In the West Bank: 1 dunam per Palestinian, 38 per Israeli
Jewish settlements in West Bank have been allocated 38 percent of 1.3 million dunams of Israeli state land.
By Chaim Levinson, Ha’aretz
March 28, 2013
Over the past 33 years the Civil Administration has allocated less than one percent of state land in the West Bank to Palestinians, compared to 38 percent to settlers, according to the agency’s own documents submitted to the High Court of Justice.
The West Bank includes 1.3 million dunams (approximately 325,000 acres) of “state land,” most of which is allocated to Jewish settlements.
The declared policy of the previous Netanyahu government was to remove Jewish construction from private Palestinian land in the West Bank and to approve all construction on state lands.
According to the classification of the Civil Administration, a small amount of “state land” was registered with the Jordanian authorities until 1967. But most declared “state land” was declared as such after 1979.
The need for such a declaration emerged in October 1979, when the High Court struck down as unconstitutional the state’s practice of seizing Palestinian land, ostensibly for “military needs” but in practice in order to establish Jewish settlements.
It was after 1979 that the process of the wholesale declaration of territory as state land began. According to the law in the West Bank, any land with continuous agricultural cultivation for at least 10 years becomes the property of the farmer; land under cultivation cannot be seized by the state.
Although the Civil Administration team charged with determining which lands are cultivated is supposed to base their conclusions on testimony and aerial photos, a senior official in the Civil Administration conceded recently in the Ofer Military Court that the decisions are political.
The hearing at which the official was speaking was over the state lands declared with regard to the Hayovel outpost. The latter has been at the heart of a High Court case for over seven years. The state had decided to retroactively authorize Hayovel, but aerial photos clearly show a number of houses and cultivated land, and the road to Hayovel goes through private Palestinian land. The state therefore devised a method of declaring the area between cultivated spots, for example, between trees, as “uncultivated” and thus it could deem it state land. Palestinians claiming ownership of the land petitioned against the decision through the organization Yesh Din and attorney Michael Sfard.
In a court hearing in January an official from the Civil Administration’s oversight unit, Gilad Palmon, told the court: “The official who decides on the declaration [of state land] is at the political level, the defense minister. Another Civil Administration official, Yossi Segal, said: “The political echelon decides the size of the area.”
Three years ago the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Bimkom − Planners for Planning Rights asked the Civil Administration, by dint of the Freedom of Information Law, for figures on the extent of state lands in the West Bank. The Civil Administration refused to provide the information and the organizations asked the court to intervene.
The Civil Administration’s representatives told the court that there are 1.3 million dunams of state land in the West Bank and that it could not provide additional data. Jerusalem District Court Judge Yoram Noam did not accept the response and instructed the agency’s representatives to provide more information.
The Civil Administration subsequently provided the court with the following details: 671,000 dunams of state land is still held by the state. Another 400,000 dunams were allocated to the World Zionist Organization. Most of the Jewish settlements, both residences and agricultural land, are on this land.
Another 103,000 dunams of state land were allocated to mobile communications companies and to local governments, mainly for the construction of public buildings.
Utilities such as the Mekorot water company, the Bezek communications company and the Israel Electric Corporation received 160,000 dunams, 12 percent of the total state land in the West Bank.
Palestinians have received a total of 8,600 dunams (2,150 acres), or 0.7 percent of state land in the West Bank.
The Civil Administration told the court that of this, 6,910 dunams were in the Jenin district, land allocations made a long time ago that are now in areas A and B (under full Palestinian control or Palestinian civilian and Israeli military control, respectively). One dunam was allocated for a stone quarry in the Hebron district; 630 dunams in the Bethlehem district were allocated for Bedouin; 1,000 dunams were allocated in the Jericho district and 10 dunams were allocated in Tul Karm.
Nir Shalev, a researcher for Bimkom, said: “Israel has claimed for years that the settlements are built only on state land, a claim that is repeatedly shown to be inaccurate. The data on allocations to the Palestinians, which the Civil Administration was forced to reveal, show the other side of coin: Israeli policy determines that state lands in the West Bank are for the use of Israelis only − mainly settlers.”
Because state land is essential for the expansion of settlements, a great deal of pressure is exerted to influence the decision of where such lands are declared. Haaretz checked and found that even when the state claims that certain lands are state lands, the process of determining usage beforehand is careless, and land declared as state land also includes private Palestinian land and cultivated land. One example of such carelessness regards the large settlement of Givat Ze’ev, northwest of Jerusalem. Next to the settlement is a home belonging to a Palestinian man, Saadat Sabri, who also cultivated a plot of land nearby.
