Recent news has made it clear that a major building boom in the Israeli settlement programme is underway in the area of the already huge Ariel settlement which points a “finger” extending 20 km across the mid-northern West Bank from the “Green Line” towards the Jordan Valley—see map.

Several settlement expansion or new settlement building projects in areas surrounding Ariel have recently become public knowledge. These projects are at various stages ranging from notices from the Israel Civil Administration (ICA) of the confiscation of Palestinian lands to complete housing units. It is clear from this that plans to expand settlement building in the Ariel area have been in gestation for some years at least and are continuing, and that the building projects themselves have been under way for at least a year.

New plans announced recently have identified an expansion to the north of the Qedumin “finger”, north of the Ariel settlement itself. These expansions and new settlements may partially explain the Israeli Government’s firm refusal to stop settlement expansion in the face of repeated demands by both the Palestinian Authority and the international community including the USA. The map gives some idea of the extent of settlement growth and expansion in this part of the West Bank.

The rate of growth of settlements may be seen from the fact that only two years ago there were 21 settlements in Salfeet District compared to 19 Palestinian villages. Five years ago there were 18. When these new developments are complete there will be 24.

These new settlements are built on land in Areas B and C which have been confiscated from rural villages where agriculture, and particularly olive trees, is the main livelihood. For example, the effect of the further proposed confiscations of their lands on the village of Kefr Deik will mean that essentially all usable village land—80% of the total—will have been confiscated for settlements and their associated facilities over the last 30 years. The effect on these Palestinian villagers and their agriculture-based economy will be disastrous. One consequence will be more purchase of Israeli fruit and vegetables because villagers will no longer have the land to grow their own.

The settlement projects include the following.

• Etz Efraim: large grey houses are already being built as an expansion of the Etz Efraim settlement on the lands of Mas-ha in Salfeet District.

• Leshem settlement of two-storey houses, an expansion of Alei Zahav, has been under construction for at least the last 12 months on lands owned by Kefr Deik to the west of the village, also in Salfeet District.

• Pedu’el settlement: the Municipality of Kefr Deik in Salfeet District has recently received notice from the ICA that about 4000 dunams of their lands south west of the village will be confiscated to expand Pedu’el settlement. This means that some 80% of the total Kefr Deik lands will have been confiscated.

• Biddya village: as reported in Israeli daily, Haaretz (Friday 18 May, pages B3 and B7) the village of Biddya in Salfeet District has received notice of confiscation of its lands. In this case notices were placed in plastic bags under stones and between the trees, and the land to be confiscated was not accurately described.

• Expansion in Qalqilya and Tulkarem Districts: Ma’an News and the Palestine News Network reported on Friday 18 May an Israeli plan no 11134/M-A to expand the Ariel settlement by 2100 housing units in two phases on extensive village lands confiscated in Qalqilya and Tulkarem Districts.

In fact although the news item referred to expanding the Ariel settlement, judging by the names of the villages whose land is to be confiscated, the expansion will be north west of the Qedumin “finger” which contains the Qedumin, Immanuel, Qarna Shomron and Ma’ale Shamron settlements (see map). The two phases were reported as follows:

o 700 new housing units on large areas of the village of Kafr Laqif located east of Qalqilya town between the towns of Azzoun and Jinsafut in Qalqilya District.

o 1400 new housing units on large areas of Baket Al Hatab, Izbeat Abu Hamada and Kafr Aboush in Tulkarem District. Al Keffriyet Municipality comprises a group of seven villages, including these three, with a total population of 10,000. When interviewed, the Mayor, Farouq Ghanayem, stated that he had received no official documentation from the Israel Civil Administration and was relying simply on media reports for his information.

However the Israeli military with helicopters have been seen frequently in this area. The lands that appear to have been identified by the Israelis for construction of housing are hilly and covered with olive trees, and are currently remote with only dirt tracks for access.

There was a small village, Al Hamadi, there at one time, but because of limited access and lack of water, the village was abandoned years ago although the remains of the houses are still standing. It is very obvious, however, that this land is close to Jayyous and the “Green Line” so that construction of an access road to Israel would be easily possible.

• Jayyous is north of Qalqilya and about 5 km from the “Green Line”. The Separation Barrier in this area was built to the west of the village and across its lands, placing about 75% and the six Jayyousi water wells on the Israeli side of the Barrier in the “Seam Zone”. There was always a plan to expand the Zufim settlement northwards onto this land, part of which has already been declared “Approved state land”.

Local sources suggest that this plan is likely to be implemented before long. Following legal action by the Jayyous Municipality the Courts have ordered the Israeli military to change the line of the Separation Barrier to return some land and one water well to the village. However this change to the line of the Separation Barrier will leave the land identified for the Zufim expansion on the Israeli side.

Confiscation procedure, example Biddya, Salfeet District

The procedure for confiscating village land is brutal. In the case of Biddya, for example, Haaretz reported that Eviction Notices were left under stones and among the trees. They were issued by officials in the “Israel Defense Forces, The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the Custodian of Government Property, and the Central Monitoring Unit”. Each declared “By the power vested in me by the order regarding government property and by the law for safeguarding state lands, I hereby state that you are in illegal possession of the land herein described.” The documents do not clearly specify which land.

Almost 30 years ago Israel tried to expropriate this land, but eventually gave up on its plans after a protracted legal battle in which the residents presented deeds to the lands in court. By then one of the farmers, Ibrahim Der-Ahmed, who had tried to stop the bulldozers, was dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. His son is now part of the campaign to retain the village lands.

Other land confiscations

On 25 May the Israeli authorities issued a decision to seize 30 dunums of land belonging to Palestinians from Deir Istiya, near Salfeet. Rizik Abu Nasser, head of the popular campaign against settlements in Salfit, quoted the order as saying the land was being seized ‘for security reasons and to prevent terrorist operations.’ The mayor, Nathmi Salman, condemned the decision. He said it was the third such recent order to seize land from Deir Istiya.

Many farmers living in Deir Istiya own land in Wadi Qana, a traditional beauty spot and picnic area for Palestinians as well as being economically important for its olive and other fruit trees for generations. There are now seven Israeli settlements including Yofim, Yaqir and Immanuel on the hilltops surrounding Wadi Qana.

Settlers and the Israeli military frequently cut olive trees. There are rumours that this land will be declared a closed military zone, and the villagers worry that their access to their lands in Wadi Qana will be completely prevented.