For 42 years Israel has denied residents of the Palestinian village Burqa (برقة), located in the Nablus District, unrestricted access to their privately-owned land where the Israeli settlement Homesh once stood. This position paper addresses Burqa residents’ struggle to return to their land – a struggle which Yesh Din has accompanied for nearly a decade.
In early 1978, the GOC Central Command issued a seizure order allegedly for military needs for registered private land owned by residents of Burqa. Israel then established an army settlement on the land; two years later, the army settlement became the civilian settlement Homesh. For 25 years, several dozen Israeli families lived in the settlement until Israel evacuated Homesh in 2005 as part of the disengagement plan and prohibited Israelis from entering the area, a prohibition that is still in effect.
After Israel evacuated the settlement, it did not revoke the military seizure order and continued to prevent Palestinian landowners from accessing their land. A decade of legal proceedings, which are still pending, have led to a legal situation whereby the Palestinians may freely access their land where the evacuated settlement Homesh stood, while Israelis are forbidden from entering this area.
However, the reality is completely different, a “world turned upside-down” in the words of the High Court. To this day, settlers from the renewed Homesh Yeshiva and other Israelis continue to enter the area and occupy it, uninterrupted, in violation of the law. In contrast, the Palestinians are denied or restricted access to their private property because of arbitrary army restrictions on the Palestinian farmers’ movement and because of settler violence, which spreads fears, harms and disrupts the lives of Palestinian residents in the area.
The settlers’ systematic and ideologically motivated violence is designed to take over land and drive the Palestinian farmers off their property. There is context to this violence: it receives support and encouragement from political forces and high-ranking officials, some of whom are publicly funded. By visiting to the evacuated settlement in flagrant violation of the law and supporting the settlers who trespass on private Palestinian land, they create legitimacy for illegal actions to persist.
The settlers’ illegal presence in the area subject to the demarcation order, their illegal construction on private Palestinian land and their violence against Palestinians and their property are allowed to continue, and neither the army nor the police take steps to effectively counter these offenses. Moreover, in the overwhelming majority of cases, law enforcement authorities do not prosecute offending settlers, thereby sending them the message of impunity which in turn allows offenders to continue without fear of consequences.
Despite the efforts of the entire Israeli system and the absurdity of the situation, Palestinian landowners from Burqa persevere in their frustrating struggle. They are attempting to drive a wedge and crack open Israel’s colonialist methods so they may return freely and fully to their land which was stolen from them and exercise their right to property, freedom of movement, their right to earn a living and to freedom of occupation.