Jewish settlers keep on building

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Bulldozers were yesterday continuing to carve out new homes and roads for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem despite the controversy over Israel's latest seizure of West Bank land for the Jewish settlement of Efrat.

In Maale Adummim, for example, another Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, plans have just been announced to house a further 5,000 Jews in a settlement that already has a population of nearly 20,000.

Plans for new settlements are well under way along the old Green Line, dividing the West Bank from Israel, and on a thick band of West Bank territory extending up to 15 miles beyond the Jerusalem boundaries.

Since the signing of the Oslo accords, at least 16,750 acres of West Bank land has been confiscated by Israel, of which 1,885 acres has already been built upon. In 1993, according to Israeli government figures, 13,800 new settlers moved into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 6,800 moved out, giving a 10 per cent increase overall during the first full year of the Oslo peace process.

An unusually high-profile publicity campaign arranged by Palestinian activists has served to shed light on the al Khader case in which 150 acres of land, claimed by the village, has been taken by the settlement of Efrat for the building of 500 homes.

The Israeli government announced yesterday that the attorney general would investigate the background to the case. At one stage it was reported that the seizure would be halted during the inquiry, although this was later denied.

However, the nature of the al Khader seizure and the explanations used to justify it are familiar. The government argues that the land does not belong to the Palestinians because it was requisitioned as "state land" under the previous Likud government in1980.

Israeli military authorities in the West Bank maintain the right to declare any area "state land" under the guise of "security" needs or for "public use". More than 60 per cent of West Bank land is so designated. Attempts by Arab residents to establish ownership stand virtually no chance of being heard in court.