|• Hebrew||בֵּית אֵל|
|• ISO 259||Beit ʔel|
|• Also spelled||Bet El (official)|
|District||Judea and Samaria Area|
|• Type||Local council|
|• Total||1,528 dunams (1.528 km2 or 378 acres)|
Beit El (Hebrew: בֵּית אֵל) is an Israeli settlement and a local council in the Benjamin region of the central West Bank. The Orthodox Jewish town is located in the hills north of Jerusalem east of the Palestinian city of al-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah. In September 1997, Beit El was awarded local council status. The head of the local council is Moshe Rosenbaum. As of January 2013, Beit El had a population of over 6,000 residents.
The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this. The Ulpana neighbourhood was evacuated when it emerged that many of its buildings were built on Palestinian land. The World Zionist Organization has halted land transactions in the Aleph neighbourhood of Beit El after it emerged that some 250 buildings there were constructed illegally, and fraud is suspected.
In Biblical times, Beit El (literally, "The House of God") was the site where Jacob slept and dreamt of the angels coming up and down a ladder (Genesis 28:19). Some identify Beit El with the ruins surrounding the Palestinian village of Beitin and with hilltop site of Pisgat Ya'akov.
In 1977, Beit El was established on the "temporarily" requisitioned land. Seventeen families settled nearby the Israel Defense Forces base. Subsequently the community divided into two settlements. Beit El Aleph (Beit El A) was a residential religious community in the southern part of Beit El, populated by residents who worked in the free professions outside the yishuv. Beit El Bet (Beit El B) was settled on the northern hill around the yeshiva center, founded by Ya'akov Katz and Zalman Baruch Melamed, partly by trespassing on private land and partly on land purchased by the Himnuta company (a subsidiary of JNF-KKL). It includes public buildings and civilian permanent homes and caravans.
While the Government explicitly declared that requisition of the land was only temporary, in the Beit El case of 1978 the Israeli High Court approved civilian settlement on private Palestinian land for reasons of general security. The state declared that the right of the settlers to remain in Beit El would expire upon the termination of its military necessity.
On 10 April 1979, the Joint Settlement Committee of the Israeli Government and the World Zionist Organization endorsed the split into the two settlements Beit El A and Beit El B. In 1997, as Beit El got local council status, Beit El A and Beit El B again became a single settlement.
The municipality Beit El is located on a non-contiguous area, but the parts are connected by illegal and unauthorized construction in between. Only a minuscule part of Beit El (the neighborhood Maoz Tzur) was built on "state land". Maoz Tzur was erected on area of the IDF base in 1998.
In 1999, encouraged by Benjamin Netanyahu, the establishment of the Ulpana neighborhood (Giv'at Ha'ulpana) was started northeast of Beit El. It is named after the two illegally built religious high schools for girls (ulpana's).
The construction of apartment houses, developed by the Company for the Development of Beit El's Yeshiva Complex with CEO Yoel Tzur, together with Amana., was started in 2003. All structures in Ulpana, including public buildings, permanent homes, caravans and an industrial area, are built on private land and without any (approved) plan. Therefore, the Sasson Report called the built-up neighborhood "also illegal". Ulpana is often called an unauthorized outpost. By the definition used in the Sasson Report, however, it is not an outpost, but rather an unauthorized neighborhood. It was built on the outskirts of Beit El with funding from the Ministry of Housing and Construction, and the homeowners received state grants and bank mortgages. A stop-work order was issued by an Israeli court as early as September 1999, followed by a number of stop-work and demolition orders, but construction has continued.
In 2001, the outpost Jabel Artis (also named Pisgat Ya'akov) was establisht northeast of Ulpana. In 2003, the land was seized by military order, allegedly for use as a helipad. The residents, however, have never seen helicopters at the site. Jabel Artis is built outside of the municipality and without an approved plan. In February 2001, caravans were placed and infrastructures were financed by the Ministry of Housing and Construction. In August 2003, Jabel Artis already had 20 caravans. The army agreed to merge another outpost, Tel Haim into Jabel Artis. However, Tel Haim also survived, as Beit El East.
An early attempt to establish an outpost on Mount Artis was on 3 January 1997. Residents of Beit El, lead by Ya'akov Katz occupied the site in a nightly action. The outpost was named Maoz Tzur, after the 3 weeks earlier murdered Ita and Ephraim Tzur. Later, this name was used for the neighborhood Maoz Tzur, built at the southern edge of Beit El, and sometimes erroneously used for Ulpana. Two days later, the site was voluntarily evacuated in anticipation of further enlargement of Beit El.
Circa 2001, the outpost Beit El East (Tel Haim) appeared, consisting of a caravan neighborhood adjacent to the Beit El Camps shooting ranges (IDF). It is built on private Palestinian land with state financing.
Also in 2001, some 3 km (2 mi) south of Beit El, the outpost Giv'at Asaf (Givat Assaf) was set up. Next to Givat Assaf the outpost Oz Zion was established, which was removed by the IDF forces in December 2012.
Private Palestinian lands
A secret database, published by Haaretz in 2009, revealed that Beit El was largely built on private Palestinian lands, without approval. According to Peace Now, private Palestinian property makes up 96.85% of the land that Beit El, along with its outposts.
