Palestinians ask Israeli court to reject land grab law

Israel’s move to retroactively legalise settler homes in the occupied West Bank has triggered a storm of criticism.

Lawyers have in the meantime asked the court to impose an immediate freeze on the so-called Regulation Law [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

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Jerusalem – Some 17 Palestinian municipalities in the occupied West Bank have petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to strike down a new law that retroactively sanctions the theft of their lands by settlers.

Lawyers representing the villages, who filed their petition on Wednesday, have in the meantime asked the court to impose an immediate freeze on the so-called Regulation Law, passed by the Israeli parliament on Monday night.

It is the first time that an Israeli law, rather than temporary military orders, has been directly applied to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Supporters of the settlements have hailed the law as a turning point that paves the way to Israel annexing significant parts of the occupied territory.


READ MORE: Israel’s settlement law – Consolidating apartheid


But the measure has already provoked a major diplomatic backlash. Leaders from Germany, Britain, France, the European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League have condemned the law, warning that it severely undermines prospects for a two-state solution.

Suhad Bishara, one of the lawyers who drafted the petition, told Al Jazeera that the law would “legalise” thousands of settler homes built on lands privately owned by Palestinians, denying them the right to claim back their property.

The petition – submitted jointly by Adalah in Israel, the al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the Jerusalem Legal Aid Centre – notes that the Hague Convention states “private property cannot be confiscated” by an occupying power.

In a sign of the diplomatic damage the law has already caused Israel, Haaretz reported that the Israeli foreign ministry told embassy staff to avoid discussing the law wherever possible.

The EU responded by postponing a summit with Israel, due later this month, which had been intended to mark a thaw in relations between the two.

Inside Story – Will Israel annex Palestinian territories?

On Wednesday, during a visit to Paris, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatenedto end security cooperation with Israel if the settlement drive continued. “I would have no other choice,” he said.

The US has kept silent so far, saying it will wait to see what the Israeli Supreme Court decides. The issue is expected to be raised when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US President Donald Trump in Washington next week, The Times of Israel reported.

The petition warns that “legalising” the settlements risks dragging Israel deeper into conflict with the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Under international law, an occupying power can take occupied land only out of military necessity.

ICC prosecutors are already investigating Israel over possible war crimes for transferring more than 600,000 Jewish civilians into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

If the Supreme Court rejects the petition, it would raise pressure on the ICC to act, said Issam Aruri, head of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Centre, which represents many of the villages petitioning the court.

“This looks like a massive own goal by the right wing in Israel,” he told Al Jazeera. “It should open the world’s eyes to the fact that what has been created here is a copy of apartheid.”

All of Israel’s settlements are built in violation of international law. But Aruri said the Regulation Law reversed a significant limitation on settlement construction.

In the late 1970s, in accordance with the Hague Convention, the Israeli courts prohibited the government from locating settlements on land for which Palestinians had ownership papers.

READ MORE: West Bank – ‘One day on my land is worth a lifetime’

Israel declared much of the rest of the West Bank, including all public and refugee lands, as “state land”. Officials treated such territory as effectively part of Israel and reserved for Jewish settlements.

However, in many cases Israeli officials either ignored the court restrictions or allowed settlements established on confiscated public lands to expand on to privately owned Palestinian land, said Aruri.

“The settler population has grown five or sixfold since the early 1990s,” he said. “That was done by allowing the settlers to carry out a massive land grab, even while the Oslo accords were supposed be creating the framework for a peace deal.”

It [land grab law] suspends international humanitarian law in the West Bank and replaces it with Israeli law. That will be a hard pill for the Supreme Court to swallow.

Suhad Bishara, lawyer with Adalah

Aruri added that Israel had also reneged on a promise, made as part of the Oslo arrangement, not to establish any new settlements. Instead, he said, officials had secretly supported the settlers in setting up some 100 “outposts”, many of them on private Palestinian land.

