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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=57645&mador=4&datee=10/6/99

Wednesday, October 6, 1999

In Israel, 'public' is a synonym for 'Jews'

By Amira Hass, Ha'aretz

On March 5, 1996, Major General Ilan Biran, the IDF commander of the West Bank, issued an order declaring the entire area of the settlements a "closed military area." This action was necessary for security reasons, it was explained. Only the holders of a permit and those classified as Israelis were allowed to enter.The order defined who is an Israeli: "A resident of Israel, someone whose residence is in the area and who is an Israeli citizen or who is eligible to emigrate to Israel under the Law of Return 5710/1950, as it applies in Israel, as well as whoever is not a resident of the area and holds a valid entry permit to Israel." In other words: tourists.

Since the order was issued, which was predictable given the special circumstances (a series of Hamas terrorist attacks in February and March of 1996), the West Bank and its Palestinian residents have experienced extended periods of hermetic closure that were repeatedly gradually eased and then reinstated. But the above-mentioned order is automatically extended. Incidentally, the need to obtain a permit not only delays many Palestinians from feasting their eyes on the green grass in settlements built on their community's lands. It impedes - if not completely blocks - them from getting to their registered lands (which therefore could not be officially appropriated) along the edges of settlements and continuing to work their vines and fig and olive trees.

The ad-hoc bestowing of citizenship on tourists, to enable them to enter settlements, is a marginal matter that may amuse researchers of Israeli bureaucracy. But it happens to anger "B'tselem," the Israeli information center for human rights in the territories.

They are having great difficulty in "selling" the public on their new report. While it does focus on the history of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, it primarily provides an exhaustive lesson on the history of practical annexation, gradual and carefully planned, of large tracts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the state of Israel. Annexations have been going on since the early 1970s with the cooperation of "all the authorized bodies in Israel and the territories," the report establishes. "The government, the Knesset and the army all issue commands, with the blessing of the High Court of Justice." That is how personal and territorial enclaves of Israeli civil law were created in the territories.

The report, "The Progression of the Annexation - Human rights violations as a result of the establishment of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and its expansion," details the laws and regulations that paved the way for annexation: For example, extraterritorial personal status was first granted to Israeli citizens in the West Bank in July 1967, under the "emergency regulations." The defense minister determined that Israeli citizens violating laws in the territories would be tried in Israeli civilian courts. In 1969, Israeli courts were authorized to hear all legal matters arising between residents of settlements and Palestinians or among the residents of settlements themselves.

In 1982, the finance minister enacted a regulation granting agricultural settlers the right to compensation for damages caused by drought, in accordance with Israeli law. As part of the extension of emergency regulations, the Knesset enacted additional laws for settlers related to security services, income tax regulations, population registry and National Insurance Institute benefits. At that time, it was determined that for the purpose of this special legislation, anyone eligible to emigrate to Israel under the Law of Return would be considered "a resident of Israel." In other words, every Jew.

In 1988, the Knesset authorized the government to apply the law of development towns and regions to "local authorities and Israeli citizens" in the territories as well. This was the first time the Knesset applied its own law to the settlements as territories, and not just to settlers as individuals. What enabled the settlements to expand under the guise of legality was the declaration of the land as state land.

The declaration, the B'tselem report explains, was made by the overseer of government property in the civil administration, based on a review conducted by the civil department of the state attorney's office. Amazingly, in so doing, Israeli authorities were relying on their interpretation of the Ottoman land law of 1855.

According to B'tselem, this procedure is flawed. It is not anchored in Jordanian law, and it bypasses the land registration process that existed in Jordanian law and which the IDF had already frozen in 1968. The "declared" lands were transformed into "public property." And "public," after all, is a synonym for "Jews."

B'tselem concludes its sad report with criticism of the High Court's justices: "High Court of Justice judges have on more than one occasion made general declarations which straightforwardly express the letter and spirit of international law relevant to the status of occupation. But with regard to practical decisions, the judges have chosen to accept, as is, extensive Israeli legislation whose sole purpose is to enable the takeover of Palestinian lands in order to establish settlements and to distinguish, through discrimination, between settlements and their residents and Palestinians. Even if the court perhaps does not have the power to confront a determined government, the High Court of Justice could have at least pointed out the blatant absence of legality in its actions and deprived them of legal legitimacy.

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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