Land Takeover Practices Employed by Israel in the West Bank
Press release on position paper by Yesh Din
September 27, 2016
The position paper titled “Land Takeover Practices Employed by Israel in the West Bank”, published by Yesh Din, reviews and analyzes some of the methods used by various official Israeli bodies to take over land in the West Bank, as well as the results of legal proceedings undertaken by Palestinian residents, with Yesh Din’s help, in order to fight the land grab.
A survey of the proceedings in which Yesh Din represented Palestinian residents of the West Bank before the courts and various Civil Administration committees provides an overall picture of the practices and manoeuvres the Israeli authorities use in order to increase the reservoir of land meant to serve Israeli interests in the West Bank.
International law prohibits the exploitation of the occupied territory to serve the needs of the occupier. Therefore, increasing the amount of land Israel builds on requires either legal acrobatics designed to create the appearance of the rule of law, or brazen defiance of the law while law enforcement authorities turn a blind eye.
The legal proceedings led by Yesh Din, and others, have challenged the state, especially with respect to unauthorized outposts in the OPT. These proceedings have forced Israel to expose its policy regarding the issue. One example is that after many years of claiming that any illegal construction must be removed, regardless of the status of the land, more recently, Israel’s official position has been that illegal construction on privately owned Palestinian land must be removed, but, any illegal construction on public land would be retroactively authorized.
As a result of the new position presented by the state, illegal construction on privately owned Palestinian land has stopped almost completely. However, there is a trend of declaring land in the West Bank as public land, or as it is commonly referred to, state land. Though public land is meant to serve the needs of the local population of the occupied territory – in practice, the Civil Administration allocates public land almost exclusively for the use of the settlements.
In order to implement this new policy, all state authorities and Civil Administration bodies have been mobilized to favour offenders and find administrative and procedural solutions that would allow the retroactive authorization of structures or communities, instead of fulfilling their duty to enforce the law and protect the property of the local population in the occupied territory, as required under international law and according to the rulings of Israel’s High Court of Justice.
Palestinian land south of Jericho, confiscated by Israel then retroactively legalised as Israeli state land, 2015. Photo by Bernat Armangue/AP
Land take-over practices employed by Israel in the West Bank (pdf file)
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Chapter 1, Background.
One of the key aspects of Israel’s control over the West Bank is its effort towards the control of land. This effort takes place mostly in Area C, which is under full Israeli control, and it is partly manifested in the thriving settlement enterprise which Israel has established in this area. According to international humanitarian law, the establishment of Israeli communities inside the OPT– settlements and outposts alike – is forbidden.
Yet, despite this prohibition, Israel began building settlements in the West Bank almost immediately following its occupation of the area. Over the years of occupation, successive Israeli governments have initiated, approved, planned and funded settlements in the West Bank, and have instituted a system of benefits and financial incentives to encourage Israeli citizens to relocate to these settlements.
Twentyfour local and regional Israeli councils are currently active in the West Bank. These councils govern 126 settlements, where approximately 385,900 Israeli citizens live. In the 1990s, as a result of international pressure and obligations, the official building of new settlements stopped. At the same time, in order to sustain the West Bank settlement enterprise, beginning in the mid-1990s, settlements began being established without official support from the State of Israel, but with help and involvement (both directly and indirectly) from public bodies and authorities representing the State. These settlements were referred to as “unauthorized outposts”.
There are currently 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, all in Area C, with an estimated population of 10,000. Eighty of the unauthorized outposts were either partially or completely built on privately owned Palestinian land. The jurisdiction areas of many settlements are much larger than the area they actually use.
In 2013, the total area under the jurisdiction of settlements, including regional councils, stood at 1.2 million dunams (roughly 120,000 hectares), or 63% of Area C.5 In practice, the area covered by the settlement enterprise is larger, as it also includes the unauthorized outposts, many of which are outside local council jurisdiction areas, as well as their farmland.
IDF soldiers on manoeuvres at a firing zone, Palestinian land seized in the West Bank. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
Palestinians are barred from entering all of these areas, by virtue of a “closed military zone” order which prohibits entry without a permit. The settlements command an area that is larger than their residential, built-up portion. Each community has a system of access roads, and each is assigned vast areas intended to ensure the residents’ safety. Many settlements include farmland, industry and commerce zones, green areas and parks, and in many of them the distance between the houses is so large, that the space they take up has no direct correlation to the number of people living in them.
Fence enclosing the Israeli settlement of Tekoa built on seized Palestinian land in the West Bank. Photo by Emily Harris/NPR
Settlements and outposts are constantly expanding, which means constant efforts to take over more land. Israeli takeover of land in the West Bank is pursued in many different ways, including: building residential and public buildings on Palestinian land as a way of creating a “fait accompli”, agricultural invasions, putting up fences around certain areas, installing structures, building roads, declaring certain areas archeological sites or nature reserves, confiscating land, declaring land as public land, declaring land as a military firing zone, attempts to have land registered by the Primary Registration Committee and more. These takeover methods fit into two broad, and somewhat complementing, categories. One category involves invading Palestinian land and using it for Israeli purposes, the other involves denying Palestinians access to land, in order to prevent them from using it for their own needs.
Legal action has proved more effective than the dangerous protests always made by Palestinians about the seizure of their land. This protest marks the 40th anniversary of ‘Land Day’ demonstrations against land confiscations by the Israeli government.
Crowds marched from the Palestinian villages of Arraba and Deir Hanna to Sakhnin to commemorate the 1976 demonstrations in which six Palestinian citizens of Israel were shot dead by Israeli police and more than 100 people were injured.
