By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
North of the settlement of Beit El, at the outpost of Jabel Artis, two new homes were recently built, and eight Israeli families moved in. The homes are barely a kilometer from the headquarters of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, and were built on land that according to the registry is private Palestinian land. This apparently did not prevent the Civil Administration from issuing an order for military use of the plot and that made it easier for the settlers to drive the land's owners off of it. Now, the Civil Administration admits that issuing the order was wrong, and that it was issued for the wrong plot. This admission makes little difference to the owners of the property, now that the construction is completed.
Mahbuba Yassin Abdullah, a resident of the nearby village of Dura al-Qara, is the owner of plot 39 of the village properties on which Jabel Artis sits. She told Haaretz that her father had bought the property many years ago (she does not recall precisely when), and says she is 75, which makes her son, Abed al'Ani, and Abu Bashir, a village elder, laugh. "Let's say that she is over 80," Abu Bashir says diplomatically.
A total of 80 dunam was appropriated on the basis of that civil administration order, Abu Bashir says.
During the 1990s Beit El settlers began preparing the ground in the area. First, a dirt road was made and then a few buildings were put up to house yeshiva students from Beit El and their families.
In August 2003, the Civil Administration issued the order to appropriate the plot for military use, to serve as a helipad. The expiration date on the order was renewed and the Palestinians were prevented from using the property.
Mahbuba's son says they had not realized the extent of the construction by the settlers because they had been kept away. He also says that the appropriation was done without warning.
"No one came and issued us the orders. One morning a bulldozer showed up and began plowing a dirt road and they put up a fence," he says.
In 2006, Dror Etkes, who at the time headed a Peace Now unit that followed settlement activity and is currently monitoring land-related developments in the territories for the human rights group Yesh Din, began to suspect that the matter involved illegal construction because an order for appropriating private property for military use cannot prepare the ground for settler construction.
Following a legal battle, Etkes managed to be get access to the database of the Civil Administration on properties and ownership. The case of Mahbuba was one of the first he looked at; through simple comparison with aerial photographs he concluded that the takeover of the property had no legal basis.
The case of Mahbuba's property is a small one, nonetheless it offers yet another glimpse into the methods used by
settlers to expand and build new settlements.