A hearing was held on 23/04/23 in the Israeli Supreme Court regarding a petition submitted by Peace Now, demanding that the Settlement Division of the Zionist Organization, responsible for allocating lands in the occupied West Bank for settlements, settler agricultural farms, and settler agriculture, be required to publish its decisions regarding land allocations in advance in order to increase transparency.
The Settlement Division was established in 1971 under the umbrella of the World Zionist Organization to help the State of Israel build settlements beyond the Green Line in occupied territory. For years, the Division has worked to establish and develop settlements far from the public eye, using controversial means, with funding from the state and without any oversight or control.
In 2015, the Settlement Division Law was enacted to regulate the Settlement Division’s authority. Accordingly, it was supposed to address its supervision and financial management.
Since the establishment of the Civil Administration in the early 1980s, the management of public lands has been entrusted to the Custodian of Absentee Properties, who does so in accordance with the instructions of the Head of the Civil Administration. The Settlement Division receives land from the Custodian of Absentee Properties, which it allocates according to its decisions in a non-transparent way. Over the years, the Custodian of Absentee Properties has allocated about 500,000 dunams of land to the Settlement Division, and at least 60% of all state lands allocated in the West Bank were allocated to the Settlement Division. Almost all of the allocations made so far were intended for the needs of Israeli settlement projects (for more details on this subject, click here).
These allocations were made over many years in closed-door rooms, under a veil of secrecy, and without the public’s knowledge of them, sometimes retrospectively, and even many years after the fact, and almost always after the act was irrevocable. In the petition, we demanded that the Settlement Division publish its land allocations in an orderly process before their allocation, thus preventing mistakes or at least allowing interested parties such as landowners to challenge the allocation’s intent.
The discussion at the Supreme Court
Attorney Michael Sfard, representing Peace Now, said in court:
“The Settlement Division holds half a million dunams – almost all of the land suitable for settlement and agriculture in the West Bank. We are in the dark as to what happens with secondary allocations made by the Settlement Division, and no one knows how much land has not yet been allocated. To date, allocations were made without anyone knowing what was allocated, who received the massive allocations, and how they were received. There is no obligation to have tenders, and there is no publication, so there is no way to know. In the outposts of Amona, Migron, Mitzpe Kramim, and in Givat Ha’ulpana, located within the Beit El settlement, private lands were allocated to settlers on private Palestinian lands. With transparency, it is possible to prevent these incorrect allocations in advance and not be obligated to evacuate them later.”
Judge Daphne Barak-Erez told the representative of the Settlement Division:
“There is the issue of preventing mistakes. Publication of the secondary allocation can prevent a mistake in the initial allocation of land. Transparency can be used to prevent errors in private land allocations.”
The Settlement Division representative responded that there is no place to publish information about land allocations prior to their allocation, among other things, because allocations are made based on requests from settlers seeking land for agriculture, pasture, or housing, and there is no process of initiating a bid.
Although there was no doubt during the hearing that there was a strong argument in our favor, the court decided to allow the state to respond in writing within 60 days and did not issue an order until a decision was made on this petition.