Settlements are Built on Private Palestinian Land

March 14, 2007 | Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran

The report “One offense begets another,” issued in November 2006 by the Peace Now Settlement Watch Team, is a harsh indictment against the whole settlements enterprise and the role all Israeli governments played in it. The report shows that Israel has effectively stolen privately owned Palestinian lands for the purpose of constructing settlements and in violation Israel’s own laws regarding activities in the West Bank. Nearly 32 percent of the total land area on which the settlements sit is, according to official data of the Israeli Civil Administration (the government agency in charge of the settlements), privately owned by Palestinians. The settlement enterprise has undermined not only the collective property rights of the Palestinians as a people, but also the private property rights of individual Palestinian landowners.

The basis for report was the database of the Civil Administration which, to the best of our knowledge, was last updated in 2004, and which Peace Now obtained unofficially. In March 2007, Peace Now published a follow up report, based now on official figures provided by the State after a Freedom of Information appeal to the HCJ. This new reports validates, to a large extent, the findings of the first report (see more information below).

The November 2006 Report – Summary

The majority of settlements have been constructed either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land

• For the first time Peace Now is able to prove, that despite the State and settler’s claims, the majority of the settlements in the West Bank have been constructed on private Palestinian land and not on State land.

• 130 settlements were constructed either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land

• Around 51 thousand dunams of the land used by the settlements is actually private Palestinian land

• Private Palestinian land accounts for 32% of land used for settlements

• Construction of settlements of private Palestinian land is illegal according to the Supreme Court ruling, (Elon More precedent of 1979), and thus cannot be authorized. The result is that not only were the outposts constructed in an illegal manner, but also a large number of the veteran settlements were established on private Palestinian land and are thus illegal.

• The data presented here has been hidden by the State for many years, for fear that the revelation of these facts could damage it’s international relations. Only recently did Peace Now manage to obtain this material.

• Conclusion: For many years the state of Israel has been seizing thousands of dunams of private Palestinian land in order to construct settlements. The claim by the State and settlers that the settlements have been constructed on state land is misleading and false. The vast majority of settlement construction was done against the law of the land and the Supreme Court ruling and therefore unauthorized.
On a moral note this report paints a picture of the Israeli state acting in “daylight robbery” of Palestinian land and handing it over to Israeli settlers. The State has been taking advantage of the weakened status of the Palestinians in order to steal their land.

Peace Now Demands: That the Attorney General order an immediate investigation into these findings and bring those responsible to justice.

The full November 2006 report: In English, in Arabic, in French,

See also the Power Point Presentation on the Private Lands

From the official response received by Peace Now from the Civil Administration, regarding Peace Now’s report on the settlements that have been built on private Palestinian Land, we can learn that they don’t deny the findings. The response doesn’t deny that the facts presented, but instead claims that in the “last few years” there has been awareness to try to prevent it. For Peace Now reply – click here.

March 2007 – Addendum to previous report, based on officially obtained data:

In 2005, the Peace Now Settlement Watch team officially asked the Civil Administration to provide information on land ownership in the West Bank in a systematic manner.  When the request was refused, Peace Now and the Movement for the Freedom of Information appealed to Court, asking to receive the data.  Two months after the publication of the above report, in January 2007,  the Court ruled that the Civil Administration must immediately transmit the database to Peace Now.  The present report is based upon data received pursuant to that ruling, from the spokesperson of the Civil Administration, and it reinforces the findings of Peace Now’s report, “One offense begets another”.

It is important to point out that in an attempt to avoid incriminating itself, the State tried to disguise information which, in the end, it was nevertheless obliged to give to Peace Now.  Therefore, in the GIS layer data which was provided to Peace Now, there is no mention of whether the private land is owned by Palestinians or by Jews.  As a result, the State can claim that the lands were, in fact, acquired by Jews.  Nevertheless, it is highly probable that most of the land that is marked here as private land (if not all of it) is privately-owned Palestinian land.

Read the full March 2007 report

For the report in Haaretz


As a response to the Civil Administartion reaction to this report, Dror Etkes wrote:

Claims by the Civil Administration

1. “…there are only 120 settlements in the region of Judea and Samaria” – the Peace Now report explicitly states that we do not refer solely to the official settlements but rather to all settlements, outposts and industrial zones deployed throughout the West Bank.  Nowhere is it claimed that there are more than 120 official settlements.  The report’s goal was to examine the status of the land in all of the Israeli civilian sites on the West Bank, and not only in the official settlements.

2. “The report includes details regarding lands upon which illegal posts were built as well, thereby deliberately creating the illusion of a larger percentage of privately owned Palestinian land …” – this claim testifies unmistakably to the fact the legal offence and silent approval to steal land in the Territories is ingrained in the Civil Administration and official State institutions.  Instead of being concerned with removing outposts (most of which are located on privately owned Palestinian land), the Civil Administration tries to avoid referring to them as part of the theft of land, simply because it has defined them as being “illegal”.

3. “Inaccurate” – the Civil Administration itself provided the information regarding the amount of private land to Peace Now and is therefore responsible for its accuracy.  All we did was compute the amount of private land in relation to the total land upon which the settlements are situated.

4. “The report continues to ignore the fact that until the Supreme Court’s ruling … in 1979, some of the settlements were established by requisitioning land …” – the Peace Now report makes a clear distinction between settlements established prior to 1979 (Supreme Court Elon Moreh), and those established after that, and the computation of the percentage of private land is presented separately for each of the settlement groups.  The report specifically states that even in the case of settlements established after 1979, 32%(!) of the total area of these settlements is privately owned Palestinian land.  Moreover, the issue of whether requisition orders were issued for the areas upon which the settlements were established is not at all relevant, since, as was explained in the report, the fact that land is requisitioned for security purposes does not alter the issue of ownership.  The army is also required to pay fees for using the land which has been requisitioned, and at the end of the period for which it was requisitioned, it must be returned to its owners.

5. “…the delineation of the settlement as defined by [the movement] … does not match the actual boundaries of the settlements.” – as was explained in the report, the area that was inspected is not formally under the jurisdiction of the settlements, which often has no real relevance when in the field.  In our opinion, public discussion of this issue (as is the case for all issues) must be founded upon a situation as it exists in the field, and not as it is marked on maps used by the Civil Administration.  We should like to add that in places where we knew for certain that there is privately owned land within the area of the settlement but its owners are given free access to the land, it was not included in the computation of the area of the settlements (Beitar ‘Illit is one example of such a case).

6. “…for the past few years the Civil Administration performs regular examinations of the status of the land prior to [approving] any planning proceeding …” – this claim sounds ridiculous in view of the data which the Civil Administration was obliged to transfer to Peace Now after a year and a half of having dragged their feet, a tactic which was meant to simply discourage the petitioners.)  Moreover, the Sasson Report regarding the outposts and which was based upon official data from the Civil Administration, also demonstrates the complete opposite by showing how the outposts were continuously built upon privately owned Palestinian land.
Irregardless of whether one believes in one political stand or another, every person who is aware of the reality which prevails on the West Bank knows that the settlements were, and are still being built on privately owned Palestinian land.  For further reference, it would be appropriate to return to the factual background which the petition against the Migron outpost exposes.