Sunday, February 1, 2009

Israeli Human Rights Group Aids Palestinian Land Lawsuits

The Israeli human rights volunteer organization Yesh Din announced plans to help Palestinians sue the state of Israel for the expropriation of private lands for West Bank settlements, according to The New York Times.

The article states, "The violations include private and public building carried out without the appropriate permits or outside of approved plans, as well as the construction of whole neighborhoods on private Palestinian lands in blatant contravention of Israeli policy and law."

Longtime Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard (shown above), counsel to Yesh Din, stated, " 'Many Palestinian households now have a valid legal claim against the state of Israel' and can go to court to demand the removal of buildings from their property and reparations for the years the lands could not be used. And if Israel does not compensate them, Mr. Sfard said, they will eventually turn to foreign courts."

Yesh Din's campaign follows the leak to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz "...of classified government data regarding the extent of construction in officially recognized settlements that is illegal by Israeli standards."

Haaretz reports that Israel's defense establishment established a database on the settlements four years ago " have credible and accessible information at the ready to contend with legal actions brought by Palestinian residents, human rights organizations and leftist movements challenging the legality of construction in the settlements and the use of private lands to establish or expand them. The painstakingly amassed data was labeled political dynamite."

Ironically, the database that was supposed to aid the government in countering legal actions is indeed being used by Palestinians and an Israeli leftist human rights group to challenge the legality of settlement construction. The revelations point to the use of private Palestinian land and government responsibility for illegal practices that contradict the official line, according to Haaretz:

An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements - about 75 percent - construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents.

...The information contained in the database does not conform to the state's official position, as presented, for instance, on the Foreign Ministry Web site, which states: "Israel's actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law - Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements." Since in many of the settlements, it was the government itself, primarily through the Ministry of Construction and Housing, that was responsible for construction, and since many of the building violations involve infrastructure, roads, public buildings and so on, the official data also demonstrate government responsibility for the unrestrained planning and lack of enforcement of regulations in the territories.

To read an interview with Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, click here. To read a March 2007 article on information obtained by the Israeli group Peace Now on the use of private Palestinian land for settlements, click here.

No comments: