West Bank land seized by Israeli kibbutz

Palestinians clash with members of the Israeli Defense Forces near a checkpoint at Bitunia on Oct. 18, 2011 in West Bank, Israel. Getty Images

JERUSALEM - A tract of Palestinian land in the West Bank has for the first time been seized by a kibbutz located inside Israel, a prominent Israeli researcher said Saturday.

The land — about 365 acres from the West Bank Palestinian village of Bardaleh — was seized by the nearby agricultural community of Kibbutz Meirav, which lies inside Israel proper, said Dror Etkes, a prominent researcher and activist against Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

For decades, Israeli authorities seized such lands for Jewish settlers inside the West Bank, but not for communities across the cease-fire lines inside Israel proper, Etkes said.

The Bardaleh lands lie on the Israeli side of a barrier that was built to keep out Palestinian attackers. But the meandering barrier — a mix of high concrete walls and fences — frequently juts into the West Bank. It has kept some Palestinian farmland on the Israeli side of the barrier, including some belonging to farmers in Bardaleh.

The kibbutz has been tending to the land for years, but only recently has Israel publicly acknowledged that it considers it its own.

The move has raised fears among some Palestinians and their supporters that the same fate may befall other tracts of West Bank land that lie on the Israeli side of the barrier.

"Eventually, Israeli communities on the Israeli side of the Green Line will likely take land from Palestinians in the West Bank," said Etkes, referring to cease-fire lines that held until the 1967 Mideast War. "It seems to be almost inevitable."

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Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said the West Bank land now belonged to the kibbutz. He said the move was not meant to set a precedent, but would not elaborate further. Officials from the Kibbutz weren't immediately available for comment because of the Jewish Sabbath.

Bardaleh's Sawafta clan says it owns most of the annexed land.

Mohammed Sawafta, one of the villagers, said kibbutz residents began scaring them off from their land in the early 1980s and Israel's military later blocked access as kibbutz residents started using the area themselves.

It is unclear whether the land has been formally annexed and when Israelis began taking formal control.

Proving ownership of lands on the Israeli side of the barrier is incredibly complicated among Palestinians, who use a mix of old Ottoman documents, Jordanian registries, and unregistered but communally agreed upon land divisions.

Israeli officials have built the barrier in stops and starts. So far, some two-thirds of the 485-mile (780-kilometer) route has been built, Etkes said. If the entire route is completed without any alterations, it will seize some 10 percent of West Bank lands.

Palestinians have successfully appealed to Israel's Supreme Court to alter some routes that they say have unfairly swallowed their land.

Palestinians want the West Bank — a territory lying between Israel proper and Jordan — for part of their future state. Israel captured the area in the 1967 war.

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