The outpost Jabel Artis is also established on private lands. It is partially built on land of the Palestinian Hussein Farahat. Apparently, the land was registered with forged documents, suggesting it was bought from the already 32 year dead Farahat.
The World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division is responsible for the exploitation of "state lands" in Israel as well as in the Occupied Territories. When it became clear that some 250 homes in Beit El were fraudulently registered, the WZO decided to suspend the transfer of property rights.
On 29 October 2008, Palestinians from the village of Dura al-Qar, assisted by Yesh Din, submitted a petition against caravans and 5 of 14 apartment-buildings in Ulpana. They were built on private and registered Palestinian land outside of the area of the original Beit El settlement and without any plan. The apartment-buildings, the construction of which began in 2003, were an extension of the Ulpana neighborhood and planned to become part of the new outpost Jabel Artis. The other buildings are also built on privat land, but for some reason no lawsuit was filed against them. The State committed evacuation of the buildings and carry out the demolition orders within one year.
In a lawsuit of September 2011, the settlers organization Amana and the Beit El Yeshiva Center claimed ownership to the lands. On 27 November 2012, the lawsuit was dismissed on request of the settlers. The land was purchased with forged documents. The State found that the seller of the land was a 7 year old Palestinian child, and that Amana knew that the “seller” was not the legal owner of the land. The purchase was not approved and not registered in the land registry. The police started an investigation of suspected fraud involving Amana's lawyer MK David Rotem, Amana and Ulpana founder Yoel Tzur. The police found that land was not correctly registered, but closed the case in 2010, because "no one had committed any crime".
Some house owners said they were not aware of the deceit, as the developer told them the land was owned by the WZO and supplied false accounts. It turned out that the developing company used the WZO ownership document relating to the Maoz Tzur neighborhood in southern Beit El, to claim ownership of the Ulpana Hill land.
April 2012, the State continued delaying the demolition. On 7 May 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the State's application to re-open the proceeding and decided that the five buildings, each with 6 apartments, should be demolished before 1 July. End of June, 33 families left the apartments, but despite earlier rulings and promises, in November 2012 the High Court again granted the State a delay regarding demolishing of the buildings.
Although only some 30 families were evicted, the Defense Ministry approved in February 2013 the building of 90 new homes, to house the Ulpana inhabitants on the land originally seized for "temporarily" military use. This contrary to the "1979 Elon Moreh ruling". The 90 housing units were part of a 300 homes plan, earlier approved by the government in return for non-violent evacuation from Ulpana. In May 2013, just during new US shuttle diplomacy to revive the peace process, the Civil Administration approved 296 homes to build, allegedly also to be compensation for Israelis who were evicted from Ulpana. According to Peace Now, the 296 units plan comes in addition to the 90 homes approved in February, the 200 units approved in December 2012 and 30 temporary homes.
In January 2013, the yeshiva requested the Court to limit the compensation for the Palestinian land owners to a maximum amount. They also asked to prohibit the Palestinians to turn to any organization, including government authorities, to request further reparations, as it could hamper the continued development of Beit El.
Geography and climate
Beit El has a higher elevation than Jerusalem, and has cool nights in the summer and occasional snow in the winter. The Pisgat Ya'akov neighborhood (also named Jabel Artis) has a hilltop observatory with a commanding view of the surrounding hills where one may view as far away as the Tel Aviv area and Mount Hermon on clear days.
Northeast of Beit El is the Ma'yanoth Qara' Nature Reserve, so named on account of its proximity to the nearby village of Dura al-Qara'. The nature reserve is the site of five natural springs whose source is a channel carved between overlying cliffs. The limestone formations at the springs are dated to the Cenomanian age. The nature reserve is noteworthy as a habitat for the Hedera helix ivy, not known to grow anywhere else between the region of Edom to the south and the Galilee to the north, as well as the Teucrium montbretii, which grows only in the vicinity of Ramallah.
Beit El has a large percentage of immigrants from many countries, particularly USA and France, but also Russia and Latin America, as well as a unique community of Bnei Menashe from Manipur and Mizoram. Some new immigrants live in caravans.
Most inhabitants are affiliated with the Religious Zionist Movement. The rabbis of the town are Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed who is also the rosh yeshiva of the local Beit El Yeshiva.
The yeshiva owns and operates Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio which operates out of studios in Beit El and Petah Tikva. Beit El also has a number of small factories, such as tefillin factory, a winery, metalworks, carpentry shops, a bakery and others.
Israeli settlements are regarded as illegal under international law according to Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory. Israel disputes that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Palestinian territories as they had not been legally held by a sovereign prior to Israel taking control of them. They also point out that the State has not encouraged, influenced, or assisted in the movement of citizens into the territory. This view has been rejected by the UN, the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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- Chaim Levinson, Ulpana developer lied and told residents that outpost was built on WZO, not Palestinian land. Haaretz, 15 May 2012
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- Yesh Din, Yossi Gurvitz, Rewarding the lawbreakers: New settlement homes on confiscated lands. +972, 13 February 2013
- Peace Now, 9 May 2013, The Government Approves 296 Units in Beit El
- Tovah Lazaroff, Plans published for 90 homes in Beit El settlement. Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2013
- Al Jazeera, 9 May 2013 Israel okays new settler homes near Ramallah
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- Opinion of the International Court of Justice B'Tselem
- The Municipality of Bet El (Hebrew)