Israel Confiscates Palestinian Land
YITMA, West Bank (AP) _ Twenty years ago, Khalil Eid planted rows of olive trees on a rocky plot of land in his West Bank village.
As the trees flourished, so did Eid’s livelihood. He took the olives to family presses and sold bottles of oil.
On Thursday, the 58-year-old Palestinian farmer watched from a wind-swept hillside while Israeli bulldozers and mechanical shovels ripped a swath of village land and uprooted his olive grove.
The bulldozers, guarded by Israeli troops, were clearing land for 13 bypass roads crisscrossing the West Bank and linking Jewish settlements that eventually will be surrounded by Palestinian territory.
Israel says the roads are necessary for settlers’ security. After agreeing to hand over some West Bank land, it announced last week it would confiscate thousands more acres of Arab-owned land for highways.
Palestinians say the roads will reinforce Israel’s hold over the area and make it nearly impossible to divide the land for a future Palestinian state.
``I look at the West Bank in the year 2005 and I see that it will look like Swiss cheese,″ said Khalil Tufjaki, chief cartographer for the Palestinian Authority. Most of the West Bank, home to 1.6 million Palestinians and 150,000 Israelis, will be sliced-up for bypass roads under the Israeli plan, he said.
Palestinian official Nabil Amr called the land expropriations ``provocative,″ and correctly predicted violence.
In the village of al-Khader near Bethlehem, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian stone-throwers last weekend when clearing began there for a road connecting Jerusalem with the Jewish settlement of Efrat.
Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to ask U.S. officials in meetings next week to help pay for the staged troop pullback from 13 percent of the West Bank, estimated to cost anywhere from $500 million to $1.2 billion. An American official in Israel said, however, said Sharon would be well-advised not to bring up bypass roads.
``As a rule, the United States is not interested in funding bypass roads ... to sustain settlements,″ the official said on condition of anonymity.
It was not clear whether the U.S., which opposes settlement expansion, would place restrictions on any aid package it approves, the official said.
For residents of Yitma, the construction at the height of olive-picking season came as a shock. No one had notified them.
``I went to complain to the Palestinian Authority yesterday, but I was told this is part of the peace agreement,″ Eid said. ``Without olive oil, how can I live?″
His neighbor, Ahmed Najjar, a 28-year-old just starting out in the olive oil business, lost his 50 trees.
``We are in favor of peace, but what kind of peace is this?″ he asked. ``We are paying the price.″