Promoting Peace in Israel
June 2009 | Methods used by Israel in order to take over Palestinian lands
for more details see here
Over the years Israel has used a number of methods in order to turn West Bank land into "state land," which later serves almost exclusively Israeli settlements. Following are the main methods of confiscation and take over used by Israel.
1. Declaration of state land - the most common method Israel uses in order to confiscate land is to declare it state land. The method is based on an Israeli interpretation of a law from the Ottoman era (from 1858) that allowed the Sultan to confiscate land that had neither been planted nor cultivated for several years in a row. Over the years Israel sought out land that was not being cultivated in the West Bank and declared it as state land. In this way Israel confiscated aprox. 1 million dunams (250,000 acres) in the West Bank, which are 16% of the total land of the West Bank. The Declaration of State Land order allows the owners of the lands 45 days to file objections which are heard by a Military Appeals Committee. It is important to mention that neither the British Mandate, nor the Jordanian Government that ruled the West Bank before the Israeli occupation, interpreted the law in this way and they never used it as a method to take over lands, see report by Btselem.
2. Confiscation for public needs - Israel sometimes also used a confiscation order for public needs in order to take over land. According to the law, the confiscated land should serve the needs of the whole public in the area, including the Palestinian public, and that is why Israel used that method usually in order to pave roads, which it could claim were also going to serve the Palestinians. This kind of confiscation order cannot be used in order to build an actual settlement, because the public for which the settlement is intended is the public of the occupying power and not the entire public in the area. Nonetheless, as far as we know, confiscation for public needs was used in order to build the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim (see the report of Btselem and Bimkom).
3. Initial registration - another option the State has is to begin a process of registering the land in the name of the State in the land registry. The process of land registration can take a long time if there are land owners who claim ownership, and then the parties have to prove ownership in a long and drawn out process.
4. Seizure for military needs - another way to take over land is by issuing a seizure order for military and security needs. It is important to note that a seizure order does not change the status of the land or transfer ownership rights to the State, but only the rights to use the land for a limited period of time that appeared in the seizure order, and only for military needs. At the end of the military need the land is supposed to revert to it owners. In the past, seizure orders for military needs were used widely in order to build settlements but in 1979, following the Elon More petition to the High Court of Justice, the use of seizure orders in order to build settlements was forbidden when the court ruled that the construction of a settlement cannot be called a military or security need. Many seizure orders continue to be issued for the construction of the separation fence and various military facilities throughout the West Bank.
5. Absentee lands - a special order gives the State the power to manage the properties of people who fled the West Bank in 1967, and to occupy them until they come back. The order allows the commissioner of governmental and abandoned property to lease and even sell the land. As far as we know such properties were used for settlements mainly in the Jordan Valley area, but we do not know on what scale and where.
For more information and further reading:
One Offence Begets Another - Settlements on Private Palestinian Lands – Peace Now
By Hook and by Crook - Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank - Btselem
The Prohibited Zone - Israeli Planning Policy in the Palestinian Villages in Area C - Bimkom
The Planning and Expanssion of Ma'ale Adumim - Btselem and Bimkom