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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.


The lie of 'state lands': Whitewashing the confiscation of Palestinian land

The outpost of Derekh Avot, sitting on stolen Palestinian land, will soon be whitewashed and its lands will magically turn into 'state lands' which will be delivered to the settlers.

by Yesh Din        Written by Yossi Giurvitz for +972   1 February 2015

Havat Gilad outpost, just south of Nablus. (photo: Yuval Ben-Ami)

A letter from the Officer of the Legal Advisor of the Commander, Judea and Samaria Area – the name the IDF attached to the West Bank – arrived recently at Yesh Din’s offices. The letter said that soon, the Custodian of Government Property intends to announce the lands on which the outpost of Derekh Avot is located as Public Lands (commonly known as “state land”). It further said – feel free to snicker – that prior to making the decision, the Custodian will hold a hearing, in which our clients, the owners of the land, may make their claims to it.

Derekh Avot, notes Peace Now (Hebrew), is one of 16 outposts built partly on stolen Palestinian land (this is a good place to give a shout out to Hagit Ofran, who excels at the Sisyphean and thankless job of documenting the creeping annexation of the West Bank). A report commissioned by the government in 2010, written by Malka Ophri, the chief of the Photo-Analysis Department in the Israeli Mapping Center, found that 60% of the lands controlled by the outpost are lands which were previously tilled by Palestinians, which makes them, according to the laws operative in the West Bank, private lands.

Among the residents of the outpost you may note settler legend and convicted felon Ze’ev Hever (under his original name, Ze’ev Friedman, he was convicted of planting a bomb under the car of a Palestinian leader). The settlers used to quote Zvi Yehuda Kook, the rabbi of the movement, who said that settlers had no problems with “the individual Muhammad,” just with the Palestinians as a group, and hence they have no intention of stealing private Palestinian property.

It was a lie then and it is a lie now. The whole process of declaring lands as “state lands” (although the more accurate name is “public lands”) proves this point. It derives from the fact that confiscation of lands in occupied territory is prohibited in international law, unless for strictly military purposes. After the High Court of Justice forbade the army from declaring settlements as “military bases” in the 1970s – the army and the settlers were thick as thieves even then – the government started using the new schtick of “public lands.” Making a manipulative use of Ottoman land law and the fact the British and the Jordanian authorities never finished registering the lands while ignoring the common law practice of villagers testifying to land boundaries, the government declared lands which went uncultivated for some years as “public lands”, thereby confiscating them from their owners. “Confiscation”, as used here, Is the bowdlerized term for robbery by people in authority.

You’d think that “public lands” would serve the public, i.e. the Palestinian population, since Israel runs the West Bank based on the concept that it is held in wartime occupation. This concept is the basis for all of the military authority there. As noted, according to international law, confiscated lands can only serve for pressing military needs or the benefit of the residents. In practice, however, state lands serve almost without exception for building settlements.

The case of Derekh Avot is particularly malicious. The outpost was built during the Second Intifada, when no one had the time or inclination to deal with fine points of law. When the Civil Administration was forced to examine the status of the lands, it tried – as exposed by Chaim Levinson (Hebrew) – to suppress the report. The reason was simple: the report showed that the land was stolen, plain and simple. In 2010, the government came up with a new trick: it told the High Court that it does not intend to evacuate the outpost – even though orders for its demolition were issued – because of the settlement freeze. The court accepted this position (Hebrew) while criticizing the government for, err, being economical with the truth.

Just how relaxed the settlers have become with this system can be seen by the ad found by Peace Now (Hebrew). A caravan in Derekh Avot is offered for sale, along with a dunam of land. The ad makes it clear that there are no building permits – but building goes on nevertheless.

So now these lands, stolen by force and by government fiat from their legal owners, will become with the scribble of a clerk’s pen, “state lands.” These, in turn, will be turned over to the settlers who already live there, which will retroactively whitewash the long illegality of Derekh Avot’s existence.

Don’t steal, goes the old anarchist maxim; the government hates competition. In this case, the government is splitting the loot with its allies. *******************

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.