“Although Israel says it didn’t authorise the outposts, they were immediately provided with public services, including roads, water and electricity,” he said. “Now with this new law, the collusion has come out of the shadows.”

Naqura, close to the Palestinian city of Nablus in the northern West Bank, is one of the villages petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court.

The head of the local council, Ahmed Abu Hashish, said Israeli officials had seized more than two square kilometres of his community’s lands to build the settlement of Shavei Shomron in 1978. Neighbouring Palestinian villages lost additional land.

“Six families, including my father’s, have the papers to show we own these lands,” he told Al Jazeera. “We grew olives, apricots and plums there before the settlers stole it.”

A concrete wall surrounding the settlement means the villagers can no longer see their lands.


READ MORE: Israel’s settlement bill ‘big step towards annexation’


Abu Hashish said that no one had listened when the villagers originally protested against the confiscations.

“We are a small village and could not take on the might of the Israeli government by ourselves,” he said. “Now we hope that together with the other villages, we can persuade the Israeli court to reverse this law and win back our lands.”

Bishara, who works with the Adalah legal centre, said she was “hopeful” the court would intervene, as the new law flagrantly violated both international law and Israeli law.

“It suspends international humanitarian law in the West Bank and replaces it with Israeli law,” she said. “That will be a hard pill for the Supreme Court to swallow.”

Dan Meridor, a former government minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, has observed that West Bank Palestinians “did not vote for the Knesset [Israeli parliament], and it has no authority to legislate for them. These are basic principles of democracy and Israeli law,” as reported by the Haaretz.

Unusually, Israel’s chief law officer, attorney-general Avichai Mendelblit, has said he will refuse to defend the new law before the court. On Tuesday, The Times of Israel reported that he might make the unprecedented move of testifying against the law.

There are expected to be other petitions against the new law. Three Israeli human rights organisations – Peace Now, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel – said they would petition the court later this month.

Anat Ben Nun, of Peace Now, said the law would initially legalise 3,900 settler homes. But a provision allows the justice minister to add more settlement homes to the list in the future.

“It is important to stop this law before it inflicts devastating damage on the two-state solution,” she told Al Jazeera.

It is unclear how the Israeli parliament will respond if the court overturns the law. Zvi Barel, a columnist for the Haaretz newspaper, warned that right-wing legislators may try to pass “an even worse law”.

Bishara agreed that this was a danger. “The parliament could enact another law that simply bypasses the Supreme Court decision,” she said. “We have seen this happen before with court rulings the parliament did not like.”

She noted that the judges would also be under strong political pressure not to intervene. “This is considered a highly sensitive issue in Israel and it will be difficult for the court to be seen reversing the will of parliament,” she said.


READ MORE: Palestinians – Israel settlement expansion a ‘war crime’


Yariv Levin, the tourism minister, told the Army Radio on Tuesday that it would be undemocratic for “a handful of judges who are self-selected behind closed doors [to] decide whether they like the law or not”.

Pressure to pass the Regulation Law mounted after the court-ordered eviction last week of settlers from an outpost called Amona.

Abdel Rahman Saleh, mayor of the Palestinian village of Silwad in the central West Bank, told Al Jazeera that more than 100 families had lost their lands to Amona, as well as the neighbouring settlement of Ofra. Additional lands were seized from the villages of Dayr Jarir and Taybeh.

The outpost has been at the centre of a legal battle with the villages ever since its establishment in 1995.

We didn’t just lose the lands the settlers stole from us. The Israeli army created a ‘security area’ all around the settlement, a kilometre wide and monitored with cameras, that takes even more land from us.

Abdel Rahman Saleh, Silwad mayor

Thousands of police were sent to dismantle the outpost in 2006, shortly after the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, provoking major clashes with the settler movement. A short time later, the settlers returned and re-established their homes.

The Supreme Court insisted again on evicting Amona’s 40 families in 2014, after an investigation by police confirmed that papers purporting to show the settlers had bought the land were forged.