The occasion marked one of the first displays of mass coordinated action by Palestinians inside Israel, after the government published plans to expropriate around 20,000 dunums (almost 5,000 acres) of land from Sakhnin and Arraba. The land was later used to establish Jewish settlements and a military training camp.
Some of the methods Israel uses to take over land involve breaking the law. These are cases in which there is no dispute that the land in question belongs to Palestinians (whether privately owned, or public land that belongs to the natural blocs of Palestinian villages), yet still, the land is used to build structures or roads, unlawfully, without permits and without any enforcement measures by the authorities.
Another type of land grab involves more systematic, institutionalized practices Israel uses in order to change the classification and use of West Bank land. This allows Israel to expropriate possession and use of this land from Palestinian residents, in order to serve Israeli interests. Using methods available within the law, such as issuing seizure orders for military purposes, issuing public land declarations, confiscating land for public use and using various planning tools, Israel uses its bureaucracy to transfer more and more land to Israeli control and possession.
These methods share a single purpose: reducing Palestinian access to, and use of, land around Palestinian villages and communities, for the ultimate goal of effecting the loss of Palestinian connection to the land and their ability to hold on to it. Through this gradual process, more and more land is handed over to Israeli control and use, mostly to the settlements and outposts that are scattered throughout the West Bank.
Land grabs limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement, their ability to live off the land and deprives them of their personal connection to the land, their history and their collective culture.
Aside from the clear land grab, Israeli takeover of land in the West Bank has additional grave repercussions, as it severely undermines Palestinians’ freedom of movement and their ability to live off their land. It also deprives them of their personal connection to the land, their history and their collective culture.
Over the past decades, Yesh Din has been working to protect Palestinian property rights, and help Palestinians handle various manifestations of land grab involving breaches of the law, or acts that exceed authority. This legal activity has been carried out in different instances in Israel and the West Bank, primarily the High Court of Justice. Other organizations and private lawyers work alongside Yesh Din to fight for the rights of Palestinians, and to challenge Israel’s land grab policy. The results and repercussions results and repercussions presented in this document are the fruit of these joint efforts.
This report is an interim summary of Yesh Din’s legal activity in this field. It offers a glimpse into the range of practices used to keep Palestinians off land in the West Bank and help Israel take over more and more land, both overtly and covertly. This report does not purport, nor can it purport, to cover all the practices used to drive Palestinians out of land located in the West Bank. However, after ten years of legal activity, it is broad enough to attest to the wide variety of measures used, and the degree of State involvement in these actions.
In addition, a summary and analysis of the State’s responses to petitions and other legal proceedings launched by Yesh Din, and a review of the decisions made in these cases, provides an indication as to the State’s willingness to give remedy to Palestinians who are faced with illegal attempts to dispossess them and drive them away from their land.
This document groups the scores of proceedings in which Yesh Din has helped Palestinian landowners, according to seven different practices used by Israel to take over land. An explanation is provided for the type of legal proceeding used to challenge each practice, together with information on how many such proceedings Yesh Din’s legal team has filed and what issues these proceedings have covered. We have also collated the results of proceedings that were concluded.
Since legal results do not always translate into access to land, in this section, we separate the formal results of the proceedings from the results on the ground, as well as further developments that arise from the discrepancy between the legal results and the situation on the ground. Even in cases in which the court ruled in favour of landowners, the reality in the West Bank being what it is, in practice, many of these landowners do not manage to exercise their rights to the land – to access it or to cultivate it.
In some cases, Israeli security forces deny or restrict Palestinians’ access to land. In other cases, although the military does permit access (either permanently or subject to prior arrangements), Palestinian landowners are fearful of entering land that is close to settlements or outposts, feeling that their mere presence on the land puts them in danger. In the sections relating to the results of proceedings, we have included references to the significance and ramifications attached both to the rulings themselves and to their implementation. In these sections, we have attempted to provide a wider context for the implementation of the court decisions, and the practices that have developed following the legal proceedings.
An overview of all proceedings reveals that the immediate, main outcome of the legal pressure put on the State as a result of the petitions was the near complete cessation of illegal construction on privately owned Palestinian land. This was previously the main method for developing and expanding settlements and outposts. Most construction currently takes place on public land or survey land.
The pressure created by the proceedings that challenged illegal construction has also led to an official, dramatic change in Israel’s policy regarding the outposts. Ever since the building of outposts began in the 1990s, Israel’s official position has been that the outposts were unlawful and should be dismantled. In 2011, a vivid shift took place, and the State is now actively seeking legal ways to retroactively authorize the outposts and turn them into official settlements, which are considered legal under Israeli law. One clear feature of the legal work is that the legal remedy is not necessarily dependent on a ruling. Though some petitions have led to precedent-setting decisions ordering the removal of illegally – constructed structures, many petitions were stricken in the early stages of the proceedings, without a judicial decision being handed down, because State authorities had taken action to restore landowners’ rights following the submission of the petition.
In some cases, the State quickly provided the remedy sought in the petition, without a judicial decision, in order to avoid a judgment it would have to follow in similar cases in the future. In these cases, when remedy is given before a judgment is delivered, the specific remedy is obtained, but the achievement is lacking on the point of principle and does not preclude future use of the same injurious practice. In the cases in which the court did issue a judgment, the State’s attempts to delay, circumvent and even avoid upholding it have been rather conspicuous. Given these attempts, in recent years, the High Court has given the State extended periods of time to implement the court’s decisions, and stressed the obvious – the State must comply with the schedule set forth in these decisions. This document ends with a table of proceedings with references to all the petitions and judgments mentioned in it.
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