On Sunday, 15 January 2017, the Israeli occupation forces began uprooting olive trees and leveling land near the Palestinian villages of ‘Azzun and a-Nabi Elyas in Qalqilya, B’Tselem watchdog reported Wednesday.

According to B’Tselem, the work is being carried out as part of the decision made by the military and the Civil Administration to build a bypass road to replace the section of Route 55 that runs through a-Nabi Elyas.

Route 55 originally served as the main link between Nablus and Qalqilya and was one of the major traffic arteries in the West Bank. Over time, as settlements expanded, it also became essential to settlers, as it connects several large settlements with Israel’s coastal plains and central region, the same source added.

The decision to build the bypass road was first made in 1989, with the goal of sparing settlers the need to drive through the village of a-Nabi Elyas. However, it was not pursued until September 2013, when the Civil Administration planning institutions began the planning process.

In October 2015, the project was expedited due to pressure by the settler leadership: According to Israeli media reports , Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the heads of the settlement local councils that the road would be built.”

On 21 December 2015, the head of the Civil Administration issued an expropriation order for 10.4 hectares of land earmarked for the bypass road. The order noted that the new road will “serve the public good” and improve mobility between Nablus and Qalqilya.

In March 2016, the Palestinian village councils and landowners petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) against the expropriation, on the grounds that the road will not serve all residents of the area but only settlers. On 16 November 2016, the HCJ denied the petition after accepting the state’s claim that the road is intended to serve the entire population of the area.

B’Tselem said the seizure of the land and uprooting of olive trees have severely harmed the Palestinian landowners, who have lost a source of income and a major financial asset, as well as an open space that served all local residents for leisure and recreational activities.

“While Israel professes to act for the benefit of the occupied population, its policies routinely ignore this population’s needs,” the report read. “These facts, when taken together with false statements about seizing Palestinian land “for the public good” and pressure from the settler lobby, attest yet again to Israel’s policy and aims.”

(Source / 03.02.2017)

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