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Palestinian-owned trees vandalized by settlers against the background of the Havat Gilad settlement point. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, October 13, 2013

Adding insult to injury: Israel officially recognizes Gilad Farm settlement outpost after turning blind eye to land seizure and harassment of Palestinians there for 15 years

On 31 January 2018, the Israeli government approved the establishment of what it described as a “new community” on part of the land seized by force by the settlers at Gilad Farm. The settlers have lived on the outpost for many years with the authorities’ support, albeit without official approval.

The settlement outpost of Gilad Farm was established more than 15 years ago, in April 2002. Situated approximately one kilometer to the east of the settlement of Kedumim, it forms part of a ring of settlements that chokes the city of Nablus, restricting Palestinian movement in the area. The ring includes the settlements of Yitzhar, Har Bracha, Itamar, Elon Moreh, and Shavei Shomron.

The settlers began by erecting four structures on private land belonging to residents of the village of Far’ata. The Civil Administration issued demolition orders for the structures, and in the outpost’s first year the security forces demolished them time and again, with the settlers rebuilding them every time. By the end of July 2003, all the structures were standing on site with no further demolition attempts.

Thereafter, with the exception of localized demolitions over the years, the Israeli authorities no longer attempted to evict the outpost and turned a blind eye to the ongoing construction. In full view of the security forces, the oustpost expanded and now spans some 450 dunams (45 hectares) of farmland and pastureland under the private ownership of Palestinians from the villages of Far’ata, Tal and Jit. As of July 2017, there were 75 buildings on the site, most of which are used for residential purposes. All the residents of Gilad Farm enjoy close military protection.

Kheirallah ‘Abdallah. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 8 Feb. 2018

All I can do is look at my land. It’s in front of my eyes, but I can’t go there. I see the settlers moving around it freely, farming our land, building roads on it – while the soldiers protect them. The entire Israeli military is at their disposal and we can’t even go near. It really hurts me. I miss the days when I could farm my land and care for the trees. This is a beautiful area that could have become a park for all the residents of Nablus and the northern West Bank. But the settlers took everything from us – even our right to enter our land. I’d really like to go to my land, which belonged to my parents and grandparents, with my children and eat a meal there in the lap of nature.

From the testimony of Kheirallah ‘Abdallah, 40, a resident of the village of Sara in the Nablus District, taken on 8 February 2018 by B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i.

The settlers’ presence on the site and their seizure of land from the villages have been accompanied from the outset by violence against local Palestinians. The Israeli legal system has consistently refrained from taking any action against Israeli assailants from Gilad Farm, as elsewhere in the West Bank. Even when soldiers are present during attacks against Palestinians, they often stand back and sometimes even take part in the attacks.

The method described above, whereby settlers establish facts on the ground despite the supposed disapproval of official state arms, is not unique to Gilad Farm. It constitutes a privatized and ostensibly independent mechanism of land seizure that is applied throughout the West Bank, enabling the state to establish and expand dozens of settlements while claiming internationally that it is not. In this way, the state manages to promote acts of settlement and expropriation while disassociate itself from them when necessary.

The retroactive approval of settlements on various pretexts, such as the killing of settler Rabbi Raziel Shevah from Gilad Farm, or other excuses regarding other settlements, in no way changes their illegality. All the settlements, whether recognized or unofficial, are supported by government decisions, whether these are above board or beneath the table. All the settlements violate international law, advance the expropriation project and gravely violate the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Settlers attack Palestinians in an olive grove near village of Far'ata. Photo: 'Alaa a-Din a-Tawil, Far'ata, 28 February 2012