An illegal Israeli outpost was set up on land belonging to KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund just days after authorities demolished a Palestinian family’s home and restaurant that had stood there for nearly 15 years, a defense official confirmed on Thursday.
A group of Israeli settlers arrived at the site near Bethlehem less than a week after the August 26 demolition and began working the land, a defense official told The Times of Israel, confirming an earlier report in the Haaretz daily. A number of temporary structures and construction vehicles were moved onto the now-gated-off site.
The Civil Administration, a Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction, acknowledged that the structures had been illegally erected without the necessary permits and said that they would be cleared “in accordance with [its] priorities.”
The land, located between the villages of Battir and Beit Jala south of Jerusalem, was leased by KKL-JNF to the nearby Neve Daniel settlement for agricultural purposes, the land-owning corporation said.
On August 26, Israeli security forces demolished the Cassia family’s home and restaurant, ending a nearly 15-year-long legal battle against the Palestinian locals led by Himanuta, a KKL-JNF subsidiary organization known for purchasing lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The razing of the Palestinian family’s compound came after a High Court of Justice ruling last month that rejected a last-ditch petition against the demolition orders.
The property is located in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel exercises civilian and military control.
The Cassia family claims to have owned the property for generations. To prove ownership, they provided Israeli authorities with a so-called malia document, which shows property tax payment from the time when Jordan controlled the West Bank.
However, the Defense Ministry on several occasions over the past two decades rejected their requests for building permits, saying the tax paper was not enough to prove ownership under Israeli law.
Nonetheless, the family in 2005 went ahead and built on what long had been agricultural lands, constructing a large home as well as a restaurant and a farm. The Civil Administration issued demolition orders and razed several structures in the decade and a half that followed, but the home and restaurant remained standing as the Cassias fought the orders in court.
In 2017, the Himanuta organization joined the state’s legal efforts against the Cassias, coming forward with documents showing that it had purchased the land in 1969, which the court accepted as legitimate.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog cast doubt on Himanuta’s purchase, citing the family’s insistence that they never sold the land to anyone. Moreover, the group argued in a Sunday statement that the area between Bethlehem and Jerusalem does not have land registration records and the rare real estate transactions that have taken place in recent decades have been done according to inaccurate listings, which often result in errors in delineating property borders.
In a statement responding to a query from The Times of Israel, KKL-JNF said it would “continue to protect its rights over land that it owns.”
“In a series of Israeli court rulings, the last of which was given just over a week ago, on August 18, it was unequivocally determined that these properties were built illegally and without permits on privately owned, KKL-JNF lands. KKL-JNF stands its ground in protecting its lawful rights,” the statement concluded.