The Palestinian Authority is stepping up its efforts to seize control of the strategic area of Nahal Heletz, a valley that runs between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. “Heavy machinery is at work, preparing terracing and structures, poaching land that was purchased by the JNF in the pre-State era.”
The clamor of tractors at work in Nahal Heletz can be heard all the way to the first row of houses in Har Gilo, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. At the base of the valley, a large fleet of heavy machinery has been at work for some time, turning the sloped terrain into a broad plain. The ancient agricultural storehouses around the perimeter of this plain have been refurbished at tremendous expense and are now serving as residences.
The land in question is categorized as “survey land” which may be declared state property by the Israeli government. Yishai Hemo, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria, reports that the extent of the engineering work and the high financial costs involved prove that this is not a private initiative.
“In this case, as in others, the Palestinian Authority is the guiding hand that bankrolls the work, thanks to financial support provided by foreign governments. As we have seen elsewhere, the agricultural work is merely camouflage for illegal outposts that the Palestinian Authority is setting up in strategic areas,” says Hemo. “We turned to the Civil Administration multiple times and demanded that they take real enforcement action in this extremely crucial strategic area, but at present the work is continuing unhindered.”
Further down the valley, there are many tracts of land purchased by the JNF long before the establishment of the State of Israel, and recently the JNF and the Civil Administration began reforestation work in the area. The Gush Etzion Municipal Council and Regavim documented many instances of land-poaching by Arabs on these JNF lands, as well as systematic uprooting and destruction of trees planted by the JNF.
“The land theft funded by Abu Mazen and his cohorts is nothing new, unfortunately,” stresses Shlomo Ne’eman, Head of the Gush Etzion Municipal Council. “This phenomenon should be a cause for concern for all decision-makers in the State of Israel. It is inconceivable that destruction and seizure, both of state land and land that should be declared state property in the near future, is allowed to continue at will. Our Arab neighbors are systematically stealing land and taking advantage of the lack of law enforcement. They are confident that in the end they will be able to base their claims on the possession rights granted by the law – which discriminates against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. The time has come to put a stop to it.”
The Civil Administration’s response to Regavim’s correspondence was laconic, at best: “Pursuant to your inquiry, and as we deem necessary, oversight and enforcement measures will be conducted as per standard operating procedure, and enforcement will be carried out according to established priorities.”