Chaim Levinson
October 11, 2012 - 12:00am

Roughly a month ago, infrastructure work began in one of the house-trailer neighborhoods in the West Bank settlement of Ofra. Brown soil was needed to cover the foundations. In properly functioning places, such soil is bought and paid for, but not in Ofra. Tzvi, a local farmer, nicknamed “Kishu,” found an alternative: He sent a rented tractor and truck to the outskirts of the settlement, next to the Palestinian villages of Silwad and Deir Dibwan, where they simply stole dirt. Tzvi claims that the land belongs to him.

The theft was made possible – even easy – by the fact that wide expanses of land belonging to Deir Dibwan and Silwad are enclosed within Ofra’s security fence, and the villages’ residents do not have free access to their own fields. Entry into Ofra requires coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and a constant security escort. The fence, like many parts of Ofra, was built without any permits.

In 2009 and 2010, residents of Silwad and Deir Dibwan petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice, demanding that the illegal sections of the fence be dismantled. The IDF responded to the petition, confirming that the fence was in fact built without permits and unnecessarily closes off land owned by others. At the same time, the army asked for time to build a new, modern security fence, closer to the houses in Ofra. The IDF requested until the end of 2012 to finish the job, but no work has yet begun at the site.

The use of private Palestinian land enclosed in settlements for such purposes is a widespread practice that has occurred in dozens of places, Haaretz has learned. The Civil Administration in the West Bank has done nothing about it. The settlement of Almon, near Jerusalem, has many large plots of private land within its fences. Almon residents make sure not to build on these lands. In the center of the settlement, however, lies a sort of crater formed by the theft of soil from this island of good-quality soil in a mountainous, rocky area. A truckload of such earth is worth around NIS 2,000.

Other such locations include the Ibei Hanahal outpost, near Ma’aleh Amos; Givat Avigail, in the south Hebron Hills; Beit El, near Givat Ha’ulpana; Maaleh Mikhmash, in Binyamin; the Shiloh Valley, in vineyards owned by residents of the Shiloh area; and in Susiya, on lands belonging to the village of Yatta. In each instance, the soil was stolen from private lands.

The police are aware of the phenomenon, yet do nothing about it. One police official told Haaretz that crimes pertaining to real estate are handled by the Civil Administration, since they have the authority to determine the true ownership of the land and other such issues. At the same time, the police official told Haaretz that there is no formal channel for passing information regarding crimes of this nature to the Civil Administration.

Dror Etkes, an expert in legal research regarding squatting on private lands, told Haaretz that “for decades, Israeli governments have done, and continue to do, everything they can to allow Israelis to realize their dreams of villas and private gardens in the settlements.”

He described the phenomenon of soil theft by settlers as “a side effect – almost predictable – of the combination of the Israeli bourgeoisie entrenching themselves in the settlements and the ‘jungle’ of enforcement, created by those same governments, which allows – and often encourages – the looting of Palestinian lands, with no interference from the law.”

The Civil Administration has not yet responded.


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