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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 14:30 GMT
Israel doubts on settlements legality
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Darit al-Kara, West Bank

Khalil Zidane
Khalil Zidane fears papers showing his ownership carry little weight

Shopkeeper Khalil Zidane removes a neatly folded map from a drawer beneath his till.

With his arms fully stretched, the 45-year-old lays the map on the shop counter and then moves his cup of hot chocolate to a safe distance.

The father-of-six does not want any smudges on the paper.

Poring over the map, Mr Zidane explains that it showed an area of about 30 acres lying to the south of the small village of Darit al-Kara.

He points to several of the plots of land marked on the map saying that they had been in his family for several generations.

But the last time Mr Zidane set foot on the land was 10 years ago.

Private Land

"The settlement is built on our land," says Mr Zidane, referring to the Jewish settlement Bet El, whose red-roofed houses can be seen from his general store.

"I'm angry that my land has been stolen. How would you feel if someone came to your home and took your land?"

Beit El
The settlement of Beit El is built on agricultural land near Ramallah

According to a report released late last year by the Israeli campaign group Peace Now, Mr Zidane is not alone.

Nearly 40% of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are built on privately owned Palestinian land, the report states.

Peace Now accuses the government of building settlements on land that has been "effectively stolen".

'Bombastic'

Under international law, all Israel's settlements - home to about 430,000 Jews - in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, although Israel disputes this.

We have to show that the settlements aren't only outlawed by international law but Israeli law as well
Dror Etkes
Peace Now

The significance of the Peace Now report is that it calls into question whether most Jewish settlements in the West Bank are legal under Israeli law.

According to an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 1979, settlements can only be built on what is defined as state land - not privately owned land - subject to Israeli government approval.

Peace Now activist Dror Etkes calls the report "a great moment for all Israelis who oppose the settlements".

"We have to use this report to embarrass the Israeli government and show that the settlements aren't only outlawed by international law but Israeli law as well."

The Israeli government has said repeatedly that it respects Palestinian property rights in the West Bank.

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prime Minister's Office says the report is "bombastic" and "full of discrepancies".

She adds that a full official response is likely to be issued this month.

Lost Revenue

But for people like Mr Zidane, such arguments are academic.

Maale Adumim settlement map, which shading by Peace Now of what it says is privately owned Palestinian land
Peace Now says is 86% of this settlement is built on private land
Most Palestinians see Israeli settlements as theft of their land and a major obstacle preventing them from achieving Palestinian statehood.

Mr Zidane says that his family used to harvest olives trees on the hilltops where Bet El, a religious Orthodox settlement, now stands.

The settlement, home to about 5,000 Jews, was established in 1977.

Mr Zidane estimates that he loses about $4,000 every year in lost revenue - particularly olive sales - from the property.

If the land was ever to return to him, Mr Zidane says he would like to grow tomatoes, and perhaps even graze cattle.

But he does not think that will happen anytime soon.

"When I die my son will inherit my land," says Mr Zidane, referring to 14-year-old son Annas who listens attentively at the end of the counter.

"But I don't know if he will even see it."




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