Ex-chief West Bank land inspector planted groves on Palestinian ground

Former head of Defense Ministry body that supervises land use grew olive trees on the plots while serving in the post 30 years ago, continues to work them

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

David Kishik-Cohen at his olive grove outside the Kochav Hashahar settlement. (via WhatsApp)
David Kishik-Cohen at his olive grove outside the Kochav Hashahar settlement. (via WhatsApp)

KOCHAV HASHACHAR, West Bank — The former head of the Defense Ministry body responsible for enforcing the rules relating to illegal land use in the West Bank planted an olive grove on Palestinian land while serving in the position, and has maintained the illegal trees to this day, The Times of Israel has established.

David Kishik-Cohen held the senior position of head of the Supervision Unit in the Civil Administration from 1984 to 2007. He was fired amid allegations he had been involved in authorizing the establishment of a quarry owned by his wife outside the Kochav Hashahar settlement without reporting the conflict of interest.

During his time in office, Kishik-Cohen planted an olive grove outside the central West Bank town.

He confirmed as much in a conversation with The Times of Israel on Monday, saying he believed he planted roughly thee acres’ worth of trees around 1988. He insisted that they are located “inside of the settlement,” but when asked if he meant inside the fence of Kochav Hashahar, he declined to elaborate.

In 1980, the IDF seized roughly 200 acres’ worth of land from the nearby West Bank villages of Kafr Malik and Deir Jarir, due to the purported need to protect an outpost set up there at the time by a group of former Nahal soldiers. Kochav Hashahar was established on the seized lands shortly thereafter.

An aerial map of the Kochav Hashahar settlement from 2019 using Civil Administration data identifying the 1980 land seizure by Israel in red, various land parcels in yellow and the area of David Kishik Cohen’s olive grove in blue. (Dror Etkes/Kerem Navot)

A fence southeast of the settlement wraps around dozens of acres of olive groves, which are located well beyond the land allotment of Kochav Hashahar.

Civil Administration mapping data shows that most of the olive groves planted by Kochav Hashahar residents are located several hundred meters beyond the boundary of the 1980 land seizure on what Israeli authorities acknowledge is Palestinian land.

Kishik-Cohen registered his three land parcels on which he planted the olive trees with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and they were included in the rabbinical authority’s updated list of fruit trees approved for consumption from this past January.

The public WhatsApp profile picture of the former Civil Administration chief inspector is a photo of him standing in what appears to be his grove during a recent harvest.

The Times of Israel visited Kochav Hashahar on Tuesday to verify the exact location of his grove and identified the spot from which Kishik-Cohen snapped the WhatsApp photo. In addition, a resident of the settlement as well as a foreign worker at the field fingered the illegal grove as belonging to Kishik-Cohen.

David Kishik Cohen’s olive grove outside the Kochav Hashahar settlement on May 26, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Contacted and asked to identify his olive trees on an aerial photo Tuesday, Kishik-Cohen said he was busy but would do so later that evening. He was subsequently presented with the various pieces of evidence connecting him to the illegal grove, but ceased responding.

The Civil Administration declined to comment on the record, but a defense official who spoke with The Times of Israel acknowledged that the olive grove was illegal and planted on Palestinian land to which neighboring villagers have been barred access for decades.

However, the official added that no petition had been filed demanding access to the land on which Kishik-Cohen’s olive grove sits, and that because more than five years have passed since it was planted, the Civil Administration does not have the authority to raze the grove without a corroborated complaint.

Dror Etkes from the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog group said: “Mr. Kishik-Cohen is only one rotten person who worked in a rotten body that is responsible for maintaining a rotten reality.”

“Whoever knows the reality in the West Bank understands that this is just the tip of the tip of a much greater reality that is fully reliant on dispossession of millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank,” Etkes claimed.

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