Israeli Authorities Reveal Distribution of West Bank Land

State lands in the occupied West Bank were declared by Israel for the use of the local population, but were used mainly for the colonization of the West Bank

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SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: The concept of “state lands” is one of the legal bases on which the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank is built. An Israeli court case reveals the extent to which “state lands” were used to restrict the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

International law specifies that the occupying power has the right to manage some of the lands, assets, and natural resources in the occupied territory for the benefit of the local population. In cases of prolonged occupation, this is especially important, because the population living under military occupation still needs to conduct a semblance of normal life, to work, to study, etc.

In 1967, after Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, it conducted a survey of the land and the population which it had conquered. A military government was appointed to the occupied territory, and that government was especially busy regulating and managing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated areas conquered by Israel in the 1967 war. The military government, later known as the “Civil Administration,” registered those lands and buildings which belonged to the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian governments, the natural reserves, the roads, open spaces, natural resources, and so on, and defined them as “state lands.

The Israeli government claimed that it may manage the state lands under its control, although it has not always acknowledged the purpose for which the occupying power is entrusted with the land: to serve the needs of the local population.

The colonies established by Israel in the occupied territory are a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

Despite the illegality of the colonies, Israel established them in order to expand its control over the occupied territory, making a future withdrawal more difficult.

Over the first decade of the occupation, between 1967 and 1978, several attempts were made by the Israeli human rights organizations to challenge the colonies in court. The Israeli court system officially recognized the application of international law, but the state argued in court that the colonies were established for “security reasons.”

Indeed, the law of occupation forbids transferring civilians into occupied land, but allows the occupier to build military bases in the occupied territory. Israel presented the colonies as a form of fortification. And indeed the colonies were often established in high places overlooking the surrounding lands and in key strategic locations.

But in 1979, the organizations appealed to the Israeli high court, being backed by senior military officers who admitted in court that the colony of Alon More, established near the Palestinian city of Nablus, is actually a burden on security. The civilian colonists living in Alon More must be protected by the army, requiring the application of resources that could have been used elsewhere.

The court was ready to make a historic decision and ordered to remove the Alon More colony. But the Israeli government came up with a new argument. It claimed that Alon More was established on “state land” which belongs to Israel, and the state can do as it pleases with its own lands. The court accepted the argument, and thus opened the door for accelerated Israeli colonial expansion in the occupied territory over the past three decades.

In order to facilitate colonial expansion, the Civil Administration began to declare more and more areas to be “state land,” even if that area was not a property of the Jordanian or the Egyptian government prior to the 1967 occupation. By 2012, over 22 percent of the West Bank has been declared as “state land.”

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BINYAMIN BEGIN, MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In the same government debate, the claim was raised that because of the verdict regarding the lands of Rujeib, emerged—and I quote from one of the minister’s words: “a fundamental problem has emerged for our ability to maintain our settlement in the Jordan Valley and Samaria and Judea.” And I want to argue that the reality proved differently. Instead of weakening the settlement, the insistence on maintaining the verdict has strengthened it [the settlement]. And “out of the strong came forth sweetness.” How? Following this verdict of the high court, the government decided, in November 11, 1979, that existing settlements will be expanded and new settlements will be founded only on lands owned by the state.

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HEVER: In fact, colonies expand not only in so-called “state land,” but also on Palestinian privately owned land. The Israeli organization Peace Now exposed back in 2007 that 32 percent of the land used by the colonies is actually privately owned by Palestinians, who had no means to prevent their land from being confiscated.

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NARRATOR: In 1983, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the World Zionist Organization published a master plan that called for 43 new settlements, 300 to 450 kilometers of new roads to connect and serve the settlements, and proposed quadrupling the number of settlement residents to 100,000.

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HEVER: The secrecy surrounding the way that the Civil Administration manages the land in the West Bank prompted two organizations, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the organization “Bimko, to petition the Israeli high court according to the Freedom of Information Law and ask for a distribution of the allocation of the land.

After waiting for a response for three years, the court accepted the petition and the Civil Administration revealed this March how the “state lands” are allocated.

It turns out that only 0.7 percent of the state land was actually allocated for Palestinians to use, although they are over 80 percent of the population in the West Bank. Approximately 40 percent of the land was given to the World Zionist Organization, which used that land to build illegal colonies.

In other words, while Israel claimed that it has the right to manage certain lands for the benefit of the local population, it actually abused this privilege for the exact opposite purpose: as part of an attempt to dispossess the Palestinians.

Another recent development regarding state land is the new land created around the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is gradually drying up, because fresh water which flows to it from the north is pumped by Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians for use as drinking water and in agriculture, and because saltwater from the Dead Sea is pumped by factories for chemicals at the southern edge of the Dead Sea.

The retreat of the salty water leaves newly dry plains behind. About 140,000 dunams of dry land were created over the past 20 years inside the occupied West Bank. The nearby Palestinian villages claimed ownership over this land, but the Civil Administration rejected their claim in March 27 and began the process to declare these lands as “state lands,” thereby increasing the total area of state lands in the West Bank by over 10 percent.

This is Shir Hever for The Real News.

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