Hundreds of acres of olive orchards in Al Mazra’a al Gharbiya village were taken over by Israeli troops on Tuesday, who claimed that the area was a ‘closed military zone’ and that the land was being confiscated for military use.Representatives of the Palestine Information Center stated that Israeli forces provided them with a map showing the area of confiscation, which consists of hundreds of acres of Palestinian farmland.
Under Israeli law, Palestinian land can be expropriated by the Israeli government in a variety of circumstances: if the owner of the land is considered ‘absentee’ (not currently living on the land), if the land is zoned by Israel for settlement, or if the Israeli military wants the land for ‘military purposes’.
Already, the Israeli government has expropriated almost half of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and has constructed a Wall to cement the confiscation – despite the fact that such land confiscation is considered illegal under international law and signed peace agreements with the Palestinians.
According to the local military commander overseeing Tuesday’s confiscation, Palestinian landowners have 45 days to contest the takeover by filing a complaint with the Ofer military court, which is located inside an Israeli settlement and thus inaccessible to most Palestinians.
Complaints against the Israeli military have a poor record of success – less than 5% of such complaints result in the return of confiscated land, according to human rights groups. The court is also carried out in Hebrew, a language which few Palestinians know, and with Israeli lawyers, which are difficult for Palestinians to access, since they are not allowed to enter Israel.
The troops that arrived in the village on Tuesday hammered signs into the ground and painted demarcation lines to indicate the area of confiscation, according to eyewitnesses.
Olive orchards are key to the Palestinian economy, with many Palestinian families depending on the sale of olives and olive oil for their livelihood.