Israel stalling release of report proving West Bank outpost built on Palestinian land (Haaretz, 13 November 2011)

The outpost, Derekh Ha’avot, established early 2001 and is home to about 35 families; according to report 60 percent of the community is on Palestinian farmland.

The outpost of Nativ Ha’avot in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem seen in 2009.

The Military Advocate General (MAG ) is delaying the publication of an internal report from a year ago which shows that most of the West Bank outpost of Derekh Ha’avot is on private Palestinian land. The report, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, indicates that 60 percent of the Etzion Bloc community is on Palestinian farmland.

The outpost, also known as Nativ Ha’avot, was established in early 2001 and is home to about 35 families. In 2002, the Palestinian landowners petitioned the High Court of Justice for the return of their land. A government team appointed to conduct a land ownership survey never completed its work.

In 2008, Peace Now filed a second High Court petition, through attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zachariah, again demanding the outpost’s evacuation. In its response to the petition, the state said the survey team would be reestablished. In October 2010, Justice Edmond Levy rejected the petition because the survey had not been completed but wrote, “No one knows when it will be done; only time will tell.”

The landowners contacted the Civil Administration repeatedly, asking about the survey’s status. Zachariah received a letter from Roman Levitt of the MAG’s land department last April, stating that the team was building a database of its findings and expected to conclude its work within two months. In September Levitt wrote again, saying the survey work was “at its peak.”

In response to a query from Haaretz last week, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office noted the complexity of the survey, which included a land-use review going back to 1969, physical surveys of the land in question and input from Survey of Israel – the government mapping agency – and said the team’s work was in its “final stages.”

The documents obtained by Haaretz, however, indicate that the survey was carried out in November 2010. Since then, MAG and the Civil Administration have used various excuses to avoid making it public. The survey was conducted by Malka Ofri, head of photo-interpretation at Survey of Israel, who sent the Civil Administration an opinion based on her comparison of seven aerial photos taken between 1969 and 2007.

According to West Bank law, a person earns rights to a plot of land after cultivating it for 10 successive years. Ofri wrote that for 25 years there was no significant change to the cultivation of the land in question, which constitutes 60 percent of the 1,420 dunams (350 acres ) on which Derekh Ha’avot sits, meaning that most of the outpost is on Palestinian-owned land.

Since February, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to demolish all outposts built on private Palestinian land, right-wing activists have been applying heavy pressure on him to reverse that decision. Publication of the report on Derekh Ha’avot would cause more headaches for the authorities and bring the petitioners back to the High Court.

“This case, like many others, proves there is close cooperation between the the law enforcement authorities and lawbreakers,” Zachariah told Haaretz. “The state rebuffed the Derekh Ha’avot petition by saying the status of the land had to be examined. It is now clear that this was only an excuse for the state not to address the issue of illegal building. When the outcome is inconvenient for the settlers, the state does not hurry to enforce the law, and by concealing data it completes the violation of the law. The new information will find its way to the relevant judicial instances so that the court will expose the sad truth of the enforcement authorities’ conduct.”

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