The Israeli authorities then dragged their feet for three years before finally implementingthe eviction order last week.

“We didn’t just lose the lands the settlers stole from us,” Saleh said. “The Israeli army created a ‘security area’ all around the settlement, a kilometre wide and monitored with cameras, that takes even more land from us.”

The law passed this week allows for the return of Palestinian property to its owners, but only at the completion of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Bishara said: “Given the apparent lack of interest among the Israeli leadership in resolving the conflict, that means in practice these lands will be kept indefinitely.”

Source: Al Jazeera


Palestinian taxi driver still healing from hate crime

Eshaq Abu Jibneh was attacked in Jerusalem last summer by Israelis who called him a ‘terrorist’.

Abu Jibneh suffered injuries to his wrist and ankle in the brutal attack in a West Jerusalem public square [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

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Jerusalem – Walking with a slight limp, his lower right arm wrapped in a cast, Eshaq Abu Jibneh crossed the living room slowly to place a tray of coffee and cakes on the table.

“Right now, I can move my hand, but I can’t lift heavy things or open bottles,” he told Al Jazeera, noting that he would soon go for surgery on his wrist, while his ankle had recovered well after surgery in the summer.

Abu Jibneh suffered the injuries in a brutal attack in a West Jerusalem public square last summer, belatedly recognised by Israeli authorities as a hate crime.

‘Get out of our country, go to work in Gaza. This is our land. Get out of our land,’ Abu Jibneh recalled his assailants saying [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

A taxi driver by trade, Abu Jibneh had arrived at Zion Square to meet a friend in the early hours of August 5, 2016. The square is a popular location for Palestinian taxi drivers to take breaks between shifts, drink coffee and catch up on the latest local news and gossip. Abu Jibneh had wanted to congratulate his friend, who had recently bought a new taxi.

“It was 3:30 on Friday morning. I parked and was standing there with the other taxi drivers. We were talking. It is normal at that time that Arab taxi drivers stop in that spot and meet,” he said.

He recalled that he and his friends were then approached by a group of six Israeli men who “looked like normal Israelis”.

“One of them said, ‘Here is an Arab taxi driver, right here.’ He started to curse us, told us, ‘Get out of our country, go to work in Gaza. This is our land. Get out of our land,’ and saying rude things about us, cursing our families, our mothers.”


READ MORE: The death of Ali Dawabsheh


Responding to the men in Hebrew, Abu Jibneh said that he drew on his previous training and experience as a security guard in an attempt to defuse the situation, but he and his friends quickly decided to leave the area. At that point, he said, the gang started to hit the taxi drivers.

“One of the Israelis had pepper spray, and they sprayed me in the face, in the eyes. I couldn’t see what was happening around me. They started to kick me, hit me with stones, and it left me with several injuries,” he said.

The police basically sit on their hands and don’t deal with the issue. When a Jew is attacked by an Arab, the police [do their] job and investigate.

Steven Beck, deputy director at the Israeli Religious Action Center

Abu Jibneh said that the attackers started to shout, “He’s a terrorist,” adding that he feared for his life. However, a group of Jewish Israeli passers-by intervened and the police were called.

Police arrived at the scene within half an hour, and although an officer questioned Abu Jibneh about the attack, he did not interview other witnesses or move to apprehend the attackers, who had fled on foot, Abu Jibneh said.

Two weeks later, having made no arrests, police closed the investigation into the attack. But Abu Jibneh’s lawyer, who works with the anti-racism organisation Tag Meir, would not allow it to be dropped: He went ahead and collected testimonies from witnesses and the ambulance service official who took the call that night. After being presented with more evidence, the police agreed to reopen the case.

Months later, in November, police confirmed that Abu Jibneh had been a “victim of a hostile act” in which the motivation was nationalistic. Still, no suspects have been pinpointed.

Israeli police did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the case.

Steven Beck, deputy director at the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), a civil and human rights organisation that tracks hate crimes in Israel, told Al Jazeera that Israeli police have historically not taken hate crimes against Palestinians seriously.