In 2006, when building began on the separation barrier, bulldozers destroyed his fields. Although aerial photos clearly showed the land was cultivated the state declared the land to be state land in 2010 and joined Sabri’s plot to Givat Ze’ev. Sabri petitioned the High Court against the move.
Researcher Dror Etkes found that land important to the expansion of settlements was declared state lands, including territory near Susya, Tekoa, Ma’aleh Adumim, Kiryat Arba and other Jewish communities.
In the center of Ma’aleh Adumim, for example, is land that aerial photos from the 1970s show as partially under cultivation. Yet in 2005 the entire area was declared state land and is now built on.
“The findings, which are a sampling, prove the claims that Palestinian landowners have been consistently presenting over the past few decades: Under the aegis of the broad declaration of lands as state lands, which includes almost a million dunams, Israel has taken over extensive cultivated areas, which were stolen from their owners through administrative decisions over which public and legal oversight is minimal, because they were supposedly not cultivated.”
The director of Yesh Din, Haim Erlich, said: “Yossi Segal, who is in charge of abandoned property in the West Bank, reveals the painful and ugly fact that we have been aware of for some time: The survey, which is supposed to be professional, has become a political tool.”
The Civil Administration did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Hugh Naylor, The National
March 29, 2013
RAMALLAH // In the past 33 years, Israel has portioned out less than one per cent of state land in the West Bank to Palestinians, compared with 38 per cent to Jewish settlers, an Israeli newspaper reported yesterday.
The newly disclosed figures brought immediate condemnation from an official for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), who said they again showed how the designation of Palestinian territory as so-called state land was one of many tools that Israel has used to build and expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The difference between “state” and Palestinian soil is “a false distinction to serve the colonial practice of stealing Palestinian land,” said Xavier Abu Eid, an adviser to the PLO’s negotiations department.
The report in yesterday’s edition of the Haaretz newspaper cited data obtained through a freedom of information request to the government by Israeli rights groups three years ago.
It said authorities had allocated the confiscated “state land” to Israeli mobile telephone operators and utility companies, in addition to settlers. Palestinians received about 860 hectares of state land.
According to Palestinians and Israeli analysts, Israel began designating large areas of the West Bank as state land in 1979 as a way to circumvent an Israeli court ruling that reduced the effectiveness of another Israeli land-acquisition tactic: classifying Palestinian land as necessary for Israeli “military purposes.”
Invoking an obscure Ottoman-era law, authorities declared parcels of private and unregistered Palestinian land as insufficiently cultivated. The land parcels were then seized and relabelled state land.
“But of course, the intention behind using that Ottoman law was to take as much land for settlements as possible,” said Dror Etkes, an independent Israeli-settlement expert, who added that about 90 per cent of all West Bank settlements are located in areas Israel has declared state land.
Mr Etkes said about 60,000 hectares of the West Bank was declared state land by Jordan, which ruled the area before Israel captured it, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israeli authorities, primarily since 1979, have expanded the amount of state land in the West Bank by at least 80,000 hectares.
Many Palestinians fear that the prospects of a Palestinian state have been sabotaged by the half-million Israelis living in settlements, which violate the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on occupying powers moving citizens onto territory seized during war.
Mr Etkes believes the total amount of land classified as state land far exceeds the roughly 130,000-hectare figure cited by Haaretz. Israeli authorities stopped formally declaring state-land seizures over a decade ago, he said.
“When you don’t announce that you’re taking land, you don’t stir up as much fuss,” Mr Etkes explained. “So then you get situation where once a Palestinian landowner tries to farm his land, he will suddenly receive an eviction notice. Otherwise, it’s a quiet policy.”
Israeli defence officials have admitted during court hearings to using lax methods when determining whether the state could appropriate Palestinian land, according to the Haaretz report. It cited how officials described retroactively legalising a settler outpost on private Palestinian land by devising “a method of declaring the area between cultivated spots, for example, between trees, as ‘uncultivated'”.
Decisions on state land designations were taken at the highest levels of the Israeli government, the newspaper quoted officials from the defence ministry as saying.
“The official who decides on the declaration [of state land] is at the political level, the defence minister,” said Gilad Palmon of the defence ministry’s civil administration, which administers Israeli activities in the occupied territories.