The Israeli Government Declared 66 Dunams as State Land to Legalize the Evyatar Outpost

On July 8, 2024, the Custodian of Government and Abandoned Property signed a declaration designating approximately 66 dunams of land in the villages of Beita and Qabalan, south of Nablus, as “state land.” Landowners have been given 45 days to appeal the declaration and attempt to prove before the Appeals Committee that the land belongs to them. The declaration aims to legalize the illegal outpost of Evyatar, which was established unlawfully in 2021. Despite its illegal status and the significant security burden it poses on security forces, the government allowed settlers to continue residing there. Recently, the government decided to legalize the outpost and transform it into an official settlement.

The declaration at Evyatar is one of five state land declarations made since the beginning of the year, encompassing a total of 23,572 dunams (5,879 acres). The year 2024 marks a record in declarations; in fact, in 2024 alone, approximately half of all the land declared since the Oslo Accords in 1993 has been declared as state land.

The boundaries of the declaration underscore the absurdity of the entire “state land declaration” system, as shown below. At least 11 buildings, the access road, and the central square in the outpost are on private Palestinian land, which even according to the state’s method, must be evacuated.

Peace Now: “This absurd declaration of state land to legalize the outpost of Evyatar and the questionable manner in which these state lands were designated underscores the Israeli government’s prioritization of ideological settlement expansion over genuine security concerns. This annexationist agenda threatens both Palestinian rights and Israeli security. The expedited annexation, facilitated by dubious legal tactics, underscores the deepening occupation. The silence of the international community only emboldens these actions, escalating tensions and obstructing a political solution.”

The declaration follows the settlement rather than the land, equating to expropriation rather than a mere “declaration.”

The declaration map highlights the significant effort invested to “adapt the land” to the settlement’s needs, bending legal interpretations as much as possible to “legalize” the outpost. The declaration process is essentially a legal maneuver developed by Israel to circumvent the prohibition in international law against expropriating private property of the occupied population for the benefit of the occupying power. To “convert” private land into public land (termed “state land”) without expropriating it, Israel claims that it is not changing the land’s status but merely “declaring” it officially.

According to Israel’s interpretation of Ottoman land law, which underpins the land laws in the occupied territories, if a landowner does not cultivate their land for several years, the land is no longer theirs and becomes public property. To this end, the mapping personnel of the Civil Administration, now operating under the Settlements Administration with legal counsel under Minister Smotrich, examine aerial photographs to identify uncultivated lands and mark them as “state land.”

The declaration map for the Evyatar outpost shows that there were indeed several cultivated lands, even by Israel’s stringent interpretation. For example, the declaration creates an enclave of about 3.5 dunams in the middle of the area designated for the settlement, considered private land. In principle, Israel would argue that it is not expropriating this area and that the Palestinian landowners are still recognized as the owners. However, as in hundreds of similar cases, it is clear that they will not have access to their land and no possibility of using it when it is located in the middle of an Israeli settlement.

To enable an access road connecting the outpost to the main road without crossing private land, the map’s designers managed to “find” an 11-meter-long and 1.5-meter-wide corridor of land that they claim was uncultivated and thus considered state land. This interpretation of Ottoman law brings it to absurdity.

According to this, if a person has a plot and cultivates it intensively, but there is a small uncultivated strip on the edges, say a rock that cannot be plowed, that small part of the plot is not owned by the landowner. This interpretation is far removed from the purpose of the Ottoman law, which was to encourage the empire’s subjects to cultivate the lands to increase its tax revenues.

Regarding the access road – in any case, for modern vehicles, a road 1.5 meters wide is insufficient, and it is clear that to allow access to the settlement, the state will encroach on private Palestinian lands (requiring another legal maneuver). Thus, it can be said that this entire declaration of state land is essentially an unlawful expropriation under international law.

For more on Israel’s stringent interpretation, see B’Tselem’s report “By Hook and By Crook: Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank.

For more information on the mapping personnel’s maneuvers to set declaration boundaries – see Kerem Navot’s report “Blue and White Make Black.