Photo Credit: Yair Aronshtam
Sunrise over Efrat, Gush Etzion, Israel

Israel is conducting a land survey intended to declare the area east of the community of Efrat in Judea a state-owned land, freeing it up for construction, according to a document submitted by the state to the Supreme Court last week and cited by Ha’aretz.

According to the document, the survey has been undertaken “in a manner that will create contiguity of state lands.” As Ha’aretz points out, Efrat is inside the Gush Etzion settlement bloc of Judea, and construction east of Efrat, in an area known as Givat Eitam, would expand Gush Etzion eastward, to the outskirts of the ethnically cleansed Bethlehem, which used to be majority Christian but since 1994 has seen a flight of its Christian population.

Jewish prisoners in Jordan, after the fall of Gush Etzion, May 1948 / Wikipedia commons
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To remind you, Gush Etzion was founded not after the 1967 War, but back in 1940-1947. Its civilian population was overrun by an invading Jordanian army in 1948, some of them massacred and the rest taken prisoner. But as of 2011, Gush Etzion consists of 22 communities with a population of 70,000 Jews.

According to Ha’aretz, in 2009, 425 acres of land outside Efrat were declared state land, with a plan to build 2,500 housing units there. The state told the court that early in 2016 the Efrat Regional Council requested permission to start planning construction in the area, noting that the land of Givat Eitam is privately owned by Himanuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund.

The document the state submitted to the court reads: “The intention is to promote in the future development of Himanuta lands. To this end, infrastructure must be installed between Himanuta lands westward toward Efrat, including lands that have been declared [state lands] at Givat Eitam… The installation of this infrastructure will be possible if and when the land survey now underway is completed in the area between Efrat and Givat Eitam in a manner that creates contiguity of state lands.”

The document is co-signed by the supervisor of government and abandoned property in Judea and Samaria, Yossi Segal, and the defense minister’s aide for settlements, Kobi Eliraz.

The Efrat Regional Council released a statement Sunday replying to a challenge to the building plans by Peace Now, saying, “It is symbolic that precisely on the day marking the destruction of the Temple some are trying to sabotage the building of the Land of Israel (referring to the fast day of Tisha B’Av,which fell on Sunday).”

“The legal clarification of the status of lands in the Eitam neighborhood has been underway for 12 years,” the regional council said, adding that “at the High Court of Justice at least five different panels of justices have come to realize that there is nothing of substance in the claims of the petitioners, who have dragged the state into a waste of money and costly resources in unnecessary proceedings.”

The council said it was “happy about High Court rulings in previous petitions, and we are happy that the state is seeking to redress years of injustice.”

The council noted there were “hundreds of acres bought by Jews even before the establishment of the state and registered to the Jewish National Fund in trust for the Jewish state” at Givat Eitam, and construction at Givat Eitam will fulfill the will of these Jews, and the “great bonus is mainly for young couples who cannot afford to purchase an apartment in Jerusalem and its environs.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed to Ha’aretz that its “blue line team” in the Civil Administration – consisting of cartographers, surveyors and legal experts – was now “working to study the status of lands at Givat Eitam, and a decision on their status will be rendered at the end of the team’s work.”

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