Government Declares 2,640 Dunams in Abu Dis and el-Azariya as State Land, Located in the Southern area of the E1 Plan, Threatening Palestinian Communities

On February 29, 2024, the Custodian of Government Property in the Civil Administration, the governmental body responsible for administering civilian affairs in the West Bank, declared 2,640.3 dunams (654 acres) of land in the villages of Abu Dis and el-Azariya as state land.

These lands are located in the southern area of the E1 plan, designated for the construction of at least 1,500 housing units. The significance of this declaration is that these lands will be now under Israeli control, with Palestinians having no rights to them. This declaration encompasses a vast area comparable to the size of towns like Giv’at Shmuel or Kfar Shmaryahu in Israel. For the full text of the declaration, click here.

Anyone claiming ownership of the land can submit an objection within 45 days. The objection will be reviewed in a legal process before a military appeals committee.

Peace Now: “Instead of planning for a future of peace and security, the Israeli government continues to further the occupation and dispossession by perpetuating the conflict and bloodshed. Expropriating thousands of dunams of land from Palestinian communities demonstrates how settlements are already negatively impacting Palestinian lives and are not just a future problem or obstacle to a political solution. Construction in settlements must be halted immediately, regardless of negotiations and political arrangements.”

The threat of displacement for three Palestinian Communities:

In addition to the potential establishment of settlements on the declared land, which effectively connects the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Kedar, there is also a real threat of forced displacement of three Palestinian communities, the Abu Nuwar community the Wadi Abu Al-Suwan community, and part of the Abu Hindi community, totaling 1,000 residents.

The Abu Nuwar community consists of around 130 families from the Jahalin tribe, approximately 700 residents, who were displaced from Israeli territory in the 1950s.

They relocated and settled in the area of the Judean Desert on lands of the villages of Abu Dis and el-Azariya. However, as Israel began establishing the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the 1970s, it began pressuring the community members to vacate their lands. As Ma’ale Adumim expanded, the Jahalin people were pushed towards what is now known as the Abu Nuwar community, which has been in existence since at least the 1970s.

In recent years, the Israeli government has intensified pressure on the residents of Abu Nuwar. New demolition orders are issued for any structures they attempt to build, including schools and community buildings. The Civil Administration has allocated alternative plots of land for the residents of Abu Nuwar to forcibly relocate them to the neighborhood of “al-Jabal West,” adjacent to the landfill in Abu Dis (a few years later, the government attempted to enforce the relocation to al-Jabal West on residents of Khan al-Ahmar as well). For the severe implications of the eviction of previous communities to al-Jabal, see here, and particularly for women, see here.

The Abu Nuwar Community and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim behind.

Part of the E1 Plan:

In 1999, the Higher Planning Council approved Master Plan 420/4, an initial plan for the construction of thousands of housing units and industry in an area known as E1. The plan also included extensive areas that were not defined as “state land” in the southern area, referred to as “Area G” (except for land confiscated in 1977 for the Jerusalem landfill, which eventually was not established there). In areas not under public ownership, the occupying state has no authority to plan construction projects. Therefore, in order to advance the implementation of E1 plan in this area, land ownership had to be acquired. The declaration of the land as “state land” is intended to achieve ownership and facilitate planning.

It is important to note that converting land into state land does not necessarily mean establishing settlements on it. The government can decide to allocate the land for Palestinian use rather than Israeli. However, past experience indicates that the objective of seizing and declaring these lands as “state land” is essentially to transfer them into Israeli hands. Data from the Civil Administration revealed after a petition by Bimkom and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel showed that 99.76% of the land that was allocated by the Israelis in the West Bank, was allocated for settlement use, and hardly none was allocated for Palestinians.

The Process of Declaring State Land:

What is a declaration of state land? The declaration is a legal mechanism developed by Israel to enable the appropriation of land in the occupied Palestinian territories. Since international law prohibits the expropriation of occupied population’s land for the needs of the occupying power (such as building settlements), a legal acrobatics based on a draconian interpretation of the Ottoman Land Code of 1858 was developed, according to which if there is uncultivated land for a certain period of time – the authorities may take it. For further details and expansion, see the report by B’tselem.

The process of the declaration – Civil Administration personnel conduct surveys in the area and examine if the lands were cultivated or not. If they decide there has been no cultivating or insufficient use, the official in charge of state property in the Civil Administration issues a notice declaring the land as state land. The public is given 45 days during which they can object to the decision and try to prove ownership. The objections are heard in a military court, in a body called the Appeals Committee, which usually confirms the declaration, sometimes with minor boundary adjustments.

Thus, during the 1980s and 1990s, Israel succeeded in seizing close to a million dunams (about 1/6 of the West Bank area) and turning them into state land through declarations. In 1992, when the Rabin government was elected, it decided to freeze construction in settlements and also halted the process of declaring additional state land. However, a few years later, the Netanyahu government resumed the use of declarations of state land in 1998, and since then, approximately 31,000 dunams have been declared as state land.

Are there owners of the declared land? – According to Israeli interpretation, since the land is uncultivated, it has no owners. However, in practice, there are Palestinian owners. The issue is that their ownership is not registered in the Land Registry but only in property tax books because the registration process in the Land Registry was suspended by Israel.

The registration process in the Land Registry is a very long and expensive process that requires surveys, parceling, and coordination with all owners in the vicinity. The British and subsequently the Jordanian authorities conducted land registration work and succeeded in registering only a third of the West Bank’s area in the Land Registry. When Israeli conquered the area, a military order was issued freezing land registration proceedings and instructing that no new land registration proceedings be conducted (Order Concerning Land and Water, No. 291), 1968).

Instead of registering the land in the Land Registry, for each Palestinian village and town, there are property tax books detailing the owners of each plot of land. These property tax books were created by the authorities to collect taxes from the landowners and are not as accurate as the Land Registry. According to Israeli interpretation, registration in the property tax books is not sufficient to prove ownership, and it must also be proven additionally that the land was cultivated by the owner.

“State Land” – Of Which State?

Land is one of the main and most precious public resources in every place and society. The division of this resource is key to development and growth, and the manner in which land resources are distributed is an expression of government policy with a decisive influence on the welfare of the residents.

The term “state land” is misleading because there is no “state” in the occupied territories, neither the State of Israel nor an independent State of Palestine. The more appropriate term is “public land”—lands that belong to the public. In independent countries, it is the state that manages public lands. As mentioned, it appears that out of all the public lands allocated by Israel in the West Bank, 99.76% have been designated for Israeli purposes and settlements. Only isolated parcels of land have been allocated for Palestinian public use.