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Israeli occupation forces and settlers join arms to continue land expropriations in the occupied Palestinian territories

The major NGO for information on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, Btselem, notes that the blocking of access surveyed in its new report is not to be viewed in isolation, but as part of a body of prohibitions, restrictions, oppressive means, and theft of land imposed on Palestinians who are under the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank (for the English summary of the Btselem report). The instances of blocking of access to land and the expropriation thereof by settlers through the use of violence has been a reality that the army has refused to regulate, even when troops have been present and witnesses to the incidents.

When the exacerbating problem of settler violence had arrived in front of the Israeli Supreme Court in HCJ 9593/04 Rashed Morar v Commander of the armed forced in the West Bank (judgment of 26 June 2006), it condemned the collaboration between the Israeli occupation forces and the settlers who expropriate Palestinian land by blocking their access to it through incidents of violence and threats as well as military orders declaring plots of land as “special security areas”. More so, it outlined specific directions for the authorities to follow in order to preempt future incidents and bring to account those that were responsible for the previous ones.

The Court did however confirm, as it had previously, that the use of military security measures to protect the (illegal) settlements (which constitute grave violations of IHL, namely Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ab initio) in the occupied West Bank is admissible. It qualified this conclusion by noting the need for this practice to be drastically limited, and submitting that if used, such measures must be preceded by a detailed examination of the nature of the land, the frequency and reasons for the incidents of violence that may have occurred on it and assure that the size of land closed up is not disproportionate to the violation of Palestinians’ property rights. Evidently, these are particularly appalling conclusions according to any standard of judicial practice and reasoning.

More over, the Court has directed the Israeli occupation regime in the West Bank to take all necessary active measures to facilitate Palestinians’ access to their lands, including: bringing appropriate security forces to protect them from settler violence (which as Btselem has reported last month has been on an escalating rise), training military and police forces for this purpose and limiting the movement of settlers in order to ensure that those who intend to trespass onto Palestinian land illegally in order to expropriate it by creating facts on the ground and developing it for their own needs are prevented from doing so. The securitisation of Palestinian land should be done with minimum disturbances to the agricultural work thereon.

In parallel to this manipulative assertions, another serious facet of the occupation regime’s human rights violations is its authorities’ refusal to open investigations of incidents of violence that occur between settlers and Palestinians on the latter’s land. The police often refuses to open complaints and in other times conducts an ineffective and inefficient investigation (without calling for witnesses or collecting any of the available evidence), the military police, on the other hand, refuses to conduct investigations on reckless soldiers who fail to prevent the clashes and contribute to the violations of Palestinians’ rights.

As a result, the victims of both corporal violence (resulting at times in death) and property destruction and their families remain uncompensated and the perpetrators reaping the benefits of an Israeli impunity regime. This violates both the victims and their families’ human rights to receive compensation, and the states obligations to investigate, prosecute and compensate for human rights violations (which are also guaranteed as part of the procedural aspects of the right to life). The HCJ’s judgment in the Morar judgment also commanded that the relevant authorities take up their responsibility in these regards but again little has been done to ameliorate the status quo as it stood then.

The growth in the number of settlements within the West Bank has not been brought to a halt and whilst in some areas the demographic changes are ‘mere’ expansions of existing settlement enterprises, in others there are whole new settlements being developed with intricate infrastructures and effective communication systems between them and other existing settlements across the West Bank (for a visual picture see the Guardian’s interactive map).

In this very light, Palestine’s annual Olive Harvest is due to start in the beginning of October and preparation is well under way by local communities and international groups in order to provide adequate international presence for the various areas. As in recent years, the occupation forces are preparing for the harvest in order to once again try to prevent the envisaged violence on the part of the settlers, which regularly manifests in cahoots with the armed forces in the areas. It is our hope that this year matters will be smoother than before and the relevant authorities not only acknowledge but also seek to effectively implement their positive legal responsibilities.

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