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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Taking over Palestinian land in the West Bank by declaring it "state land"


Published:   13 Mar 2013
Since the High Court of Justice ruling on Elon Moreh (1979) which prohibited the seizure of private Palestinian lands for the purpose of building Israeli civilian settlements, the Israeli government announced that it would build settlements only on land that has been declared state land. The state reasoned that there are no obstacles to establishing settlements on state land, unlike on privately owned land, or to using state land for any purpose that the authorities see fit. However, this view runs contrary to the law which stipulates that state land in the West Bank, even if declared as such prior to 1967, is not to be earmarked for the use of the State of Israel, but rather for the use of the local Palestinian population. Israel, as an occupier, is not sovereign of the area and therefore has no ownership of the land, even of “declared state land”. Nevertheless, practically no state lands have been allocated for Palestinian use, whereas their vast majority was handed over to settlements for their exclusive use.

When the Israeli government decided to establish settlements on state land, it encountered a problem: there was only a very limited amount of land registered as state land (some 527,000 dunams, [52,700 hectares]) and it was practically all located in the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert. The state, however, wished to build settlements in the central Mountain Ridge of the West Bank.

The authorities solved the problem by rewriting the rules and applying an entirely different interpretation to the Ottoman Land Code, which remains the valid land law. By employing these tactics, between 1979 and 2002, Israel declared over 900,000 dunams as state land. This figure represents a 170% increase in the amount of state land in the West Bank prior to the Israeli occupation.

The new interpretation employed by Israel facilitated the declaration of state land, even in cases of land that was considered collective or private Palestinian property under the Land Code, as it was interpreted first by the Ottomans, then the British and finally the Jordanians when they controlled the West Bank. Israel’s interpretation imposed rigorous conditions of prolonged agricultural cultivation as a condition for acquiring ownership rights to the land. In addition, the Israeli interpretation disregarded the provisions of the local law, which grant Palestinian communities collective usage rights to grazing lands and other public lands [for a detailed description of the mechanism used by the state attorney’s office].

A comparative survey B’Tselem conducted in the Ramallah District for the report "Under the Guise of Legality" it published in 2012, reveals dramatic differences between the percentage of land Jordan registered as government property in areas of registered land ownership and the amount Israel declared as state land in areas the Jordanians did not manage to register prior to 1967. The results of the survey support the conclusion that a significant percentage of the land that Israel declared as state land is actually privately owned Palestinian property, which was expropriated from its lawful owners through legal manipulations and in violation of local and international law alike. [See examples.]


Under the Guise of Legality

The report examined Israel's policy of declaring land in the West Bank "state land". The research reveals that large areas were classified as state land for the use of settlements even though the land was actually privately or collectively owned by Palestinians. This was achieved by re-writing the interpretation to the Ottoman Land Law. This way, between 1979-2000, Israel declared more than 900,000 dunums as state land, an addition of 170% to the total before 1967.

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Download the full report as PDF