West Bank colonies face a necessary obstacle

The Washington Post reports (perhaps a little optimistically) about Israel’s Supreme Court increasingly coming down against illegal West Bank settlements:

It has been nearly a decade since the Jewish settlement of Migron appeared on the hilltop opposite this Palestinian village, beginning with a communications tower and followed by a cluster of homes and a fence around approximately 90 acres of land.

Data tucked onto the hard drive of anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes’s computer indicates that the land belongs to the residents of Burqa and nearby Deir Dibwan, and Etkes said he expects that information will one day force the settlers to leave.

The compulsion won’t come from Israel’s politicians, world public opinion or the Obama administration, Etkes contends, but from Israel’s Supreme Court, where local advocacy groups are having increased success challenging settlements with simple property claims.

Etkes, the 42-year-old coordinator of settlement issues for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, has helped instigate a number of lawsuits through the pioneering use of mapping software to establish where settlements have encroached on private Palestinian land. “You have to create a tsunami that will expose the dimensions” of the problem, he said…

But even as the international debate has proceeded with no clear resolution — the dispute between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the latest in a long series of disagreements between their countries over the issue — a quiet revolution has taken place among Israeli groups opposed to the settlements.

Limited in the past to political advocacy and efforts to court international opinion, they now have access to a deeply layered database on West Bank land that Etkes assembled over three years. Multiple sets of information can be compared — official Israeli maps; Palestinian, Jordanian and British records rendered in digital form; hundreds of Global Positioning System images; and aerial photos supplemented by field observations.

The Israeli courts honor the property rights of Palestinians and are beginning to pressure the government to block construction or make plans to remove houses built on private property. Proving landownership in the West Bank is not always easy, though, with a hodgepodge of records and rules that include formal land registrations, conventions that extend property rights to those who traditionally cultivate an area and Israeli government property seizures.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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