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From the field

28 Feb. 07: Illegal construction approved in the Modi'in Illit settlement

In January, the Civil Administration's Supreme Planning Council approved the amended outline plan for the new neighborhood in the Modi'in Illit settlement, which is located west of Ramallah. The plan for the neighborhood, called Matityahu East, took effect on 23 February and retroactively "rendered fit" thirty-nine buildings, containing hundreds of new housing units, that were built in violation of the relevant planning and housing laws. Twenty-two of these thirty-nine buildings were built, according to the Civil Administration and the State Attorney's Office, pursuant to building permits that the Modi'in Illit Local Council issued illegally. The other seventeen buildings were built by construction companies that did not have building permits. Most of the apartments have been sold to Israelis and some are occupied.

The neighborhood lies completely on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Bil'in , which lies to its east. In the early 1990s, most of the land was declared "state land." Village residents appealed the declaration to the Civil Administration's Appeals Committee, contending that the land was privately owned. The Appeals Committee held, in July 1992, that a number of the land parcels covered by the declaration orders were under cultivation and, therefore, could not properly be considered state land.

In the framework of a petition filed by Peace Now in 2006 against the illegal construction in the settlement, it was learned that, contrary to the Appeals Committee's decision, those approximately 170 dunams, recognized by the Appeals Committee as private land, were in fact registered as state land. The recently approved plan for the construction of hundreds of housing units involves this land. The state argues that including this land in the framework of the plan for Matityahu East was proper: following the Appeals Committee decision in July, 1992, the Committee, at the request of the state prosecutor, corrected an alleged "scribe's error" as a result of which those 170 dunams were acknowledged to be state land. In addition to the impudence in relating to such a significant decision as "correcting a scribe's error," it was subsequently learned that the Appeals Committee cancelled its earlier decision without carrying out a hearing and without even notifying the Palestinian landowners or their attorneys.

In February 2005, the government approved the amended route of the separation barrier in the area of Modi'in Illit, and construction of this section has been almost totally completed. The barrier separates Bil'in from most of its residents' farmland lying west of the village. This farmland includes, in addition to the land on which "Matityahu East" is built, hundreds of dunams that are now under cultivation. The state does not dispute that this additional land is privately owned by residents of Bil'in.

Research conducted by B'Tselem and Bimkom in December 2005 revealed that, in 1998, the Housing Ministry and the Civil Administration prepared a "master plan" for the area of Modi'in Illit. This plan attached to "Matityahu East" 600 dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land, which now lies between the settlement and the barrier, on which more than 1,000 housing units are planned. This plan has no official status, but clearly expresses the Israeli authorities' intention to continue their land