Construction of Settlements and Outposts on Nature Reserves in West Bank

February, 2007 | Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran

For the full list of settlements on Nature Reserves – click here

In the past the media have reported occasionally on the construction of outposts in the West Bank on nature reserve land.
The most well known case is the story of the outpost establishment by Yael Yisrael (daughter of MK Uri Ariel). Following being hired by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority as the ranger in charge of the Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt) Reserve and in contravention of the nature preservation laws in effect in the West Bank, she and her family began to reside on the reserve.
Yael Israel’s residence within the bounds of the reserve is today the subject of a petition to the Supreme Court, demanding that the State evict her immediately from the grounds of the reserve.
In a parallel move with the Binyamin Regional Council, which is in favor of her continued residence there, Ms Israel petitioned against the intention to remove her family from the premises. On 13 February 2007, the State received an additional extension to present its position on the matter.

In a report by Zafrir Rinat appearing in Haaretz newspaper (Settlers Invade Nature Reserve, 16 January  2004), it was reported that outposts had been constructed in additional reserves as well: The “Skali’s  Ranch” outpost at Har Kabir was built in the Har Kabir reserve, and the Alonei Shilo and Elmatan outposts were built in the Nahal Kane reserve. The Nature and Parks Authority confirmed to Haaretz reporter Rinat that these two outposts were built within nature reserves.
However this was not the answer provided by the Civil Administration when Peace Now’s settlement follow-up staff submitted a request to find out whether these outposts were indeed located on nature reserve lands.

Some of the construction in question was premeditated, with the intention of taking possession of the broadest tracts of land possible. This, for example, is what was posted on the “White – Orange – White” website (in Hebrew) regarding the outpost known as “Skali’s Ranch,” located within the Har Kabir Reserve east of Elon More.
“This ranch was built within the nature reserve in order to stop the hunting of wild animals by Arabs. According to law, it is prohibited to live within a nature reserve, but the matter was arranged since Skali was granted the status of ‘birdwatcher,’ and birdwatchers are permitted to live within nature reserves with a few limitations, such as not building on the highest point and building in a manner that blends in with the landscape.”

Suffice to say that the claim regarding the legality of the outpost’s construction within the nature reserve, is unsubstantiated.

The entire outpost of Alonei shilo is constructed on Nature Reserve Land

Nature Preservation Legislation in the West Bank
The Civil Administration runs the Nature and Parks Authority in the West Bank by authority of two military orders. The first, Order Regarding Preservation of Nature (No. 363, 1969), defines, inter alia, the concept of harming the nature reserves:
“Harm” – includes decimation, destruction, breakage, vandalism, picking, taking. Changing the form or natural position, or artificial disturbance of the natural developmental course.”
The second order, Order Regarding Parks  (373 – 1970), defines the roles and powers of the authorities within the declared national parks in the West Bank.

Correspondence with the Civil Administration
At the beginning of 2006, the Peace Now began taking interest in the topic of building within the bounds of nature reserves. In a letter(in Hebrew) sent to the Civil Administration on 6 March 2006, Peace Now requested for a response to the  team’s findings, which were based on the delineation of nature reserves as they are depicted on topographical maps (1:50,000) of the Israel (governmental) Mapping Center.
The Civil Administration was asked to relate to the location of five outposts that were suspected of being built on the grounds of nature reserves:
1. The house inhabited by Yael Yisraeli and her family (Nahal Prat Reserve)
2. Elmatan (Nahal Kane Reserve)
3. Alonei Shilo (Nahal Kane Reserve)
4. Hill 833 (Ma’on Reserve)
5. Avigayil (Ma’on Reserve)

Regarding the residence of Ms. Yael Yisraeli and her family in Nahal Prat, the Civil Administration spokesman confirmed that indeed, her residence there is illegal and that eviction orders had been served. In regard to the Elmatan and Alonei Shilo outposts, the Civil Administration spokesman wrote (in Hebrew) on 16 July 2006 that these are located outside of the boundaries of the Nahal Kane Reserve.

As for the outposts located on the southern part of Mt. Hebron: Hill 833 (Ma’on Farm) and Avigayil, it was stated (in Hebrew) that the area has not yet been formally declared a nature reserve, and therefore, there is no violation of the nature protection laws.

Since this answer from the Civil Administration appeared implausible, the spokesman was asked to re-check the boundaries of the Nahal Kane Nature Reserve. In the response of the Civil Administration dated 7 December, a slightly different picture was received. Among other things, paragraph 2 of the letter stated:
“…It is likely that certain elements (at the southwestern edge of the ‘Elmatan’ outpost and at the southwestern edge of the ‘Alonei Shilo’ outpost) are located at the outermost boundary of the reserve area, but at this stage, the precision of this finding cannot be determined regarding the extent stipulated in the original [reserve area land allocation] declaration order “

Information Source
In response to this letter, in which the Civil Administration conceded that the information conveyed earlier (16 July 2006) was inaccurate, Peace Now decided to conduct a thorough examination of the matter, and we succeeded in obtaining the valid information from the Nature and Parks Authority. We received a digital file of the GIS layer that contained detailed information regarding the boundaries of the nature reserves in the West Bank.
The data indicate that there are 96 nature reserves in the West Bank (including reserves located partially within or on a border with the West Bank), whose overall area is some 890,000 dunam, as well as 14 national parks whose total area  is some 14,000 dunam.
Prior to receiving the GIS layers we were unaware that not only illegal outposts, but also official settlements have been expanding on to nature reserves.  It became clear that the outposts constitute the tip of the iceberg regarding a much broader phenomenon.

Methodology – Method of Data Calculation
This report was prepared in an identical manner to the previous report by Peace Now entitled “One offense begets another– Nov 2006”  which dealt with how the settlements and outposts make use of  private Palestinian-owned lands.
The digital mapping of the Nature and Parks Authority was juxtaposed onto aerial photographs of the settlements, and then the extent of overlap between them was measured. As with the November 2006 report, the boundaries of the settlements were defined based on their actual sprawl area, an outgrowth of a number of main factors:
1. Built-up areas of settlements
2. Non-built-up areas that were developed to some extent
3. Areas enclosed in a partial or full ring fence
4. Night illumination rings
5. Ring roads built around settlements
These factors are what in effect define the area occupied by each settlement, and were also considered in order to assess the area the encroachment of settlements on the nature reserves.

Types of Findings
A rigorous examination shows that in most of the cases, penetration into the boundaries of the reserves was achieved through ring roads that encircle the settlements and the outposts. This stated, in certain cases, lands were developed for future construction including even the construction of neighborhoods within the boundaries of the reserves. This is the case regarding the settlements of Beit Arye, Karnei Shomron, Pedu’el, Immanuel and Negohot, among others. The same is true of outposts: Ma’ale Hagit, Skali’s Ranch, and the site of the ancient synagogue at Susiya, where an outpost was constructed.

For details regarding the findings and an aerial photograph of all of the settlements located in nature reserves, click here.

Lands on the occupied territories have systematically been seized on various pretexts, in order to prevent the Palestinians in the West Bank from using them, and to undermine any Palestinian territorial contiguity. One of the means employed by Israel in order to annex lands was to declare broad tracts as nature reserves, and to include them in land blocks that the planners had intended for the settlements. This report shows that Israeli building of settlements infiltrated the bounds of many nature reserves. As such, it should be viewed as part of the wider phenomenon of the building of settlements in contravention to the construction and planning laws in effect in the West Bank. All this is in service of the goal of accelerating and deepening the process of ‘creeping annexation’ that the settlements create in the West Bank.