Israeli NGO Peace Now said: “This was not a legitimate expropriation for public purposes, but rather an invalid expropriation that takes land from one community (Palestinians) and allocates it to another (Israelis).”
“The US ambassador can see this ugly situation from the window of the embassy, which is located only about a kilometre away from the olive grove that was uprooted: the reality of a divided Jerusalem of discrimination and deprivation,” the group added.