“The police basically sit on their hands and don’t deal with the issue,” he said. “When a Jew is attacked by an Arab, the police [do their] job and investigate. Our issue is that these [Palestinians] are residents of Jerusalem, sometimes citizens of Israel, and the police need to investigate and treat citizens and residents equally.

“It’s not about the number of attacks,” he added. “It’s about the fact that if a Palestinian who is attacked by a group of Jewish teenagers then goes to the police, I can assure you … that there will be no investigation.”

IRAC recently launched a racism crisis centre and hotline for victims of hate crimes, Beck said, partly because the data on the number and frequency of such attacks was “spotty”. There is no official data on hate crimes against Palestinians in Israel.

Although no arrests have been made in Abu Jibneh’s case, the acknowledgement by police that he was the victim of a hostile act entitles him to a wide range of compensation from branches of the state, including coverage of medical expenses, disability benefits, grants, and discounts or assistance with the purchase of vehicles or household items.

“The police didn’t catch the people who beat me, but they gave me the paper showing that I was attacked for nationalist reasons,” Abu Jibneh said. “Now, I am waiting for the insurance to give me my benefits and salary.”


INTERACTIVE: Broken homes – A record year of home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem


Abu Jibneh has taken this letter to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, where his case is still under processing, more than two months later. As a result of his injuries, he has been unable to earn an income through driving and sold his car to cover living costs for his family. He has yet to receive any compensation from the state.

“I didn’t expect to receive this letter. I was surprised and my lawyer was also surprised that we got this paper,” he said. “If the national insurance acknowledges this paper, then I will receive everything. I won’t be relaxed until I have the money in my hand.”

In addition to the letter, senior police officers visited Abu Jibneh and a fellow taxi driver late last year in order to learn more about the problems facing Palestinians in certain areas of West Jerusalem. A police spokesperson told Al Jazeera that they had also significantly increased the number of patrols in the centre of Jerusalem to prevent attacks on Palestinians.

“The police promised us to control the situation, especially in Zion Square where the Arab taxi drivers meet,” Abu Jibneh said. “They said there would be more police cars in that location.”

So far, he said, his colleagues have not been feeling safer – just last month, another taxi driver reported being verbally assaulted in the same location where Abu Jibneh was attacked.

Source: Al Jazeera


Air strike on Gaza Strip tunnel kills two Palestinians

Two dead and five wounded near Gaza-Egypt border after missile slams into a tunnel defying Israeli blockade.

The father of one of two Palestinians killed in a tunnel bombing mourns at a hospital [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Two Palestinian civilians were killed and five others wounded in an air strike that hit a tunnel in Gaza near the Egyptian border.

It was unclear who launched the attack on Thursday. A Palestinian official blamed Israel; however, a military spokeswoman denied any knowledge of the strike.

Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson, said in a statement the two men were “martyred and five other people were wounded as a result of being targeted by an Israeli warplane along the Palestinian-Egyptian borders”.

According to al-Qedra, the two men killed were identified as Hossam al-Sufi, 24, and Mohammed al-Aqra, 38.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was unaware of the attack, which happened pre-dawn between the Gaza Strip and Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border.

READ MORE: Fatah and Hamas to form unity government

The incident took place after at least three rockets were fired from the Sinai peninsula into Israel’s southernmost resort city of Eilat late on Wednesday.

The Israeli army said in a statement its missile defence system, known as the “Iron Dome”, intercepted the rockets, preventing any casualties or damage.

Israeli media reported a group affiliated with the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack on Eilat.

Gaza has been under a decade-long siege imposed by Israel following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of the enclave in 2007.

Since 2013, Egypt has largely shut off its border with Gaza, blocking nearly 2,000 tunnels connecting Gaza with Rafah, stemming the flow of much-needed goods and resources.

Egypt recently eased some border restrictions with Gaza.

Source: News agencies

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