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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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LANDMINE SUIT

PA Arabs Go to Court to Divide Efrat

When almost no Arabs stake claims to areas that were “state land” under Turkey and Jordan and now Israel, the PA tries to find another way to divide Efrat. It goes to court and claims discrimination.
Jews attempt to establish an outpost on Givat Eitam in Efrat in 2007

Jews attempt to establish an outpost on Givat Eitam in Efrat in 2007
Photo Credit: Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.

The Palestinian Authority made its case in the High Court Wednesday in a suit that claims the government discriminated against Arabs during a process that declared Givat Eitam in Efrat “state land.”

Givat Eitam is an area of approximately 500 acres and is so large that it has been termed “Efrat ‘B,’” where 2000 homes could be built.

The area includes approximately 75 acres bought by a Jew before the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The land was registered with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in order to protect the identity of the purchaser, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi told the Jewish Press.

The entire Givat Eitam, literally the “Eitam Hill,” was state land under the Ottoman Empire and during the Jordanian occupation after the War for Independence until the Six-Day War in 1967.

However, apparently trying to avoid claims it is “occupying” the area that was not under any internationally-recognized rule, Israel kept the area as a sort of “no-man’s land” and did not allow Efrat to build on Givat Eitam or even work the land as a farm.

After a nine-year process towards declaring it state land, Israel allowed all parties to stake claims. Oded said that there were nine Arab claims on different parcels of land, and one was accepted. The government rejected the other claims because the land had not been worked for 10 years.

Arabs claim that Efrat blocked them from farming the land, an assertion that is difficult to swallow because if it were true, the supposed landowners could have gone to the courts. Furthermore, if they were the landowners, why was the same area “state land” under Turkish and Jordanian rule?

PA Arabs, buoyed by Peace now and other left-wing supporters who have succeeded in winning court cases on property claims without proving landownership, found a new tactic.

They appealed to the High Court in 2009 and accused the government of Israel of discrimination in the process of declaring Givat Eitam state land.

When the court heard the case on Wednesday, lawyers for the Arabs reasoned that since the process applied only to the land that is not owned by Jews, that proves that the government’s intention was only to take over what the Arabs said is their land.

One of the judges on the three-justice panel saw through the hollow reasoning. He asked the lawyer if he really thinks that the government would declare as “state land” an area that already is proven to be legally registered by Jews.

When a judge asks that kind of question in a hearing, it usually points in the direction of the eventual ruling, which will be handed down at a future date.

The argument “shows that the Arabs did not challenge the ‘state land’ designation’ innocently, according to Oded.

Asked what would happen if the High Court rules against the government and recognizes the Arab claims, Oded sad he really does not know.

The entire issue is buried in semantics. When Haaretz’s Amira Hess reported the story earlier this week, she wrote, “Local Palestinians have also expressed concern that if the land is claimed by the state, Efrat will be expanded and Bethlehem will ultimately be cut off from Palestinian towns to the south.”

Obviously, the land will be used for homes, but the other side of the coin is that the Arabs wants to cut off one area of Efrat from the other.

The claim that Bethlehem would be cut off from other Arab villages is patently false because building on Givat Eitam would not change the current situation.

Revivi told the Chinese news agency Xinhua three years ago, after the petition was filed in court,  “Givat Eitam was declared state land three years ago, so it is not Palestinian land, and the whole city plan was laid out in 1983, for all of Efrat, so to come and say we are trying to expand is ridiculous because this was part of the original plan.”

Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran boldly admitted the facts don’t matter. She told Xinhua, “I don’t care when it was approved, it’s against Israeli interests because it makes a two-state solution much harder.”

That, of course, depends on a negotiated border of two states, something that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has categorically stated that is not for negotiation.

About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


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