Salfit – In mid-January, over 100 people, including Palestinian officials, farmers and international activists, convened on the top of a hill to plant olive saplings in Khirbet Kurkush, in the northern occupied West Bank district of Salfit.
Salfit's district governor, Ibrahim Al-Balawi, explained that this action was part of an annual project to boost crops across the West Bank, the primary or secondary source of income for between 80,000 and 100,000 Palestinian families.
The location of the action was particularly pertinent due to its proximity to an illegal Israeli settlement industrial zone, Ariel West, as well as on-going threats by Israeli authorities to confiscate land in the area.
“This is our land; we live here, as is recognized by international law. We will continue to live and build on our land here despite the occupation,” Al-Balawi said.
Mayor of Bruqin, Said Allan, told Palestine Monitor that the local municipality had begun work at the beginning of the month to resurface a road that goes from Khirbet Jalal al-Din to Khirbet Kurkush with the intention of allowing easier access to both farmers working their land and Palestinians visiting the roman ruins found there. The road, first opened about five years ago, marks the border between Area B (under Palestinian civil control and shared Palestinian and Israeli security control), and C (under full Israeli jurisdiction).
On January 15, the mayor reported, Israeli authorities issued a stop-work order for the approximately 4-kilometre stretch of road in Khirbet Kurkush, claiming that the so-called “state land”, in Area C, was being used without permission. The order included a court date. Just a few days earlier, two Israeli soldiers and two civilians had approached the man working on the road, taken the keys to his truck and threatened to arrest him and confiscate his road roller if he did not stop working.
Israel has undergone a campaign of remapping in the West Bank in order to requisition areas as “state land”, with 62,000 dunums (15,320 acres) being remapped in 2015 alone.
Four farmers in Khirbet Kurkush have been summoned to Israeli courts over their land. Once the stop-work notice is issued, farmers have 45 days to contest it with evidence of their hereditary ownership of the land.
One of those farmers, Ziad Barakat, a teacher in Bruqin, was present at the action. He owns more than 270 dunums (67 acres) of land, including 120 olive trees. A court decision will uproot 40 of his trees. He has not been told when it will happen, stating it could be “Any day now.”
Among those present on the day was Walid Assaf, chairman of the Palestinian Authority Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. Speaking to Palestine Monitor, he said, “Israel uses Ottoman and Turkish laws to confiscate land. Israeli colonies and factories are expanding. This is private land; we will plant our land to stop settlement expansion. We need to end the illegal occupation.”
Established in 2000, Ariel West is one of four industrial zones in the Salfit district, and one of around twenty in the West Bank. Officially called “industrial zones under Israeli administration,” these areas encompass 1,365 hectares in Area C, a vitally important stretch of land.
In the region of Salfit, there are now 19 Palestinian villages and 24 illegal Israeli settlements. With some of the biggest groundwater resources in Palestine, it is a strategically important location.
In January alone, Israeli authorities have issued 30 stop-work orders and one demolition notice to Palestinian residents in the Salfit district, under the pretext that structures did not have Israeli-issued building permits.
Land confiscation is not the only way settlement industrial zones impede everyday life for Palestinians. Factories create air, noise and water pollution for local villages.
Approximately half of Israel’s environmental regulations do not apply in the occupied territory, making the West Bank a desirable location to establish a factory for both Israeli and international companies in Israeli-run Area C, free from any pollution limitation regulations.
The Palestinian villages Bruqin and Kufr Al-Dik pay a high price for such lax legislation. They are situated around the Ariel West industrial zone and are subject to untreated wastewater being dumped into their rivers and contaminating their water sources.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements receive lower payment and experience harsher working conditions than their Israeli counterparts.
Despite international condemnation, cheap Palestinian labour, low rent, favourable tax rates and lenient environmental laws make Area C an enticing prospect for both Israeli and international companies.