URGENT PRESS RELEASE

CONTINUING SETTLEMENT EXPANSION AT EFRAT

Jerusalem: March 13, 1997.

The Israeli government has decided to begin the building of the new settlement of GIVAT HAZAYIT - OLIVE HILL - north of the illegal Jewish settlement of Efrat, which is located south of Bethlehem. The land belongs to the villagers of Artas and el-Khader, and people have proof of ownership from the time of the British mandate. Israel declared the area to be "government land" and therefore "state land" in 1991, for the purposes of expanding the Efrat settlement colony.

An attempt to begin work was made in November 1996, but the villages submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice by advocate Lynda Brayer and a temporary injunction was issued halting the work Subsequently the Israelis did held up the work on the land claimed by the petitioners, but continued building on another area.

Yesterday, March 12, the Israeli authorities renewed the earthworks on Givat Hazayit. A new petition will be submitted to the High Court and a temporary injunction will be requested. In the former petition, the High Court decided that the proof of ownership of the Palestinian landowners was not sufficiently clear. This time, the owners have obtained all the necessary documents from the ecclesiastical courts proving their acquisition of property rights by descent.

The Israelis halted all land settlement registration in 1967 - for the deliberate purpose of challenging Palestinian ownership. In addition, they forbade all land transactions without permission from the military commander in the 1970's. In addition, they declared land to be "government land" as they so wished, and inverted normal burdens of proof of ownership, devolving them on to the Palestinian owner, rather than on the government which claimed the land. The Israelis then changed the laws of evidence available to the Palestinians, bringing about a situation which has made it almost impossible for Palestinians to prove ownership. This is how Israel has indirectly annexed the West Bank, because all "state land" is land for Jewish use only, thus extracting about 68% of the West Bank land from Palestinian ownership.

The land of Artas and el-Khader in Olive Hill might be subject to the same confiscation.