The fraud of Gush Etzion, Israel's mythological settlement bloc

Destroyed by Arab armies during the 1948 War, Gush Etzion was repopulated after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. Since then, successive Israeli governments have done everything they can to expand the area of the mythological bloc, while settling Israelis on privately-owned Palestinian land.

by Hillel Bardin and Dror Etkes   1 February 2015      for +972

Bulldozers in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. (flickr / ☪yrl CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bulldozers in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. (flickr / ☪yrl CC BY-NC 2.0)

All American children learn the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” at some point in their schooling. The story of the Alamo starts in 1836, when white colonists began settling in northern Mexico. They finally drove the Mexican army out, but the army eventually returned and slaughtered all the whites in the Alamo Mission, refusing to even take prisoners. The white army, infuriated by the slaughter of the heroes of the Alamo, returned with a taste for blood. They beat back the Mexicans and subsequently annexed all of northern Mexico, which then became the state of Texas – the largest in the contiguous United States.

Israeli children do not learn about the Alamo, but they do have their own heroes to remember. In the 1940s, four kibbutzim (Kfar Etzion, Masuot Yitzhak, Revadim and Ein Tzurim) were established southwest of Bethlehem in an area later designated for a Palestinian state by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It turned out that their location was excellent for intercepting Arab military traffic between Hebron and Jerusalem, so the Haganah and Palmach (pre-state Zionist militias) sent troops and supplies to do just that in the last days of the British Mandate. The Jewish martyrs of Gush Etzion (including the 35 soldiers of the Lamed-Heh) are part of the Israeli pantheon of heroes. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion said that he could “think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces that was more magnificent, more tragic or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion.”

The first incarnation of Kfar Etzion. (photo: Zoltan Kluger/Israeli National Photo Archive)

The first incarnation of Kfar Etzion, before it was destroyed during the 1948 war. (photo: Zoltan Kluger/Israeli National Photo Archive)

While there was debate in 1967 over whether to settle in the West Bank, the resettlement of Gush Etzion was viewed by many Jews as a special case, which derived from the sentimental value over its fate in the 1948 War. On September 27, 1967, Kfar Etzion became the first Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and was re-established on its 1948 ruins. At this point it became apparent that using the name “Gush Etzion” allowed the public to overcome its general resistance to settling Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

This, however, led to the fraud of attaching the name Gush Etzion to areas that had no connection to the original group of settlements – a fraud that was officially endorsed by the Israeli government in 1980, when the military commander of the West Bank officially declared the inauguration of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. From then on, nearly every new settlement between Jerusalem and Hebron was considered to be part of the bloc.

An additional fraud was then introduced on a national scale. Legalistic arrangements were made in order to allow Israel to declare privately-owned Palestinian land “state land,” which was then turned over to Jewish settlers for development. Although the decision was denounced by the international community as illegal usage of occupied territory, the state’s legal guile was accepted by Israel’s High Court of Justice, giving the green light for building settlements atop private Palestinian land. In this new and artificially-inflated Gush Etzion, thousands of acres at once were declared “state land,” and were subsequently used to establish dozens of new settlements around Bethlehem.

Israeli setters hitchhike at the Gush Etzion junction, next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. (Oren Ziv/

Israeli setters hitchhike at the Gush Etzion junction, next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. (Oren Ziv/

This crawling land grab continues today. In late 2014, 1,200 acres to both the south and west of Bethlehem were declared “state land” in order to create an Israeli axis that would connect the eastern settlements of Gush Etzion to the Green Line. The expropriation of such a large area is expected to significantly increase the number of Israeli settlers in the area.

Elections in Israel are a time when politicians of all stripes, from Labor to Likud, declare their loyalty to the settlement blocs, and specifically to Gush Etzion.It is time to stop cooperating with Israeli propaganda, which tries to bestow upon every settlement that is falsely described as part of Gush Etzion the aura of the original Gush Etzion, as though it were more legitimate than all other illegal settlements.

Hillel Bardin is a retired computer programmer from Hebrew University, living in West Jerusalem. He is an activist in the Combatants for Peace’s Jerusalem-Bethlehem group, specializing in the issue of E-2 (Nahla).

Dror Etkes follows Israel’s land and settlement policy in the West Bank.