Information Sheet – Allocation of State Land in OPT

Photography: Firas AlamiPhotography: Firas Alami

 

It has emerged from facts provided to ACRI and Bimkom, that only 0.7% of state lands in Area C has been allocated to Palestinians since 1967.

 

On March 23rd, 2010 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights submitted an administrative petition (40223-03-10) to the Court for Administrative Matters in Jerusalem under the Freedom of Information Law. The petition requested that the Court instruct the Civil Administration, the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank and the Ministry of Defense to provide the organizations with certain statistics about state-owned lands in the West Bank generally and in Area C (which comprises some 60% of the total area of the West Bank) specifically. The information sought was about the amount of land that was defined as state-owned prior to 1967, the amount of land declared to be state-owned by the Israeli regime after 1967, the amounts of state land allocated from this total area to Israelis and to Palestinians, and about the procedures according to which the relevant bodies in the Civil Administration who are authorized to allocate state-owned land make such decisions.

The petition was submitted after the Civil Administration did not respond to a request submitted under the Freedom of Information Law in March 2009. Attorney Nasrat Dakwar from ACRI wrote the petition and Attorney Avner Pinchuk from ACRI managed the case on behalf of the petitioners.

Over the course of the hearings, the representative of the state from the Jerusalem District Attorney declared time after time that the Civil Administration does not possess exact statistics regarding the total area of state-owned lands in the West Bank or in Area C, or regarding the area allocated to different parties. A deposition submitted to the court by the Custodian for State and Absentee Property in the Civil Administration supported these claims. In practice, the Custodian admitted that it does not possess statistics that would enable it to properly manage state-owned lands in the West Bank – a resource which according to international law is meant to be used to benefit the Palestinian public in the occupied territory.

Among other things, the Custodian noted that according to digital maps it possesses, which are highly imprecise, it can be estimated that the total area of state-owned lands in Area C is around 1,300,000 dunams. The Custodian emphasized that the gap between these numbers and the actual statistics “could be up to tens of percents” and added that it does not possess any “calculation of the total area or amount of state-owned land [which has been allocated]. Regarding some of the figures requested, there are maps which show the boundaries of the area (as said, without a calculation of the area), while for others, no centralized information like that exists.”

The Civil Administration claimed that locating only the information about allocations would require 17,000 hours of work or about 2,000 work days, and requested that the petition be dismissed in light of the unreasonable amount of work it would require.

The petitioners suggested a compromise in which, in additional to the spotty and incomplete information which was produced over the course of the hearings about allocations to Israeli parties, the State would provide them with statistics about allocations of state lands to Palestinians during the years of the occupation. Under pressure from the court, the respondents agreed to the proposed compromise and on January 9th, 2012, Justice Yoram Noam gave this settlement the validity of a legal ruling.

From the statistics that the Civil Administration provided, it emerged that since 1967, only 8,600 dunams – some 0.7% of state lands in Area C – have been allocated to Palestinian parties (see Table No. 2 which specifies the allocations according to district). For the sake of comparison, the Civil Administration allocated the World Zionist Congress, which develops settlements, some 400,000 dunams (about 31% of all state lands in Area C); it allocated Israel cellular companies and settlement municipal authorities (local and regional councils) some 103,000 dunams (about 8%), and allocated government ministries and Israeli infrastructure companies such as Bezeq, the Israel Electric Corporation and Mekorot (the Israeli national water company) 160,000 dunams (about 12%) (see Table No. 1). According to the position of the Civil Administration, which was presented in court, it does not possess information regarding state lands in Areas A and B. All information given to the petitioners relates only to Area C.

 

Table No. 1: Allocations to Palestinians and Israeli parties

Party to whom land was allocated Area allocated (in thousands of dunams) Percentage of total state land in Area C
World Zionist Organization (development of settlements) 400 31%
Cellular companies, local and regional councils, public buildings in settlements 103 8%
Government ministries, Mekorot, Israel Electric Corporation, Bezek and so on 160 12%
Palestinians 8.6 0.7%
Total state lands which have been allocated in Area C 671.6 52%
Total state lands in Area C 1,300 100%

 

Table No. 2: Allocations to Palestinians by district

Allocation area Allocation purpose Area allocated (in dunams)
Jenin District 6,910
Hebron District Quarry 1
Bethlehem District Permanent settlement of Bedouins and allocation of Maaleh Adumim settlement expansion area 630
Tul Karm District 10
Nablus and Jericho District 1,097.5
Ramallah District 0

 

Prior to 1967, most of the area defined today by the Civil Administration as state land was not considered government property, but rather private Palestinian property. During the years of Israeli rule, Israel has declared almost one million dunams as state land, and after completing the declaration procedures has made sure to include almost all these declared state lands within the jurisdiction of the regional councils and local councils of the settlements. The significance of including state lands within the boundaries of the settlements is that it completely obstructs any possibility of Palestinians making use of these lands, even in cases where they have not yet been allocated for any Israeli use.

The Civil Administration, the Ministry of Defense and the commander of IDF forces in the Judea and Samaria area are entrusted by international law with managing government property for the benefit of the protected inhabitants of the occupied territory – in this case the Palestinian population. “The military government is not entitled to sell government real estate property, and the legal status of the military government regarding that property is as one entitled to usufructary rights only.” (High Court of Justice ruling 393/82 Jami’at Ascan el-Malmun v. The Commander of IDF Forces in the Judea and Samaria  area, 37(4) PD, p 785 (1983) 791.)

Israel holds state lands in the occupied territory as a trustee, and it must do everything to preserve and develop this land for the benefit of the local Palestinian population. The use of state land for the purposes of building settlements and/or developing infrastructure and industrial areas not for the benefit of the Palestinian population is inherently a violation of international law. The fact that the activity of the Custodian of Government and Abandoned Property in the Civil Administration has been conducted for years without transparency and in violation of basic rules of proper administration is not coincidental: a situation in which no one knows the exact area of state lands, how much of that area has been allocated and to whom allocations have been made allows the authorities almost limitless opportunities for manipulation.

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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Arab Minority Rights, Area C Villages, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Impact of Settlements, Land Distribution and Planning Rights, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Property

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